A new JV formed by Liberty Global would look to fast track the expansion of Virgin Media’s ultrafast networks in rural areas

Virgin Media’s ultrafast broadband network in the UK could be set for rapid expansion, as its parent company gears up to launch a new joint venture to increase rural penetration.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Liberty Global plans to launch a new venture, backed by a range of high profile infrastructure funds, to expand Virgin Media’s network outside of the UK’s main towns and cities.

The new networks would be built with Virgin Media as the anchor tenant but could be potentially opened up to include traffic from other internet service providers.

The UK government has already pledged to provide 100 per cent fibre penetration to UK homes and businesses by 2033, with Prime Minister elect Boris Johnson saying that he would bring that target forward to 2025 if he was to be confirmed as the country’s next PM.   

Virgin Media’s full fibre ultrafast networks currently cover 14.7 million homes and businesses in the UK, with the company adding an additional 1.7 million connections as part of its Project Lightning upgrade project, launched in 2015. Project Lightning aims to add over 4 million ultrafast broadband connections to Virgin Media’s portfolio.

Last month, Virgin Media announced that it was launching a small scale, fixed wireless access trial to boost gigabit capable broadband services in rural communities across the UK.

The trial used radio technology from Ericsson to broadcast millimetre wave spectrum between two “trunk” points, over a distance of 3km at speeds of up to 10Gbps.

While the initial trial only connected 12 homes, the existing 10Gbps radio link could support the delivery of services to 500 homes and businesses. The system could be scaled up to 20Gbps, which would provide services to up to 2,000 premises.

While fixed wireless access remains an option for reaching the UK’s hardest to reach communities, the decision to launch a rural fibre JV will mark a decided uptick in Virgin Media’s ambitions for rural connectivity in the UK.

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