Virgin Media Readies 100Mbps Broadband

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

All of Virgin Media’s existing 3.8 million cable broadband users will be able to experience connections of up to 100 megabits per second from next year

Good news for Internet users that live in cable areas of the UK, after Virgin Media announced that all of its customers will soon be able to subscribe to a “flagship 100 megabits per second (Mbps) broadband connection.” In addition, Virgin Media announced that it is extending a pilot scheme that offers a staggering 200Mbps.

At the moment, Virgin Media charges £28 per month for its fastest connection of up to 50 Mbps. But from June 2011, the 100Mbps web connection will be available to all of Virgin Media’s 3.8 million customers, should they choose to subscribe to the faster service. This is because from the end of 2010 the cable company will start rolling out the service to approximately 12.6 million homes in the UK.

At the moment, the average UK broadband connection speed is 4.1Mbps (according to the lastest figures from Ofcom and SamKnows – July 2009).

However in reality most UK users do not experience anything near the advertised speed of 8Mbps or even 24Mbps, especially when contention ratios and the distance they live from the telephone exchange is factored in.

Virgin Media however is boasting that while its 100Mbps service would deliver 24 times faster than the current average speed, its fibre optic cable network means it is able to deliver very close to advertised headline speeds.

Indeed, it says that its 100Mbps service would allow users to download a music album in as little as 5 seconds, while an hour long TV show would only take 31 seconds. A high definition movie, for example, could be downloaded in as little as 7 minutes 25 seconds.

“Virgin Media customers will be the first to get broadband speeds more than 24 times the average speed provided by other ISPs,” said the company. “The new speed tier is designed for tech-savvy users who want the very best the Internet has to offer, and will act as Virgin Media’s flagship product in a strong portfolio of broadband speeds.”

“There is nothing we can’t do with our fibre optic cable network, and the upcoming launch of our flagship 100Mb service will give our customers the ultimate broadband experience,” said Virgin Media’s chief executive officer, Neil Berkett. “The launch of Virgin Media’s 100Mb service will be a historic moment and will mean the UK will be comparable to other leading broadband nations.”

Indeed, the company took the opportunity to tout the fact that it will have increased its top broadband tier from 20Mbps to 100Mbps, in less than two years. This compares to the slow and often frustrating wait for super-fast broadband by those who live outside areas that have cable, including rural communities.

BT for example has pledged to rollout out its superfast broadband network in time for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. And in a further effort to speed up the slow rollout of fibre in the UK, BT announced recently that it will open up its network of ducts and poles to competitors, so that rival ISPs can lay their own fibre under the street or along telegraph poles to millions of homes in the United Kingdom. However it remains to be seen however how this move will translate to broadband provision in rural areas, where the cost of a fibre rollout will be more expensive.

Whatever happens, it will take a while to catch up with Virgin Media, which has said that it will extend its 200Mbps pilot to Coventry, after it began the scheme in Kent in May 2009. In Coventry, the company will look to “recruit hundreds of customers to test the Internet with this supercharged speed.”

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