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Virgin Media to trial IPTV off-cable network

Fibre optic Cornwall trial

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Virgin Media will trial delivering its TV and broadband services via copper phone lines as part of plans to expand its footprint beyond the cable network laid in the 1990s.

The firm will run a small trial in Cornwall in partnership with fibre optics firm Vtesse Networks this winter.

Residents of Higher Pill, in Saltash, and nearby Hatt will be offered free broadband at up to 50Mbit/s downstream via a VDSL2+ line to a roadside cabinet. The cabinets will be linked to Virgin Media backhaul via new fibre laid by Vtesse Networks.

Cornwall's role as the main landing point for transatlantic communications means there is no shortage of trunk cables nearby to hook into, although for this the trial BT's local exchange - 5km away -will be used.

As well as broadband, Virgin Media plans to offer its full range of TV services, including high definition and on demand, over the new infrastructure.

The trial is part funded by NGN Kernow, a consortium of large firms led by Babcock International who have invested in Cornwall.

Vtesse Networks CEO Aidan Paul said: "Subject to the satisfactory completion of these trials and to a supportive regulatory policy, our analysis indicates that it could be feasible to roll-out similar capability to as many as two million homes and small businesses in current ultra-fast 'not-spots' across the country.

"Instead of speculating on the economics we thought we'd go ahead and do it for real."

BT's currently plans to upgrade 40 per cent of its national network to a similar fibre-to-the-cabinet, VDSL2+ service by 2012. But the investment is targeted at densely populated areas where the return will be highest.

Published in June, the government's Digital Britain report announced a 50 pence per month tax on every land line, a way of subsidising other firms to roll out faster broadband infrastructure to areas BT isn't interested in. Vtesse and Virgin Media's Cornwall trial is an early example of the type of regional project that the subsidies are expected to go to.

It also indicates Virgin Media's desire to expand beyond its cable network, which covers about half of premises nationally, mostly in cities. It was laid at a cost of billions, which has yet to be recouped, and digging new trenches isn't on the agenda. The firm is however on the lookout for opportunities to increase its footprint at low cost.

Jon James, executive director of broadband at Virgin Media said: "This demonstrates our ambition to extend our next generation services to areas outside our traditional cable TV footprint."

Theoretically, Virgin Media could in future expand outside the cable network by buying wholesale access to BT's fibre-to-the-cabinet network, but this is likely to be a comparatively expensive option. ®

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