It's no secret that Virgin Media have been looking to boost broadband speeds in the UK. Virgin already offer 50meg broadband and they will be upgrading this to 100meg broadband by the end of the year, speeds which already offer some of the fastest in the UK. When 100meg is launched, they will be the only broadband provider offering this on a large scale. BT's ability to offer speeds like this is hampered by the copper network that is used to deliver broadband which can only support speeds of up to 40meg using the fibre-to-the-cabinet network they are building, and this speed is only achievable if you live very close to the Exchange or cabinet which serves your line. Up to 100meg is available in some areas where fibre-to-the-home is being deployed, but these are only greenfield sites (new build) and deployment of fibre isn't common.
Virgin aren't standing still though, they are preparing their network to launch 400Mbps broadband with modems and routers which support this available at the end of the year, although no launch date for products of these speeds is in sight. This will significantly boost the bandwidth available to customers and leave BT lagging behind with no equivalent products available to compete with Virgin. Whether there is demand is not so clear. Everyone talks about wanting faster broadband speeds but only around 70,000 have signed up to Virgins fastest 50meg broadband service. Virgin believe that consumers are beginning to want more from their connections. Upstream speeds are expected to increase also but customer research indicates there isn't huge demand for this.
"The DOCSIS 3 network really gives us a dial we can turn to give more speed to customers if we think that is the right thing to do both for those customers and commercially.
We have done 50Mbps and a series of upgrades and we will continue to give Virgin Media customers free upgrades on an equipment basis because we are the speed leader and we think it's going to continue as a way we do broadband."Jon James, (Director of broadband) Virgin Media
Whilst Virgin's network is only available to around half the country, they are looking to expand this to other areas. Overhead cables on poles could allow them to reach a further one million customers and Virgin are currently trialling 50meg broadband delivered in this way in the Berkshire village of Woolhampton. This will leave some people with the only option being broadband served from a BT phone line, and therefore limited to the up to 40meg broadband packages which Virgin say only average around 25meg in speed.