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DOCSIS

Virgin Media makes DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade splurge

Virgin Media, the UK's second-biggest broadband infrastructure provider behind BT's Openreach, has made another sizable push on DOCSIS 3.1.

Largely through DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades to its hybrid fiber coax (HFC) network in Liverpool and Edinburgh, and some FTTP rollouts, an extra 600,000 households can now access a "gigabit-capable" network.

It takes the number of homes passed with gigabit-capable networks in Virgin Media's footprint – around 15.9 million homes in total – up to 2.7 million.

Virgin Media's "Project Lightning" is responsible for the rollout of FTTP and radio frequency over glass (RFoG), and currently passes around 2.2 million homes. (RFoG is when the coax portion of the HFC network is replaced by a single-fiber passive optical network.)

Project Lightning, after getting off to a slow start (it began as far back as 2015), managed to pass 505,000 homes during 2019. In the first quarter of this year, another 93,000 premises were added.

Virgin Media is nonetheless coy about name-checking technologies, preferring to talk about "gigabit speeds." DOCSIS 3.1 only gets one fleeting mention in the latest upgrade announcement.

Is that because DOCSIS 3.1 is a shared medium and might not be as reliable as "full fiber" for gigabit delivery?

"Not at all," a Virgin Media spokesperson told Light Reading. "We have over-provisioned the network, which means we can deliver median downlink speeds in excess of 1Gbit/s."

With "gigabit-capable" networks now passing nearly 2.7 million homes across the Virgin Media footprint, the company spokesperson claimed the ambitious target of passing 15 million homes – by the end of 2021 – was still "on track."

It seems to Light Reading that the rollout pace will have to quicken somewhat if Virgin Media is to make good on that promise.

The UK government has set a target for all premises (which numbers around 30 million when you include businesses) to have access to gigabit speeds by 2025.

Openreach's "Fiber First" program targets passing 4 million premises with full fiber by the end of next March.

BT's infrastructure arm previously indicated it could aim for 15 million premises passed with full fiber by the "mid-2020s," but only under the "right investment conditions."

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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