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Virgin Media O2 keeps DOCSIS 3.1 train movingVirgin Media O2 keeps DOCSIS 3.1 train moving

Latest HFC network upgrade means more than half of the UK broadband provider's footprint is passed with 'gigabit speeds.'

Ken Wieland

August 12, 2021

3 Min Read
Virgin Media O2 keeps DOCSIS 3.1 train moving

Virgin Media's hook-up with O2 has not made it any less shy about name-checking technologies.

In its latest network upgrade announcement, Virgin Media O2, true to pre-merger form, prefers instead to talk about "gigabit speeds" and "average speeds." DOCSIS 3.1 doesn't even get a mention, although the UK broadband provider is a fan of the hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) upgrade, at least in the near term.

According to the announcement, the latest "gigabit switch-on" sees a further 1.5 million homes passed with average download speeds of 1.13 Gbit/s. More than half of Virgin Media O2's footprint (8.6 million), which comprises 15.5 million homes in total, can now apparently access gigabit speeds. The aim is to gigabit-upgrade the entire footprint to DOCSIS 3.1 before the end of this year.

Figure 1: Making change: Virgin Media and O2 are now one - but still seem to be singing from the existing hymn sheet. (Source: Virgin Media O2) Making change: Virgin Media and O2 are now one – but still seem to be singing from the existing hymn sheet.
(Source: Virgin Media O2)

Despite the PR hesitancy on DOCSIS 3.1 – it certainly doesn't have the same cachet (or capacity) as "full-fiber" – Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries (Virgin Media is part of Liberty Global's European empire) was more forthcoming about the cable technology on the company's latest earnings conference call.

DOCSIS, he said, "will be part of our network solution in the UK for a long time to come."

The CEO likened it to an "overlay" as opposed to a replacement. "We're not decommissioning our cable network," he continued.

"Quite the contrary – we are simply expanding its capacity by pushing the fiber that's already there in the ground even closer to the customer," he said.

Fiber bragging rights

Fries was responding to analyst questions about Virgin Media O2's ambitious plan to upgrade its entire UK network to fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) over the next seven years, which was announced the same day as BT's Q1 results. It currently passes 1.2 million homes with FTTP.

Virgin Media O2's intention was no doubt to rain on the UK incumbent's FTTP parade, although BT CEO Philip Jansen professed to be unfazed by this new development. Speaking to analysts, as reported by Reuters, he said the move made "complete sense."

Want to know more about optical? Check out our dedicated optical channel here on Light Reading.

"We've already got 5 million [premises] built, with 1 million connections; we'll have 25 million built by December 2026," continued BT's CEO.

"The country needs two top quality companies delivering the best technology."

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Ken Wieland

contributing editor

Ken Wieland has been a telecoms journalist and editor for more than 15 years. That includes an eight-year stint as editor of Telecommunications magazine (international edition), three years as editor of Asian Communications, and nearly two years at Informa Telecoms & Media, specialising in mobile broadband. As a freelance telecoms writer Ken has written various industry reports for The Economist Group.

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