The coverage of pure fibre (Fibre to the Home) may be about to accelerate significantly based on an announcement from Virgin Media, namely that at least a quarter of the four million premises that will be covered by Project Lightning will be connected using Fibre to the Home (FTTH/FTTP).
Project Lightning is aiming to expand the Virgin Media footprint to 17 million premises by 2019 and started last year and with the 250,000 new premises covered already we have seen the cable coverage figures rise from 48.5% to the current 49% and if 2016 sees the promised 500,000 premises delivered this will rise another 1.6%.
"Our £3bn investment to bring ultrafast connectivity to more parts of the UK is not just about better broadband, it’s about future-proofing the country’s network infrastructure with the best and most modern technology.
While some companies talk a good game, Virgin Media is putting its money where its mouth is and laying fibre to the premise alongside our superior HFC network - delivering the fastest widely available broadband speeds.
In just over one year we’ve laid enough new cable to stretch all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats, reaching a quarter of a million more homes and businesses – and there’s much more to come.Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media
For the consumer other than actually having a piece of fibre optic cable direct to the home there is no difference in the products compared to the existing Virgin Media range and exactly the same modems and TV set-top boxes are used, as the service is delivered as RFOG (Radio Frequency Over Glass) which then adds a small converter to extract the signal from the passive optical network and present it in a coax format to the consumer hardware. As there is no difference we have as yet no added any Virgin Media premises to the FTTH coverage figures on our trackers, we have asked Virgin Media if they are happy to share this subset of premises so that the we can both track the changing Virgin Media coverage like we already do but also add the subset to the FTTH figures.
Given the ultrafast battle that is now on the front burner after a decade of simmering away on a low heat it will be interesting to see how BT and others react. BT appears more receptive to the idea of rolling out higher volumes of FTTH than it has been for some years and if there is a proven volume of demand (rather than the usual 1% of suspects buying for bragging rights) for speeds beyond what G.fast can offer we might see a shift from BT too.
If Virgin Media delivers 1 million premises on FTTH, and BT and others continue on the same path as they are now then UK will have FTTH coverage of around 5 to 7% in 2019. If we ignore technology labels and concentrate on just speed, it means even if BT does not roll-out any G.fast we are looking at ultrafast broadband (100 Mbps, 200 Mbps or 300 Mbps definition) availability of 60 to 65% in three years time. If the BT Group deploys G.fast in volume it could be significantly higher maybe around the 80% mark.