Virgin Media upped the ante in the battle for broadband market share as it unveiled what it is calling the "Ferrari" of internet connections. The cable giant said it would start offering its superfast 100Mb broadband service in December.
Virgin began taking pre-registration yesterday, with the first areas to receive the service including parts of London, the South-East of England and Yorkshire. It hopes to complete the nationwide roll-out by mid-2012.
The news came as the company posted its fifth consecutive quarter of revenue growth, with earnings in the three months to 30 September up 6.8 per cent to £978m, compared with the same period a year ago.
Virgin offers 50Mb broadband over its cable network, which is the fastest in the UK. The new 100Mb service will be more expensive than current packages but the chief executive, Neil Berkett, said it would be different from services offered by BSkyB and BT. "We have a better quality of product; we currently sell the Mercedes while the others offer Fords," he added. "100Mb will be the Ferrari of broadband."
Rival companies pointed to the low take-up of Virgin Media's current fastest package, with only 100,000 of its 4.2 million broadband users on 50Mb. But Mr Berkett said that with the rise of bandwidth-hungry applications, tablet computers such as the iPad, multiple home usage and catch-up TV, consumers increasingly wanted faster internet access. "We need another halo effect and that will be provided by 100Mb," he added. "The world is changing very quickly. The digital home is being transformed."
Phil Smith, chief executive of Cisco UK and Ireland, said the launch was a "great step forward" but added: "Much more investment is needed to make the UK more competitive and connected."
The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has pledged that Britain will have the best broadband network in Europe within five years, but Mr Smith said: "There is still a lot more work to do if we are to meet the Government's ambition."
Virgin Media's revenue growth was supported by the rise in the average amount cable customers pay for a combination of its broadband, television, telephone and mobile services to £46.38 a month. TV customers rose by 14,800 to 3.7 million, with revenues boosted by the rise in subscribers using its video-on-demand channels.
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