Virgin Media O2 is agonisingly close to doing something significant

UK converged operator VMO2 is so excited about the near completion of its network upgrade that it has started the celebrations early.

According to today’s press release the company is ‘within touching distance of upgrading entire network to gigabit speeds’. Of course an upgrade is not, in and of itself, a tangible thing, but VMO2 isn’t afraid to employ a metaphor or two to illustrate a worthy point. In this case there is a temporal character to the term ‘touching distance’, referring as it does to a period of up to seven weeks.

That’s because, after making a bunch more UK towns ‘gigabit ready’ – a grand total of 1.6 million homes – VMO2’s total now stands at 14.3 million homes capable of getting super-duper broadband. That’s 92% of the company’s entire broadband footprint of 15.5 million homes, which it’s confident will all be upgraded by the end of this year.

While it’s reasonable to question why anyone would send out a special press release to say that it’s 92% of the way to achieving a target they expect to achieve within seven weeks, it seems to have got plenty of coverage, including here, so fair enough. In fact, we suspect the knowledge that usually takes the festive period off was enough to panic its marketing department into trying to get at least some acknowledgement of its imminent Herculean feat from the country’s preeminent telecoms trade publication.

“We’re making great strides ahead in upgrading the UK and are within touching distance of bringing the benefits of future-proof gigabit broadband to everyone on our network,” said VMO2 CEO Lutz Schüler. “With our gigabit rollout progressing at an unmatched pace, we’re building the next-generation broadband network that’s ready for the technology of tomorrow.”

Virgin Media’s Gig1 broadband service claims to offer average download speeds of 1,130Mbps, something we’d be interested to see corroborated by real-life domestic speed tests. The other purpose of this announcement seems to be to position VM as the place to go for the fastest broadband. It should be stressed, however, that this milestone isn’t the same as a full FTTP (fibre to the premises) upgrade of the network, which it doesn’t expect to complete until 2028.

Given that BT/Openreach expects to have FTTP to no less than 25 million premises by 2026, you can see why VMO2 is keen to get while the getting’s good. If it can spend the intervening time establishing a reputation as the country’s fastest ISP then that should provide it with some positive momentum to counter BT’s inevitable lead in total fibre coverage.

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