Virgin Media yesterday outlined plans to bring superfast broadband speeds of 100Mb to 12.6 million UK homes by the end of next year. The move was backed by both Labour and the Conservatives in what has become a hotly contested political issue in the run-up to the general election.
The cable group announced at its full-year results yesterday that it would launch the 100Mb broadband service commercially to customers this year, before completing the roll-out by the end of 2011. It is also expanding its testing of 200Mb broadband in Kent to Coventry, while the chief executive, Neil Berkett, added that speeds of up to 1Gb were being tested in the labs.
Stephen Timms, the minister for Digital Britain, congratulated the company through a posting on the social networking site Twitter, saying it "reflects real demand," before adding that it was a "rebuff to [the] 'wait and see' school".
Jeremy Hunt, the shadow Culture Secretary, said the move backed its theory that the market would have the incentive to deliver superfast broadband "more than the Government currently thinks". He added: "This shows just what the market can deliver."
Virgin currently offers broadband speeds of 50Mb over its fibre network, the fastest available in the UK, and sees its fibre network as a crucial factor in differentiating it from rivals, including Sky and BT. "Not all broadband is created equal," Mr Berkett said, adding: "The days of Mb broadband will be numbered in the next few years." BT recently announced that it would challenge Virgin with "Infinity", a superfast fibre broadband product of its own.
Virgin increased its cable broadband subscriptions by 63,600 in the last three months of 2009, to bring total customers to 4.1 million. At the end of the year it had 41,400 using the 50Mb service, up 81 per cent over the previous quarter.
The group reported that it had more than halved its losses for the full year to £335m, while it lifted revenues by 3.3 per cent to £980m. It signed up a record 28,600 new subscribers to its services in total in the fourth quarter.
Mr Berkett said that by Christmas the group will be ready to release settop boxes through its partnership with TiVo as well as its new music service.