Virgin Media to invest £3bn in broadband for small businesses and consumers

Speeds of 152Mb to be rolled out in all the major cities including London and Manchester with business owners able to register to get faster speeds

Virgin Media has today announced an additional £3bn investment to roll-out its broadband offering of 152Mb speeds to four million more UK small businesses and consumers by 2020; said to be the single largest investment in UK internet infrastructure for over a decade.

The project, dubbed ‘Project Lightning’, is supported by parent company Liberty Global and will be initially extended to urban areas as Virgin Media Business MD Peter Kelly explained in our interview with him this morning:

“We’re going to be rolling out in all the major cities such as Birmingham, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Glasgow. The first and most important thing is end user demand. Businesses can also register at ‘cable my business‘ and we’re going to be using the data from this to determine where we deploy the infrastructure first.”

Virgin expects the major investment to benefit the national economy by £8bn and estimates that it will create 6,000 new jobs, including 1,000 new apprenticeships, over the next five years.

Kelly also explained that while the investment is “primarily about urban deployment”, rural broadband expansion is not off the cards:

“We are extending our fibre broadband but are we going to be able to target all areas of the UK? No. This investment will get to four million additional premises, which would take us to almost 17 million in total but there’s still a significant number of premises available.

He added that, in the future, fast-growth infrastructure start-ups such as Gigaclear could help Virgin reach more rural areas and rural businesses:

“Investment in UK infrastructure is a good thing, I think Gigaclear coming in [to the market] is good for the UK economy – at some point down the line we could even think about partnering with them for some of the services.”

The news also ties in with Virgin Media’s recent commitment to “transform the internet” for Tech City with 500 small high-tech companies receiving speeds of up of to 1 Gigabit.

Competition in the broadband space is hotting up after BT CEO Gavin Patterson announced last month that BT will look to deliver speeds of up to 500Mbps through its ‘G Fast’ service in the coming years, and TalkTalk recently announced new unlimited broadband packages for £4 a month.

Prime minister David Cameron said of the announcement:“I welcome this substantial investment from Virgin Media which is a vote of confidence in our long-term economic plan to support business and create jobs by building a superfast nation backed by world-class infrastructure.

“Together with this government’s rollout of superfast broadband which has now reached more than two million UK homes and businesses, this additional private investment will create more opportunities for people and businesses, further boosting our digital economy and helping secure a brighter future for Britain.”

Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk, is more sceptical of the news:

“This still doesn’t address the ‘digital divide’ as the provider [Virgin Media] has clearly indicated that investment will focus on areas that are close to its existing infrastructure.

“This means that already well-connected areas will get a wider selection of services to choose from, while rural dwellers are left in the cold again.”

 

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