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Virgin Media boss urges new PM to lift ISP restrictions and confirms gigabit launch

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Virgin Media has announced it will bring next-generation gigabit internet to its entire fibre network by the end of 2021 but its chief operating officer has called on the UK’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make it easier for ISPs to expand.

The firm said it would provide nearly 15 million UK households with access to gigabit broadband speeds and will introduce the next-generation service in cities across its national network later in the year, starting with Southampton, where customer trials are already taking place.

Upgrades are being made to the company’s existing core cabled network but customers will require a new router to access the speeds, chief operating officer Jeff Dodds explained.

He also said that the current rules can make it difficult for ISPs to rapidly expand their networks.

They currently have to seek wayleave agreements for permission to install their apparatus on privately owned land and some buildings.

Dodds said the current system is “quite cumbersome” and “not particularly flexible”.

“There’s a lot that Boris Johnson and government can do to make that process more streamlined and efficient for people wishing to invest and build out,” he told PA.

“The second thing is to look at things like broadband rates, the taxation on building out broadband infrastructure.

“If he wants to build faster, there are plenty of levers Boris has at his disposal to pull to encourage people to get their speeds out quicker, including us.”

Johnson repeated his desire for “fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household” during his Conservative leadership victory speech on Tuesday.

Full-fibre, which uses fibre cables all the way from the exchange to a person’s home, is only available to 7 per cent of UK properties, according to Ofcom’s spring 2019 Connection Nations update.

“Boris Johnson’s ambitious commitment to achieve full-fibre coverage by 2025 is welcome, but needs to be matched with ambitious regulatory change, including reform of the fibre tax,” he said.

Speeds of one gigabit per second (1Gbps) would be around double what Virgin Media currently offers from its fastest product, which it claims has an average download speed of 516Mbps (megabit per second).

The move comes in anticipation of greater demand for quicker broadband, with streamed ultra-high-definition 4K content expected to increase and the arrival of cloud gaming likely to be an added strain on providers.

“If all homes are streaming their content in 4K as standard today that would increase capacity requirements by about 12 times,” Dodds continued.

“And if they were to do that not in 4K but in 8K, you can only imagine the increase in bandwidth requirements.”

According to Virgin Media, its gigabit service is around 20 times faster than the UK average broadband connection.

This would mean downloading an ultra-high-definition 4K film of about 20GB in size taking less than three minutes, compared to nearly an hour (52 minutes) on the UK’s average connection, it claims.

Sharon White, chief executive of Ofcom, said: “We welcome Virgin Media’s commitment to investing further in its network, providing gigabit speeds to millions more households.

“This shows the race to roll out ultrafast speeds to people and businesses across the UK is really gathering pace.”

Paolo Pescatore, an analyst from PP Foresight, described the development as a “great move for UK plc”.

“Competition is heating up with Openreach accelerating its own efforts to match the alternative network providers like CityFibre and the many others emerging from out of the blue,” he said.

“Arguably, this move should have come sooner but will bring about plentiful benefits to Virgin Media customers for potentially a few quid more.”

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