ntl:Telewest and Virgin.net have today merged into the Virgin Media group. The initial launch has produced a number of bundles for users able to get a Virgin Media cable service, based around a series of 2 for £20, 3 for £30 and 4 for £40 packages. There is a VIP package that gives the best of everything and weighs in at £85 per month.
In broadband terms the Medium packages include an 2 Mbps service, Large packages a 4 Mbps service and XL packages include a 10 Mbps product. The VIP (Very Impressive Package) package comprises the XL product from each category, a Virgin Mobile service for £85 a month giving you Sky Sports & Movies, the V+ HD DVR (High Definition Digital Video Recorder), and another standard V box for another room. For those that want everything Virgin Media can offer including a Lobster 700 TV phone there is a £125 a month deal named 'VIP Complete' as well. Also it is possible to upgrade individual packages for an additional fee (e.g. to a Large broadband service). Details of all the packages are here.
The product line for those not in a former ntl:Telewest cabled area is very different at present:
The ADSL packages above do not include telephone line rental, which costs £11 from BT Retail (other line rental deals are available). If you don't know which services are available to you, Virgin Media have a postcode checker at www.virginmedia.com/checkyourpostcode.
All Virgin Media cable broadband products while advertised as unlimited downloads are subject to a fair use policy, though the policy does not clearly set out what sort of usage is considered unfair. The situation is different for the Virgin Broadband ADSL products, the Acceptable Use Policy gives a 40GB (GigaByte) guidance limit (detailed here). The 40GB figure is not a cut-off point when the connection will stop working but customers using in excess of this amount may receive a warning email and letter.
The launch is much more than just a rebrand, but the beginnings of another large media company. Virgin.net has been offering ADSL services across the country and Virgin Media plans to extend its four-play services to the whole country with the aim of 97% coverage. This is not going to be met by a massive cable network build programme but rather utilisation of existing copper network infrastructure from Openreach although no firm details are available on any roll-out plans as yet. The aim is to get all four core Virgin Media services available to everyone within the intended coverage by around November 2007, though the TV service may take a little longer to become a fully stable product.
NTL and to a lesser extent Telewest have not had a brilliant customer service record but the press launch stressed the improvements made in the last year, for example 300 new staff to answer the telephones, reductions in call waiting time, and thirty new staff to train support staff. One side effect of these improvements has been improved staff retention rates in the call centres which should hopefully mean customers will get better help when they contact the company.
So while the big launch has now taken place, the changes are only just starting and will continue as the company brings new products to the market. The main competitor would appear to be Sky who has its own triple-play products, so we may see a head to head competition, and while very often the cheapest player will win, we hope that this will not come at the cost of considerations such as product quality and customer service.
Update 5:20pm: Update to reflect acceptable use policy for Virgin Broadband services not running on the cable network.