Virgin Media has announced plans to spend £3bn extending its network to hook up four million more premises to its superfast broadband services. The firm has dubbed the plan ‘Project Lightning’.
The investment will see the number of connections on Virgin’s network rise from 13 million to 17 million, offering speeds of up to 152Mbps.
Virgin is asking firms and consumers to register their interest in having the network brought to their area to help plan the rollout based on demand.
The company said that the move will create 6,000 jobs, including 1,000 apprentice roles.
Prime minister David Cameron gave his backing to the project, saying that it will help to deliver a "world-class infrastructure" to support UK economic growth.
Virgin Media Business managing director Peter Kelly told V3 that the move will have major benefits for businesses.
“By extending our network we can bring business-grade services so that [companies] can do more, and we can wrap other services like cloud and mobile on top of that,” he said.
Kelly confirmed that the investment is focused primarily on urban areas such as London, Birmingham and other major cities, rather than rural areas, in order to meet the most demand.
However, he urged people and businesses in areas keen to receive Virgin’s services to register this interest, as the firm is keen to respond to user demand, rather than pre-prescribe the rollout locations.
“We’re expecting that, over the coming weeks and months as people register their interest, we will build up a heat map of opportunity for the rollout," said Kelly.
The announcement comes amid ongoing rollouts by Virgin to expand its network in some areas, including 10,000 new homes being brought online in the East End of London.
The move appears to be a reaction to the increased muscle of rival BT, which has been busy expanding its superfast broadband network through the Openreach division, as well as picking up mobile operator EE for £12.5bn.
Rupert Wood, principal analyst at telecoms advisory firm Analysys Mason, said that Virgin Media's large-scale investment is notable given the current upheavals in the telecoms market.
"One interesting idea it poses is where Vodafone is in all this. Vodafone has announced it would enter the fixed broadband network at some point, but we don't have any details as to when," he told V3.
"You wouldn't be surprised if somewhere in the background to all this was Vodafone agreeing to some form of exclusive wholesale deal with Virgin to use its network."
Wood added that, while this is pure speculation, it is evidence that Virgin needed to enhance its network in order to compete with BT.
The government revealed at the start of this week that two million additional premises have been brought online thanks to the Broadband Delivery UK framework funding. BT was responsible for all of these rollouts.
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