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Virgin Media begins 100Mb upgrades

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Virgin Media today said it will begin increasing the maximum downstream broadband speed available via its network to 100Mbit/s, and maximum upload speed to 10Mbit/s.

The gradual programme will take more than 18 months to cover the country, it said, and is due for completion in mid-2012. The first areas scheduled for upgrade, in December, are in London, the South-East and Yorkshire.

It follows small-scale trials, which Virgin Media said "found internet usage increased exponentially", compared to the current 50Mbit/s top package.

"We have already seen a massive uptake in the number of customers watching video rich services and bandwidth hungry high definition programmes and clips," said CEO Neil Berkett.

The 100Mbit/s service will come with a new Virgin Media-branded combined cable modem and 802.11n router. It will launch at £45 per month as a standalone package, or £35 with an £11.99 per month phone line. The current top package costs £38 per month on its own.

The slow pace of the work - it'll take longer than the upgrade to 50Mbit/s, which required more radical changes to the network - suggests demand for increased speeds may not be quite as strong as claimed, however.

Nevertheless, Virgin Media is keen to press its technological advantage over BT. The national telco is currently upgrading two-thirds of its network to offer its faster "Infinity" broadband, but two thirds of those new lines will offer theoretical maximum downloads at 40Mbit/s. The typical reality is likely to be closer to just 25Mbit/s.

Virgin Media was able to call on the services of PR-man-turned-PM David Cameron today to help fluff its news.

"We want to see superfast broadband brought to peoples' homes and businesses right across the country and this exciting news takes us a step closer towards reaching that goal," he said.

The firm is taking pre-registrations for 100Mbit/s service from today on its website.

The announcement came alongside strong third quarter financial results for Virgin Media. Compared to the same period last year, revenues were up 6.4 per cent to £978m, and operating profit up 11 per cent to £387.3m. It gained 14,100 net new cable subscribers, below expectations, but more than 62 per cent of customers are now on triple-play packages of broadband, phone and TV, which helped increase ARPU.

The full report is here. ®

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