Ethernet services

Branson Ups Battle With BT

2:45 PM -- For all his success and charisma (or maybe because of it), many people regard Sir Richard Branson, serial entrepreneur, shameless self-promoter, and chief figurehead behind the ubiquitous Virgin brand, as a bit of a pain in the backside.

And if the management at BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) wasn't already part of that (quite sizeable) demographic, they likely will be now, following the overnight rebranding of ntl:Telewest Business, the enterprise services unit of U.K. cable operator Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED), as Virgin Media Business Ltd. (clearly a much better and more sensible name than anything sporting a senseless colon). (See Virgin Media Business Launches.)

That's because Virgin Media, in addition to being a fierce rival in the U.K.'s consumer triple-play services market, has re-energized its enterprise services group, set a clear goal of winning business in the medium-sized business sector (a key target group for BT) to help increase its annual revenues of roughly £600 million (US$942 million), and has overtly stated that it's gunning for BT. (See Virgin Boasts On-Demand Success, Virgin Boosts Data, Gets Curve, Virgin Presses 'Play' for On Demand Ads, Virgin to Trial Off-Net FTTx, and Virgin Takes Fight to Its DSL Rivals.

"Virgin Media Business launched today, outlining plans to shake up the UK business telecoms market," the Branson-backed company barked today. "By growing business data and bringing the Virgin philosophy of innovation and brilliant customer service to the business telecoms market, the company is positioned to become a compelling alternative to BT."

OK, so "compelling alternative" isn't quite sticking it to BT exactly. "The company is going to out-sell, out-perform, out-sing, and out-drink BT in the business services sector" might have been a bit more bullish, but what the hey –- at least Branson and Co. are giving the business a proper go, and aren't just selling it off to the highest bidder, as has been suggested on a number of occasions. (See ntl:telewest Rumor Resurfaces.)

The fact of the matter is, Virgin Media Business (as it now is), has been suffering from a crummy brand for quite a while now, but has been working hard to develop much better customer care and support capabilities -– it invested a lot of time, effort, and money in the self-service capabilities of its customer portal, for example –- and has some decent Ethernet services, including "simple point-to-point Ethernet circuits for the Metropolitan area through to national point-to-point and point-to-multipoint Ethernet services as well as any-to-any Ethernet VPNs," up its sleeve, too. (See ntl:Telewest Unveils Ethernet VPN and ntl:Telewest Touts Portal.)

And it plans to expand that Ethernet services portfolio, too.

So now that it has a decent brand that makes sense -- one that comes with all the positive associations the Virgin name undoubtedly carries (whatever you think of Branson) -- BT will likely have a stronger competitor on its hands.

And that's hardly going to make the British incumbent operator feel very warm and fuzzy towards our favorite goateed entrepreneur, is it?

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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