Virgin Media multi-gig home broadband trials

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UK multiplay operator Virgin Media is trialling what it says is the UK’s fastest home broadband after successfully testing a connection offering speeds of more than 8Gbps to homes in the Cambridgeshire region of England.

The hyperfast connection uses Virgin Media’s existing fibre network to provide download speeds more than 200 times faster the UK average. Triallists are benefiting from symmetrical connectivity, meaning the connection supports simultaneous upload and download speeds of more than 8Gbps.

The trial, which Virgin Media says was made possible through continued network investment and collaboration with owner Liberty Global, is delivered using an existing fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connection meaning that no dedicated line is required. The six-month trial will mean around 50 homes in Papworth, Cambridgeshire, can benefit from the UK’s fastest home broadband speeds.

In this trial, data is transferred along fibre optic cables using EPON (Ethernet Passive Optical Network) technology – a global point-to-point network standard. EPON is typically used to deliver up to 1Gbps speeds to UK homes, but Virgin Media has been working with technology partner ARRIS to trial new equipment and software to increase the speeds that its residential fibre network is capable of delivering.

“As the UK’s fastest widely available broadband provider, we’re committed to making Britain faster and this trial pushes the boundaries of what’s possible,” expalined Richard Sinclair, Executive Director of Connectivity at Virgin Media. “Whether it’s streaming UHD movies on Netflix, playing the latest games online or video conferencing, faster internet connections have changed our lives immeasurably over the past decade. As speed leaders, Virgin Media is not going to stand still; this trial is about looking ahead to the next decade and beyond.”

“With the volume of our customers’ Internet usage almost doubling every year, trials like this will ensure we have the capability to meet the demand of data-hungry services in the future – be that over cable or full fibre.”

“Each new leap in Internet speeds has spurred a new round of innovation in digital services,” observed Aapplied futurist, Tom Cheesewright, who has reviewed the trial. “Today, we are just starting to glimpse the immersive communication and entertainment opportunities that speeds like this will enable, bringing the physical and digital worlds together into a rich, interactive environment.”

“The world thought multi-gigabit speeds would only be for lab tests, businesses and governments,” said Steve McCaffery, President, International Sales and Managing Director, International Business Operations at ARRIS. “Thanks to the foresight and ambition of Virgin Media, cutting-edge ARRIS technologies are now in real people’s homes.”

The connection speed was tested and independently verified by media regulator Ofcom’s technical partner, SamKnows, who fast tracked the development of a brand new speed testing tool specifically designed to test multi-gigabit connections.

“We measure broadband speeds around the world and this trial has been delivering speeds far in excess of what we typically see in customers’ homes,” reported Sam Crawford, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at SamKnows. “By using SamKnows certified measurements, Virgin Media was able to inexpensively troubleshoot issues quickly and consistently to deliver innovative multi-gigabit speeds to real customers.”

Virgin Media says that with its hyperfast multi-gigabit connection, ultra-high definition 4K films and TV programmes, very large files and 360 degree videos can be downloaded and uploaded almost instantaneously, even with multiple devices using the connection simultaneously. For example, with the connection users can:

  • Download a high definition (HD) film (5GB) in just 5 seconds, compared to more than 15 minutes on the UK’s average connection.
  • Download an Ultra High Definition 4K film (20GB) in just 20 seconds, compared to more than an hour on the UK’s average connection.
  • Download a very large PlayStation 4 game, for example Red Dead Redemption 2 (99GB download), in less than 2 minutes, compared to more than 5 hours on the UK’s average connection.
  • Upload 300 high-resolution holiday photos (3GB) in just 3 seconds, compared to nearly 1 hour 10 minutes on the UK’s average connection.

The test site location of Papworth has long been a test bed of innovation for Virgin Media. The village is where Virgin Media first tested 1Gbps full fibre to the premises connectivity in 2014, and was also the original test site for the narrow trenching methodology which Virgin Media has used to minimise disruption and speed up deployment when laying new network cables.

Later in 2019, Virgin Media will be making some larger-scale network announcements which it says will further solidify its speed leadership in the market.

According to MT analyst Paolo Pescatore, the development represents the next step in Virgin Media’s network investment strategy, suggesting that the time to deployment is “impressive” which underlines what can be done with the existing infrastructure, and is a key move in driving costs down and improving network efficiencies.

“Moving forward we will see all providers focus on network expansion, offering faster speeds, and improving in home connectivity,” he predicts. “It is a great time for UK plc with other providers committed to fibre broadband rollout,” he declares.

According to Pescatore, users are unlikely to pay more, but initial services will be positioned at the high end. “It is important to address the exponential growth in data traffic as people own more devices and are accessing a wide range of services. The biggest use case is video services which will proliferate due to HD, 4K and eventually 8K streams,” he concludes.


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