UK multiplay operator Virgin Media O2 has completed the upgrade of its entire national network to gigabit speeds, delivering nearly two-thirds of the Government’s broadband ambition four years ahead of the target date, claiming the achievement cements its status as the UK’s largest gigabit provider.
The operator completed its rollout after switching on gigabit speeds to a final 1.1 million homes for the first time, meaning all 15.5 million homes passed by Virgin Media O2’s network can now access this hyperfast connectivity.
“Just two years ago, we set out to spearhead the UK’s gigabit revolution and today we’ve delivered,” declared Lutz Schüler, Chief Executive Officer at Virgin Media O2. “Our investment to bring gigabit broadband to every home on our network has catapulted the UK’s digital infrastructure forward by a decade and forced others to up their game.”
“As the country’s largest gigabit provider by far, we’re the driving force behind widespread gigabit availability four years ahead of the Government’s target. Having reached this major milestone in just two years, we’re doubling down on our mission to upgrade the UK by continuing to innovate and invest in our network to support the technologies of tomorrow – there’s no slowing down at Virgin Media O2,” he asserted.
“Getting high speed broadband into everyone’s homes is a top priority and Virgin Media O2’s efforts mean we’re making quick progress in our mission to level up the UK with better connectivity,” commented Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries. “We must ensure that rural areas are not left behind, which is why alongside industry’s roll out we’re investing up to £5 billion to make top-of-the-range speeds available in hard-to-reach communities.”
As part of its mission to upgrade the UK, Virgin Media O2 has committed to invest at least £10 billion over the next five years in the UK.
Virgin Media O2 is already one of the largest network builders in the country and continues to expand its footprint through Project Lighting which has seen more than 2.6 million additional premises built to so far since works began – all can now access gigabit services. To go further and faster, the business is actively exploring options to deploy fibre to millions of additional homes across the country.
The company has also successfully completed a number of real-world trials to deliver speeds of 2.2Gbps to homes using its existing network and technology.
Earlier in 2021, Virgin Media O2 announced its intention to upgrade its fixed network to full fibre to the premises (FTTP) with completion in 2028.
According to Paolo Pescatore, TMT Analyst at PP Foresight, this “significant” milestone is great news for Virgin Media cable broadband customers and UK plc, noting that the scale of rollout within the timeframe is extremely impressive, largely thanks to upgrading its cable network via DOCSIS 3.1. “In essence, this overlay boosts capacity and download speeds. rather than having to dig up roads and install new cables,” he advises. Therefore, it requires an incremental cost providing plentiful benefits all round.”
However, he notes that Virgin Media clearly lags its rivals on fibre, which is an area that remains a key battleground for all providers, which now, and more importantly for the future, will be the foundation for the country’s digital infrastructure.
“Everyone is keen to acquire customers with the lure of faster and more robust connections akin to what we have seen from 3G to 4G and now 5G in mobile,” he observes. “Ultimately, it comes down to price and faster connections will inevitably command a premium,” he advises. “This will erode over time as telcos seek to bundle in more services to maintain a premium for top-tier packages.”
“In essence, all telcos are struggling with margins being squeezed and are seeking ways of increasing revenue while investing billions in costly next generation fixed and mobile networks,” he says. “Some users will want the best connections, while others will want to future-proof their homes. Not everyone will demand gigabit connectivity. People are now more price conscious than ever and value connectivity above anything else. As restrictions ease, many households will be evaluating their current telecoms and media set-up, some will consolidate and look to move services,” he predicts. “Expect a frenzy of promos as a buoyant switching market awaits.”
“Despite this, supremacy with in home connectivity is fast emerging as a key battleground for all providers. People’s insatiable appetite for always on connectivity is showing no signs of slowing down, meaning more and new emerging devices in the home will need to be connected all the time; requiring better connections throughout the home; something that is proving to be an important area for households,” he adds.
“The revised UK Government targets certainly worked in VM02’s favour in light of this latest development. It is apparent that the initial full fibre claim was an ambitious target, but certainly a positive one in terms of progression. But, in reality there are too many hurdles to overcome. Gaining approval from local councils, to major disruption caused by closing streets for weeks to dig up the roads, right through to installation,” he notes.
“The UK will continue to thrive with significant investment in next generation networks. It feels like we are in a golden era of connectivity which promises to transform the way we interact and engage with devices in the future, offering more services in the connected homes will be key, and we just need to be smart with this approach first,” he concludes.