Virgin Trials Ultrafast Broadband Over Telegraph Poles

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Berkshire village gets fibre optic broadband in trials that could lead to one million extra homes accessing up to 100Mbps speeds

Virgin Media has announced a new trial using telegraph poles to deliver ultrafast 50Mbps broadband to the Berkshire village of Woolhampton.

By connecting homes directly to Virgin Media’s fibre optic network, the operator said the trial could increase broadband speeds more than ten-fold in a rural community that has previously relied on BT’s copper network, without the need for government subsidy.

The trial will also enable Virgin to use the broadband service to cross-sell its on-demand TV service, with a view to extending its quadplay of services to more than one million homes, in parts of the UK it had identified that stand to benefit from deployment over telegraph poles.

Neil Berkett, chief executive officer of Virgin Media, said: “This unique trial will allow us to understand the possibilities of aerial deployment and may provide an exciting new way to extend next-generation broadband services.”

The trial will start this month and is scheduled to run for approximately six months.

The government is currently considering a change to planning guidelines, needed to enable large-scale overhead deployment. In the meantime, the Woolhampton trial will provide insight into the technical, operational and commercial viability of aerial fibre deployment and build on what Virgin Media has learned from a trial in Cornwall, started in 2009.

The Cornish trial brought next-generation digital services to the villages of Hatt and Saltash by running underground fibre optic cable to BT’s local street cabinets. Virgin Media said it believed using overhead poles as well as underground ducts could, in some cases, significantly improve the viability of its services to rural communities.

Rob Bamforth, Quocirca principal analyst, thought the idea, in principle, might not be ideal – recent winter storms have served as a reminder of how easily telegraph and power lines can be downed.

“But this model has been used for fibre in some parts of Eastern Europe and we already have a lot of this infrastructure in place, where this method could prove more cost-effective and expedient in certain areas,” he said.

Bamforth, therefore, broadly welcomed the Virgin initiative, which would “help keep pressure on the likes of BT in rural areas”.

He added that this approach was also further evidence that the UK was headed towards a patchwork of different technologies to serve urban, rural and remote areas. “And that’s good as long as it’s all towards the goal of universal access,” Bamforth said. “It’s a shame Digital Britain didn’t make more of these ideas.”

Virgin Media had already announced plans to extend its fibre optic network to 500,000 new homes, which it said currently passes 12.6 million homes.

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