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Virgin Media O2 flirts with Londoners

UK telco VMO2 has issued an announcement apparently designed to improve its standing in the country’s capital.

The milestone that moved VMO2’s marketing department to act was the claim that two thirds of London’s population now has access to its 5G signal. This factoid provides the platform for VMO2 to bang on about how it’s investing in the region, as if that’s an act of philanthropy as opposed to an investment it expects handsome returns on.

“Providing a 5G boost is part of our long standing investment in the capital and our mission to upgrade the UK through our ongoing investment in 4G, 5G, fixed broadband and innovative new services,” said VMO2 CTO Jeanie York. “We are taking a customer-centric approach to our mobile network strategy, which centres on optimising our network where our customers need them most.

“This means focusing on densifying our coverage where are customers are going to feel the most benefit, such as busy urban cities like London, while also investing to extend coverage in less populated areas. And with our Volt proposition, we can offer 5G plus gigabit broadband together, giving Londoners the best connectivity in and out of their homes.”

In other words, the denser the population around a new base station, the more people are served by it. There’s little point in building 5G cells anywhere other than inner cities at this stage since the technology is still maturing and the higher frequencies required to provide a meaningful bandwidth boost have inferior propagation characteristics.

Still, it’s apparently obligatory to frame telecoms infrastructure investment as a national strategic breakthrough these days and the only surprise was the absence of a politician hanging onto the coat-tails of the announcement for once. Some media were seduced by the bit of the press release that said VMO2 ‘has committed to investing at least £10 billion in the UK,’ into framing that as a new pledge, but if it was you’d think that would be the focus of the announcement.

Instead we hear that VMO2 upgraded 4G capacity in 41,228 postcodes across the city in 2021, has invested £200 million on its London fixed network since 2015, and that ‘investment in full fibre and mobile connectivity in London could boost the capital’s economy by more than £16 billion.’ Could it? That’s nice. Clearly VMO2 has prioritised London but it’s not clear whether announcing as much will yield any commercial benefits or, even if it does, the extent to which those will be offset by the implied snub to the rest of the country.

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