Eight households in Papworth, Cambridgeshire are taking part in a trial of Virgin Media’s 8Gbps FTTP.
The Virgin Media trial will last for six months and involves rolling out broadband connections with download speeds of 8Gbps, which is over 216 faster than the UK average. Virgin Media will utilise enhanced Ethernet Passive Optical Networking (Epon) equipment as well as software from supplier Arris. Virgin is hoping to expand the trial to fifty households in the coming months.
Five years ago Papworth residents participated in another trial for Virgin Media. That time to trial 1Gbps FTTP and narrow trenching deployment, which tries to “minimise disruption to local road infrastructure during network builds”.
Whereas standard broadband relies on copper-based phone line networks, fibre broadband uses fibre optic cables and is much faster. Virgin Media’s trial will use ‘full fibre’, also called FTTP (fibre to the premises), and undoubtedly offers the fastest speeds of at least 1Gbps. The UK is currently lagging behind other European countries in terms of full fibre access, with only 5% of UK households having access to it compared with 71% of Spain and 89% of Portugal.
The regulator Ofcom is working to improve full fibre coverage across the UK and has plans to give six million premises full fibre access by 2020. The government has also set out plans for complete UK access by 2033.
Richard Sinclair, executive director of connectivity at Virgin Media, said: “Whether it’s streaming UHD movies on Netflix, playing the latest games online or video conferencing, faster internet connections have changed our lives immeasurably over the past decade. As speed leaders, Virgin Media is not going to stand still—this trial is about looking ahead to the next decade and beyond.”
He added: “With the volume of our customers’ internet usage almost doubling every year, trials like this will ensure we have the capability to meet the demand of data-hungry services in the future, be that over cable or full-fibre.”
Virgin is testing new broadband developments that would allow customers to download ultra-HD 4K films and TV shows “in a matter of seconds” rather than the 15 minutes it would normally take. For large gaming files that currently take about 5 hours to download, the download time could be reduced to as little as two minutes.
The trial was verified by both SamKnows, a broadband service quality checker, and Ofcom, both of which are independent of Virgin Media.
Sam Crawford, founder and CTO of SamKnows, explained that the service lent its certified measurements to assist Virgin Media so that the ISP could “inexpensively troubleshoot issues quickly and consistently to deliver innovative multi-gigabit speeds to real customers”.
Paolo Pescatore, an independent telecoms analyst, was less optimistic about the future implementation of the trial. “There has been something of a fibre frenzy recently and there is a clear argument to upgrade to fibre but will people notice the difference [between 1Gbps and 5Gbps]?”
However, Pescatore does encourage broadband providers to “future-proof their networks” in order to keep up with developments in the market. “It is a natural progression for Virgin Media to extend its network and allow more speed and capacity and this used existing infrastructure so it did not need to dig up roads,” he added.
In the past Virgin Media has been met with criticism for building its network almost exclusively in profitable areas like urban centres, rather than addressing the need for better broadband service in rural areas.
Rival ISPs have also begun to announce plans for full-fibre and higher speed connections. BT intends to provide full-fibre connections to three million households by 2020. Meanwhile, Hyperoptic tested broadband speeds of up to 10Gbps at one household in London last year.