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Virgin Media has begun a pilot of a 200Mbit/s broadband service in Kent to gauge future demand for bandwidth in the home.

The pilot, which began last week in Ashford, will see 100 Virgin Media staff and customers connected at the new speed for at least six months. A spokesman for the firm said the upstream bandwidth for the new service hadn't been decided yet, but that a range would be tried.

Virgin Media talked up the speed potential of its network at the launch of its 50Mbit/s service late last year. Today it claimed the 200Mbit/s pilot area would be the fastest DOCSIS 3.0 network in the world.

Although it doesn't believe there is currently a commercial demand for 200Mbit/s, the firm wants to assess how consumers would use it for services such as HDTV, and home security and surveillance. The triallists have been selected for their high-end PCs and tech savvy.

Virgin Media is working with third party consumer hardware firms on the trial, including Cisco. As well as dominating the market for ISP routing kit, Cisco owns home networking brand Linksys.

"With the only true next generation network in the UK, we’re at the forefront of innovation and understanding when it comes to ultrafast broadband services, and the 200Mb pilot will give us further insight into how true 'wideband' services might be used by consumers," said Virgin Media chief executive Neil Berkett.

There is no schedule or confirmed plans for a wider rollout of 200Mbit/s broadband. Virgin Media's network-wide upgrade to offer up to 50Mit/s downstream is due to be completed around the middle of this year. The firm is attempting to position itself as the UK's premium internet provider.

Main rival BT is currently trialling faster broadband in London and Wales based on fibre to the cabinet and VDSL, which offers downstream speeds of up to 40Mbit/s. It plans to roll out the upgrade to 40 per cent of UK homes by 2012. ®

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