Virgin Media O2 will extend full fibre to all 14 million premises reached by its cable network—an ambitious upgrade that will position the newly merged company to challenge BT’s Openreach and independent providers like CityFibre in the exploding FTTP market.
Virgin Media has been in the process of rolling out an upgrade that boosts download speeds on its existing cable broadband network to 1.1Gbps. That upgrade, which has already reached just under half of the addresses in Virgin Media’s footprint, will be finished by the end of the year.
But the firm is already looking beyond cable and toward a full-fibre network that could deliver symmetrical download and upload speeds of 10Gbps or even faster. That network will be completed by the end of 2028 and allow Virgin to maintain its position as a “speed leader” for broadband, VMO2 chief executive Lutz Schüler said.
Using its existing underground ducts will reduce Virgin’s expenses compared to other full-fibre networks. The cost of the FTTP connections will be around £100 per property, or £1.4 billion in total, only a “modest” increase on what Virgin would have spent to upgrade its existing cables to faster speeds, Schüler said.
In contrast, the BT Group will spend £15 billion to reach 25 million households with Openreach’s full fibre, a rollout scheduled to be finished by the end of 2026. £8 billion from private equity and infrastructure funds is backing more than 50 alternative networks (alt-nets) in the full fibre race.
The largest among them, CityFibre, will spend £4 billion to reach 8 million premises by 2025 and suggests it could up that target to 10 million locations if it secures an additional £1 billion of funding.
Although Virgin Media’s timeline is slightly delayed compared to those rivals, the telecoms giant doesn’t feel it is “on the back foot,” Schüler said.
“Right now, we have the UK’s leading gigabit network, and this upgrade means we’ll be even stronger for the decades ahead, pursuing new opportunities and putting words into action,” he added.
Virgin’s Project Lightning has already built full-fibre connections to 1.2 million premises. The fibre upgrade also won’t come at the expense of VMO2’s existing £10 billion plans to expand its fixed broadband footprint by 7 to 8 million addresses and upgrade O2’s mobile network to 5G.
Meanwhile, uptake of Virgin’s cable broadband remains strong. The company, now jointly owned by Liberty Global and Spain’s Telefónica, has recorded its fifth consecutive quarter of broadband growth.
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