Earlier this morning I got a call from the ever energetic Rockstar-esque Peter Kelly who only had one thing on his mind: Virgin Media Business’ (VMB) huge £3 billion investment in UK communications infrastructure.
The so-called “Project Lightning” will install brand-new hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) connections nationwide and will provide business-grade Internet for many areas that don’t currently have access to a secure, fast, capable line. Peter told ITProPortal that the £3bn will be invested in “providing four million new homes and businesses, and new build properties with HFC infrastructure”.
HFC has been around for about 20 years now and offers vastly superior speeds and data transfer rates that the copper telephony connection currently powering the nation’s communications. Although not as fast as a true fibre optic communications network (the estimated cost of which lies between £15bn and £30bn) the speed and relatively low cost for the consumer make HFC an attractive option.
The focus for VMB appears to the smaller businesses, Peter said “SOHOs (small office and home office) and SMEs (small to medium enterprises) have been under-served, we’ll go to major urban areas and build out”. VMBs engagement with one man operations to startups and established smaller businesses suggests that they’re banking on mobility and the new ‘location-independent’ work philosophy that’s been gaining some traction over the past few years.
One of the more interesting aspects of the announcement was how VMB are planning on maximising the effectiveness of where the HFC gets implemented, as Peter told ITProPortal VMB are going to have a “Consumer driven direction of building”. What this means is that through a portal end-users will be able to suggest their areas get connected.
Not everyone is convinced by the scheme, Dominic Daliszewki, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk told ITProPortal “this investment still doesn’t address the ‘digital divide’ as the provider has clearly indicated that investment will focus on areas that are close to its existing infrastructure. This means that already well-connected areas will get a wider selection of services to choose from, while rural dwellers are left in the cold again.”
David Cameron (unsurprisingly) welcomed the initiative, although his comment offered little insight as to the overall effects of the scheme: “I welcome this substantial investment from Virgin Media which is a vote of confidence in our long-term economic plan to support business and create jobs by building a superfast nation backed by world-class infrastructure. These 6,000 new jobs and apprenticeships will mean financial security and economic peace of mind for thousands more hardworking families across the country. Together with this Government’s rollout of superfast broadband which has now reached more than two million UK homes and businesses, this additional private investment will create more opportunities for people and businesses, further boosting our digital economy and helping secure a brighter future for Britain.”