Project Lightning, you say? Virgin Media's fibre rollout is pretty glacial

Meanwhile, corporate daddy Liberty Global flogs European assets to Vodafone for €18.4bn

Virgin Media reported another quarter of low growth for its troubled £3bn fibre programme Project Lightning, adding just 111,000 premises in the first three months of 2018 – the lowest for the last four quarters.

So far VM has managed 1.2 million connections, with the aim of connecting 4 million premises by the end of 2019 to speeds of 300Mbps.

Virgin Media came under fire after admitting last year it had overstated the rollout by 142,000 premises – a move that led to the suspension of four staff and a reshuffle of its top brass.

The firm reported an increase in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of 5.5 per cent to £548m on revenues up 5.2 per cent to £1.28bn in the quarter to March 2018, compared with the same period last year. EBITDA was the only profit number filed.

Meanwhile, Virgin's daddy Liberty Global today struck a deal with Vodafone to flog its networks in Germany and Eastern Europe for €18.4bn (£16.1bn).

Despite multiple sources confirming that the long-talked-about corporate tie-up between Vodafone and Liberty Global was back on the negotiating table last year, Virgin Media remains out in the cold.

Vodafone has since inked a deal for a full-fibre network built by CityFibre to connect 5 million premises over the next eight years.

However, Vodafone chief exec Vittorio Colao did not rule a future transition out, saying a Virgin acquisition "is not on the agenda for now".

Philip Carse, analyst at Megabuyte, said a Vodafone acquisition of Virgin Media still seems a sensible deal for both sides. "Whilst Virgin Media is not part of this deal, one wonders how committed Liberty Global is to long-term ownership of Virgin."

He added: "Indeed, the UK will become increasingly the odd man out in Europe for Vodafone from a strategic perspective should the Vodafone/Liberty deal go through, given that most of its revenue comes from mobile."

Paolo Pescatore, analyst at CCS Insight, said the acquisition of Vodafone's European assets "is not a game changing move". He added: "Both companies are struggling to grow in a rapidly converging world. If anything, it reinforces the importance of owning both fixed and mobile networks on the road towards 5G."

Margins remain tight in the telecoms sector. Last week Virgin Media said it was axing nearly 800 jobs from its Swansea call centre, with the site expected to be shut down by autumn next year. ®

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