Virgin Media to reach another 100,000 homes


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The Independent Online

Virgin Media is set to expand its cable network to pass a further 100,000 homes by the end of the year, as the super-fast broadband arms race with BT continues to heat up.

The group, run by Neil Berkett, will today announce the expansion of its network, which currently covers just over half the homes in the UK.

The fibre-optic cable offers customers speeds of up to 100Mb, the fastest in the country. Virgin currently caters to 13 million homes, and next year intends to increase that number by a further 500,000. The investment in building its network has so far surpassed £13bn.

The latest move will see the company expand in Southampton, almost doubling its existing presence in the city.

Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, said the lack of high-speed broadband had been frequently raised by her constituents, adding she welcomed the fact that all of Southampton will have access by the end of the year.

Royston Smith, the leader of Southampton City Council, called it a "massive boost to business in Southampton", adding the city had been working with Virgin on the project "for some months".

So far in 2011, Virgin has brought its cable infrastructure to potential customers in a further 73,000 homes in locations including Derry in Northern Ireland and Staines. The company plans to expand with further projects, as yet unannounced, later this year.

Virgin said the consumer need for ever-faster broadband services was growing as data downloaded by its customers had grown 43 per cent a year since 2007 and has now hit 25Gb every month.

Rival BT is also expanding its super-fast broadband network. The service, which can offer up to 40Mb, is part of its £2.5bn plan to bring super-fast broadband to two-thirds of the country and beyond.

Virgin has been keen to point out that despite BT's drive to install cable, its network still relies on copper telephone wiring, which can provide much more limited speed.

Virgin itself has trialled the fastest cable broadband in the world in east London, where speeds hit 1.5Gb, over its existing infrastructure.

The company is currently working on a partnership with Fujitsu to create a new network to provide super-fast broadband services to the remotest parts of the UK, which are currently uneconomical for providers to cover.

Trials by the Japanese group to run cables over BT infrastructure – on its telegraph poles and through its ducts – got under way last week with one of the largest testing areas in the Wirral.

The Government has been pushing companies such as Virgin and BT to improve the country's broadband services. It set up Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) to oversee the implementation of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's pledge to bring in the best super-fast broadband infrastructure in Europe by 2015.

Jon James, executive director of broadband at Virgin, said today's announcement would "support the Government's digital ambitions".