Virgin Media to supply new build homes

house keys©iStock.com/BrianAJackson

VIRGIN Media broadband should be available to more new-build homes in England and Wales, as the ISP enter into partnership with the Home Builders Federation (HBF).

Members of the HBF will be able to take advantage of extra technical guidance, free initial site assessments, and a rebate scheme to cover the cost of any work required.

The ISP also say they'll be able to offer exclusive service discounts to people moving into the resulting homes.

At the same time, BT have confirmed the first nine locations to benefit from plans to expand their fibre to the premises (FTTP) network - although they're focusing for now on small business rather than residential connections.

Project Lightning

The partnership with the HBF appears to be another sign of Virgin Media's confidence in Project Lightning - and their determination to provide "a major alternative to BT and Openreach".

Project Lightning itself is far more ambitious than previous expansion efforts, committing to add another four million premises to the network nationwide, rather than tens of thousands here and there at a time.

While they were initially criticised for saying they planned to focus on filling in holes in their network, earlier this year Virgin announced their intentions to connect smaller, less urban, communities.

Virgin Media communities
Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire
Houston, Crosslee, Craigends and Brookfield, Renfrewshire
Kilmacolm, Inverclyde
Kirknewton, West Lothian
Hartley Wintney and Phoenix Green, Hampshire
Lightwater, Surrey
Oakley, Dorset
Ratby, Leicestershire
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
Wilsden, West Yorkshire

The first 10, named in May, will be among the first of at least one million FTTP connections Virgin Media are promising to have in place by 2019.

Then last week, they announced that as well as adding 45,000 properties to their network in Chester, they'd be hopping over the border to make Wrexham the first place in north Wales to be Virgin-enabled.

New build ambitions

Perhaps, given that Project Lightning was originally supposed to help plug the holes in their network as well as expand it, Virgin's decision to start connecting new build developments isn't all that surprising.

A large number of the homes that don't have Virgin Media when those surrounding them do are in developments that simply didn't exist when the original cable network was built.

Even so, Virgin Media still require considerable evidence of high demand in an area before they'll consider going back to fill in the gap.

But it costs less, and it's much easier, to lay the cables required to connect new homes at the building stage - and as the HBF's Stewart Baseley points out, "being able to equip today's modern, high quality housing with 21st century connectivity is a key consideration for builders".

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So HBF members - responsible for around 80% of the new homes being built in England and Wales - who register a development with Virgin Media will get a free initial site assessment, technical help and a dedicated site liaison officer and construction inspector.

They'll also get all the equipment free of charge as well as being able to claim a rebate on the cost of the construction and installation work.

The competition

Virgin's decision to branch into new build developments may also be partly down to the fact that earlier this year BT Openreach entered into an agreement with the Government and the HBF to connect suitable developments to their FTTP network free of charge.

Those projects will need to contain more than 250 properties and be within 4.5km of the existing Openreach fibre network.

As long as they're within that distance, smaller developments can at least benefit from the offer of a joint funding option, but those further away from the existing network are still likely to miss out, as a result of the excess construction charges they'd face.

Other homes should start to see the arrival of ultrafast broadband over the Openreach network from next summer, when BT begin to roll out G.fast - but their more immediate plans to extend their FTTP network are centred on getting more businesses connected.

The first places to benefit will be high streets, science and business parks, and areas that don't already have access to the Openreach fibre network in Bath, Bradford, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford - and in Westminster, Holborn, and the City, in London.

BT say that "hundreds of thousands" of nearby residential buildings will eventually gain from these projects - possibly because they'll be close enough to a truly ultrafast network to be near the front of the queue when G.fast arrives.

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