Virgin Media promises speeds of 1Gpbs to 15 million homes – all without full fibre

But industry is sceptical hybrid network tech will cut it

Virgin Media has promised speeds of 1Gbps to 15 million homes by the end of 2021 – although that won't be on full fibre.

The company's daddy, Liberty Global, has spent billions expanding its network, said the firm.

As part of the blueprint, more than a million people will be able to access broadband speeds of 1Gbps by the end of 2019 using an upgrade to Virgin hybrid fibre DOCSIS (data over cable service interface specification) 3.1 technology.

Virgin Media claimed it will have capability to roll out multi-gigabit connections and further improvements over the next decade.

Around £3bn has already been pumped into the full-fibre Project Lightning network, although so far Virgin has managed to establish just 1.7 million connections – nearly half its original stated aim of four million by the end of 2019.

In February, Virgin Media began trialling a full-fibre connection selling speeds of more than 8Gbps to homes in Cambridgeshire.

Last week, newly appointed UK prime minister Boris Johnson said he wants Britain to have full-fibre by 2025. "If the Spanish can do it, why can't we? Let's say goodbye to the UK's mañana approach to broadband and unleash full fibre for all by 2025," he wrote in The Telegraph.

Andrew Ferguson of ThinkBroadband said last week the only way of coming close to that target would be to include the speeds achieved by Virgin Media's hybrid fibre DOCSIS 3.1 tech – which is already being deployed in Australia – and if the government extended the definition of what "passing" a premise meant.

The UK's full-fibre penetration of 7 per cent compared to Spain's 85 per cent is something regulator Ofcom has repeatedly called on the industry (and specifically BT's Openreach) to address.

Lutz Schüler, chief exec of Virgin Media, said: "This upgrade plan will see gigabit speeds rolled out at an unrivalled pace right across the country, bringing our customers the future-proof connections of tomorrow."

Sharon White, Ofcom's outgoing chief exec, 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."

However, Openreach CEO Clive Selley said: "It's great to see others working to upgrade their existing networks, but only full fibre to the premises technology can deliver the future-proof connectivity the UK needs."

Openreach plans to deploy full fibre to four million homes by 2021, with BT making noises about 15 million by around 2025. However, Ofcom has criticised this figure as "not a firm commitment". ®

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