Why Virgin Media?

The network Virgin Media propose building is a brand new fibre to the home (FTTH) network. It does not re-use any other suppliers’ equipment such as ageing copper cable or  exchange equipment. The speeds they are offering (and they confidently quote an average  speed at peak times rather than just an ‘up-to’ speed)  far exceed anything that can be achieved with fibre to the cabinet (FTTC). The service they are offering is a download speed of 200Mbit/s, with an average speed of 155Mbit/s at peak times. The upload speed is 20Mbit/s.  The maximum speed that FTTC can offer, and that is only if you live very close to the cabinet, is 80Mbit/s. In the future, when even 200Mbit/s is not enough (as data usage increases by 50% every 18 months), there is no barrier to Virgin Media simply increasing the speed of the service they offer as optical fibre can operate at tens, if not hundreds, of Gbit/s without any degradation in performance.

Virgin Media are investing £3 billion in the UK’s internet infrastructure and are very keen for this pilot project to succeed with the expectation that it will expand and be repeated across the UK.

Who can get it?

Twelve villages have been selected for Phase 1 and form the basis of a virtual town. The following villages are in the plan for Phase 1:

  • Houghton
  • West Tytherley
  • Broughton
  • Wherwell
  • Winterslow
  • Firsdown
  • Michelmersh
  • Timsbury
  • Kings Somborne
  • Goodworth Clatford
  • Chilbolton
  • Stockbridge

The design of the network was completed by Virgin Media in December 2016 and it is no longer possible to add more villages to this Phase. It is also important to note that villages do not have 100% coverage; there will be properties which are nominally in the parish but are not part of the Phase 1 build. They could, however, be included in a later phase. It may appear obvious, but only homes in the current Phase 1 build will be able to sign up. A list of all the postcodes which are planned for Phase 1 are shown here.

Villages outside the current virtual town, who demonstrate significant demand, will be considered for subsequent phases, with the obvious caveat of Phase 1 being successful.

As Virgin Media operate on a demand-driven basis, villages within the virtual town were asked to demonstrate demand (by registering their interest on Cable My Street). All villages, except Winterslow and Stockbridge, met their 30% registration targets by the December 2016 deadline.

What is the cost?

Building a fibre network in a rural area is up to six times more expensive than in an urban environment. Virgin Media are investing significantly more money than their normal business case because they are extremely keen for this project to succeed. The initial proposal included a community contribution which varied depending on the difficulty of the build in your village plus the council tax band of your property. This would have meant some people paying up to £3,000. On the 12th May 2017 this tiered scheme was scrapped in favour of a one-off flat-rate community contribution of £300 per property (a reduction of 90% for some). In addition to the community contribution there is a £20 activation fee and an install fee of approximately £40. You will only pay these fees once the build in your area is complete and you are able to receive the service. The community contributione will remain constant so people that sign up in 5 years’ time will pay the same as someone who signs up now.

The figure below illustrates the breakdown of costs and what this may mean for you.

The total cost consists of 4 elements; three of which are payable once the network is built and you are able to take the service:

  1. Community Contribution (one-off payment when you take the service)
  2. Activation fee (one-off payment when you take the service)
  3. Install fee (one-off payment when you take the service)
  4. Service (payable monthly once you are live)

So, if you would like a broadband-only package from Virgin Media, but would also like to replace your current landline for a non-Virgin VoIP (i.e. internet phone) service, your cost build up would be as follows:

Sign-up Charge of £300 + £20 activation fee + £40 (typical) install fee + £37.25 per month for broadband + £10 per month for VoIP telephone.

Once you have paid the community contribution, activation and install fees your payments per month would be £47.25 for a 200Mbit/s service that is considerably faster and more robust than the current competition.

All the costs in the diagram above are non-discounted (and correct as of the 30/03/17), but at the time of choosing a service there will always be discounts on offer.

If you are a landlord you would need to pay the sign-up charge for your property, but the activation fee and service contract would be the responsibility of your tenant.

How does the cost of the service compare with other providers?

It is difficult to do a like-for-like comparison, as very few of the top internet providers supply FTTH. The table below gives a price comparison with 3 main internet providers who supply FTTC using their highest speed service.  Comparisons have been made across four packages ranging from broadband-only to the deluxe version of broadband, phone and TV but also including movie and sports channels.

All broadband packages are unlimited download and all information below is accurate as of the 3rd April 2017.

If an entry is blank in the table it is because that particular service/aspect is not offered. For example, neither BT nor Sky offer a broadband-only package.

Many providers will automatically tie you in for a period of 12 to 24 months when taking up a service; they do not always offer a 30 day rolling contract. Having said that, the best offers do come with a tie in period.

It is worth noting that the maximum speeds shown in the table for Sky, BT and TalkTalk, which are FTTC, assume that you live within 200m of the cabinet. Any further than this and your speed will be affected as in the graph below.

What is the process?

If you are interested in the service, but haven’t yet registered, then do so on Cable My Street regardless of whether you are in the Phase 1 build or not. As mentioned earlier, this project is demand-driven, so your village will not receive it if you have not demonstrated demand for it.

The Phase 1 virtual town met its 1200 registration target in December 2016. The next stage of the process is for the virtual town to meet its sign-up target of 1000 homes, plus each village must reach its own sign-up target of 25%. Sign-ups are anticipated to start in early June. Sign-ups will stay open until the 31st July and we only have until this time to meet the 1000/25% sign-up targets. If we manage to meet these targets the build will go ahead, but if we don’t then the project will stop. It will still be possible to sign-up after the 31st July but only if we have met the targets.

Assuming we meet the sign-up targets, there will be a one to two month consultation process between Virgin Media and the build engineers before the build starts. If all goes well, the build could start as early as September 2017.

When can I have it?

The build will not be sequential – multiple areas will be built at the same time. The exact sequence of build is not known as it depends on many factors such as permissions from highways being granted. The build will take approximately one year from the first spade in the ground to the final home being ‘lit’, with the start of the build commencing in September/October 2017.

What happens when I Sign Up?

You will be asked to enter your details and confirm your understanding of the payment terms. Signing up is NOT legally binding, but it is important to Virgin Media as it demonstrates people’s intention of taking up the service if they were to build the network.  This is subtly different to when people registered their interest on CableMyStreet in 2016, as people were unaware of the costs at the time (as the network was still being designed and the costs were unknown).

We will know by the end of July 2017 if we have met the sign-up targets.