Virgin Media (www.virginmedia.com) has been running a radio advertising campaign which refers to "unlimited super duper fast fibre-optic cable broadband" which has excited some technical listeners who took the message too literally expecting a new level of broadband service.
Fibre optic links are very fast connections over cables that can run into many kilometres in length without loss of speed. "Fibre-to-the-home" (FTTH) has been discussed at various levels. Core internet links typically run on fibre optic cables for this reason. At the moment, FTTH deployments are quite limited although they are increasing in technologically driven countries.
DSL broadband services (used mostly by Virgin's competitors although Virgin uses DSL too in non-cable areas) are being offered at anything 'up to 24 meg' although 'up to 8 meg' is far more common (and some areas have even slower speeds). The problem with the current generation of DSL signals is that they degrade over distance, particularly if you live more than 3.5 km from the local exchange. 2 Mbps services are possible to around 5.5 km (although it will inevitably depend on the quality of your line.)
"You can now get Virgin Broadband for just £10 a month and it's not just any old broadband. It's unlimited super duper fast fibre-optic cable broadband or in other words broadband that doesn't use copper wire like most providers and doesn't slow down no matter how far you live from the telephone exchange. I'm sold. Gimme some of that.
Virgin broadband. Just £10/month for a year. Call 0800 052 7000. That's 0800 052 7000 or visit virginmedia.com
Subject to availability. Minimum term contract. Conditions apply. Up to 2 meg broadband. Acceptable use policy. Direct debit price. New broadband customers only. £25 installation fee. Offer ends 30th June."Virgin Broadband Radio Advert
Some listeners to the advert assumed Virgin would be delivering fibre to their home which is not the case with this service. Virgin are trying to illustrate that their broadband is different from the services provided over copper telephone lines by BT through its Openreach division. The fibre will however usually terminate in the street cabinet and the service from there to each home is delivered over coaxial copper core cable.
Almost all of Virgin Media cable customers are within 1km of their fibre optic network, with most being within 500 metres. The final run of coax cable delivers both the TV and broadband signal to the homes. The company has the ability to provide 'up to 20 meg' broadband services in addition to HDTV on-demand content (which equates to another 18 Mbps) over the same cable, which it believes makes it different to other IPTV providers which have to share the capacity from the broadband to deliver standard definition on-demand content. As the Virgin Media access network is amplified, the capacity can be delivered throughout the network, no matter where you live.
Technically minded users might be interested that whilst Virgin Media currently use short coax tails using a standard called DOCSIS1 to provide speed bursts up to 20 Mbps. The company is trialling the newer DOCSIS3 standard to provide up to 100 Mbps speeds still without delivering fibre to the home.
"Without the power of the fibre deep into our access network none of this would be possible and it's obviously a unique asset we want consumers to at least understand on a basic level (i.e. more consistent speeds over cable)"John Moorwood, Virgin Media
Whilst Virgin's network is certainly now starting to be used more effectively for its unique advantage, the advertisement is likely to attract complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. Whilst the advertisement does state the offer is subject to availability, it may not be clear to the average user that the claim is limited to Virgin's "on-net" cable services, and not its "off-net" ADSL services which it offers in areas not covered by its cable network. Also, the claim to provide "unlimited super duper fast fibre-optic cable broadband" is strongly conveying the idea of fast speeds, when users might question the potential slow-downs during peak periods due to traffic shaping and whether 2 Mbps itself is 'super duper fast' these days.
It is worth remembering however that not everyone in the country is within reach of the Virgin Media cable network and many of the users who can't get good fast ADSL broadband connections are likely to be those in rural areas which are less likely to have cable available. BT Wholesale estimated that 93% of customers would be able to get a 2 Mbps broadband service, which includes all non-cabled areas as well.