Virgin Media has pledged to build a million ultra-fast fibre optic broadband lines in the next three years, substantially increasing the pressure on BT as the national telecoms network falls increasingly behind.
The plan by Virgin is to increase its premises holdings by four million premises by 2019, and lay the ultrafast cables through a quarter of them.
British telecoms infrastructure as it exists today was laid down by a number of companies in the 1990s, and this move by Virgin is the first major expansion of the network since then. It will boost broadband coverage to 17 million premises, or two thirds of the UK’s homes and businesses. Most of the new connections will be using coaxial cables, which are faster than BT’s copper wiring but still subject to some lag issues during high-speed streaming or online gaming – but at least a million of the connections will use Virgin’s ultra-fast fibre optic cables, providing the fastest internet connections currently available.
According to Virgin’s spokesman, work laying the ultra-fast cables has already begun in Leicestershire and Cambridgeshire, and will soon begin in West Yorkshire, East Sussex and Devonshire.
Last year alone, the £3 billion network expansion connected 250,000 of it’s planned 4 million premises. This prompted Tom Mockridge, Virgin’s CEO, to say “Some companies talk a good game, but Virgin Media is putting its money where its mouth is and laying fibre to the premise.”
His comments are understood to have been a jab at BT, a company which has famously resisted the march towards ultra-fast fibre optics, keeping its focus utterly on copper wiring to keep costs down, focusing all its innovation on a technology called G.fast, which has the potential to bring the copper-wired BT system up to the maximum speed of coaxial cable, but still fall far behind fibre optics in terms of reliability and raw speed.
Concerns have been voiced by telecoms giants like Sky that the emphasis on outdated copper cables leaves Britain vulnerable to falling behind other nations in terms of telecoms ability, as nations like Italy invest heavily in fibre optic technology.
These concerns are mirrorewd by Ofcom, which stated last year that BT would “have to make more drastic improvements” to keep its infrastructure relevent – backed by the Government, who have supported Ofcom’s possible need for “radical action” in reforming the British national telecoms agency.
As these arguments boil on, Virgin continues to consolidate its speed advantage, laying more cables that will be exclusively their asset in future.