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Virgin Media hopes to lead Gig economy with ‘hyperfast’ speeds

Ultrafast suddenly sounds a little bit pedestrian, after Virgin Media used the term ‘hyperfast’ to big up its new broadband breakthrough.

The Liberty-owned cableco this week revealed that throughput on its HFC network reached 2.2 Gbps in a real-world trial in Thatcham, south-east England. That is 34 times faster than the UK average, according to figures from Ofcom.

“This innovative trial demonstrates how Virgin Media’s existing future-proof cable network can deliver lightning-fast, multi-gigabit broadband speeds,” said Jeanie York, CTIO of Virgin Media, in a statement.

“With this next-generation connectivity, our customers can experience the best from their broadband – whether that’s 8K gaming, instant streaming, high quality video calls or uploading files in a flash – all in the same home at the same time,” she said.

Virgin said the “hyperfast speeds” were independently verified by Ofcom-approved speed test outfit, SamKnows.

It is worth bearing in mind though that Virgin’s HFC network uses DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which is extremely nippy on the downlink, but is not so hot when it comes to the uplink. That’s why in the Thatcham trial, Virgin’s headline upload speed topped out at a relatively more sedate 214 Mbps.

Perhaps more important than the headline speeds though is the fact that the upgrade can be carried out without having to dig up roads and pavements to lay new cables. This makes it more economical for Virgin – which already ploughs more than a billion pounds per year into its infrastructure – and a relief for people who have had to put up with the disruption caused by Virgin’s Project Lightning network deployment.

The company has already rolled out its 1-Gbps-capable network to 3.7 million premises in seven areas across the UK. It aims to offer these speeds to more than 15 million premises by the end of next year. Even when using construction techniques like micro-ducting – which provides a much quicker and less invasive means of laying cable – whole towns still have to be dug up, usually on a street-by-street basis, to accommodate the new network.

We’re all going to have to get used to it, if we truly want full-fibre – or in this case ‘hyperspeed’ HFC – on tap.

Indeed, CityFibre announced separately this week that it has hired civil engineering firm Bechtel to accelerate the rollout of its wholesale fibre network. The altnet expects to award up to £1.5 billion worth of construction contracts in the coming months, and mobilise deployments in a further 29 towns and cities. It recently revealed that it is due to soon start work on networks in Swindon and Slough.

CityFibre anticipates that by the end of 2021, more than 100 build-outs will be underway. That means a lot more pavements and roads are about to be dug up.

“The demand for world-class digital infrastructure deployments from the Government, Ofcom and crucially our current and prospective customers, is increasing by the day,” said CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch.

Bechtel has overseen metro fibre and FTTP deployments for AT&T, Verizon, XO and Google Fiber in the US, as well as the Viatel Circe network, which connects the UK, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

“Bechtel’s expertise in the delivery of national infrastructure projects will complement our existing teams and ensure we can rapidly increase the number of parallel build projects, while still delivering the high quality of network demanded by our customers and theirs,” Mesch said.

As we recently reported, Ofcom reckons 14 percent of UK households currently have access to full fibre broadband. The country is moving in the right direction, but it is by no means close to hitting the government’s soft target of delivering nationwide Gigabit broadband coverage by 2025.

Reaching this milestone “is a critical target and a huge undertaking,” Mesch said. “We are determined to be a major contributor to this target. This landmark partnership with Bechtel is another important demonstration of how CityFibre is doing everything to ensure delivery and maximise our contribution while helping to ensure a healthy and competitive digital infrastructure market.”


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