Virgin Preps 100-Mbit/s Broadband Launch

UK cable operator Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED) will up the wideband ante by launching a 100-Mbit/s service by the end of 2010, and has set plans in motion to expand the trial of its 200-Mbit/s Docsis 3.0 service.

Virgin took aim at DSL and fiber speed competition in December 2008 with the introduction of a 50-Mbit/s (downstream) service, more than doubling its previous, fastest tier, which clocked in at 20 Mbit/s. Virgin Media completed the Docsis 3.0 network rollout in July 2009, making the wideband service available to about 12 million homes and giving it a play against BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA)'s 40-Mbit/s "Infinity" service. (See Virgin Media Readies 50 Mbit/s Service , Virgin Wraps Wideband Rollout, and BT Launches Infinity Broadband.)

A Virgin Media spokesman confirmed via email that the MSO has not yet set a price for the 100-Mbit/s offering, but said the it intends to release pricing, along with the initial launch areas, "ahead of the on-sale date." The price for the 50-Mbit/s service is £28 (US$42.82) per month when bundled with another offering, and £38 ($58.09) when bought as a standalone service.

He also noted that the upstream capability of the new tier is likely to be 10 Mbit/s at a minimum, though Virgin Media is already testing higher upstream speeds.

The launch of the new 100-Mbit/s tier "will be a historic moment and will mean the UK will be comparable to other leading broadband nations," Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett said in a statement, likely in response to studies indicating that the nation is a broadband laggard. [Ed note: Which it is.]

Virgin Media hasn't revealed how many of its high-speed Internet customers are taking wideband, but in releasing fourth-quarter figures today it did note that 45 percent of its broadband sub base of 3.8 million is on a tier offering speeds of 20 Mbit/s or more. The MSO added 63,600 broadband subs in the fourth quarter, an increase on the 57,100 added in the year-ago period.

In other EuroDocsis 3.0-related activity, Virgin Media said it will extend its 200-Mbit/s (downstream) pilot to Coventry, where it will "recruit hundreds of customers" to try it. Virgin started testing those speeds last May in Kent, piloting applications such as home teleconferencing, 3D TV, and high-definition video downloads. (See Virgin Bonds With 200 Mbit/s Trial .)

Virgin hasn't indicated when it might offer a 200 Mbit/s on a commercial basis. It's achieving those burst speeds by bonding four 8MHz channels, each outputting roughly 50 Mbit/s, using the EuroDocsis platform. The North American Docsis specs use channels that are 6MHz wide, with each channel pumping out roughly 40 Mbit/s.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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