Virgin says in-home experience crucial as it increases speeds to 500Mbps

8 Mar 2019

Paul Farrell, Virgin Media. Image: Connor McKenna/Silicon Republic

Smart homes need reliable Wi-Fi and customer service as connected devices proliferate and fibre broadband speeds double.

Cable broadband player Virgin Media has emphasised that reliable connectivity, strong routers and customer service matter more than speeds as fibre-based broadband reaches new highs.

The company has told existing customers that it is offering a new 500Mbps service to almost 1m homes across its network in towns and cities across Ireland.

‘We’re still on target to reach 1m homes and we were tracking up to 930,000 by the end of Q1, so full steam ahead’

The speed increase is available from this week for new and existing customers, and represents a doubling of speeds available to many. Virgin Media broadband speeds now range from 250Mbps up to 500Mbps.

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Speaking with at a Virgin Media Business event about software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) for businesses moving deeper into the cloud, in collaboration with Innovate and Cisco, Virgin Media Ireland commercial vice-president Paul Farrell said that Project Lightning was continuing its stealthy roll-out.

Virgin Media has been quietly working away on its own £3bn plan called Project Lightning to bring 17m premises in the UK and Ireland into the 1Gbps sphere and beyond – or GigaWorld, as it calls it.

Last June, the company revealed it had passed 900,000 premises across Ireland with its fibre broadband network and was aiming at passing 1m premises.

“We’re still on target to reach 1m homes and we were tracking up to 930,000 by the end of Q1, so full steam ahead,” Farrell said. “We have received great support around the country, particularly with the county councils where we made progress. There [are] still some challenges with some county councils in terms of access and charging, so we need to work more closely with those councils to explain the benefit we are bringing and why the new technologies are less disruptive and more efficient.”

In terms of the speed increase to 500Mbps, Farrell said it is important for some reality to enter the market in terms of the lexicon of gigabit speeds being thrown about. He said many operators are announcing future networks that aren’t even delivered, sowing confusion among customers and raising expectations ahead of time.

“The speed thing from a consumer point of view must be a nightmare because they are hearing 1Gbps to 10Gbps, and 5G is thrown into the middle of that.

“We’ve done a lot of research to understand that what is important to the customer is in the home, in the way devices work, and that as many [connected] devices that they want to work, work reliably.

“Speed is just one part; the next part of that is the in-home connectivity. We have the best router in Europe – it has been proven by Cartesian – and the in-home experience in terms of smart Wi-Fi is what customers care about. In terms of broadband speeds and the in-home experience, we are head and shoulders above any of our peers and our customers are continuing to tell us that.

“From a speed point of view we are launching today a 500Mbps offering, which is doubling the speed for some of our customers, while others will go from 360Mbps to 500Mbps. But at the back of that it is really about the in-home experience and being better and more reliable, and to continue to deliver on that.

“It is not just about the speeds but customers being able to contact us, to get a good service and to make sure we are supporting their needs.”

Farrell said that the current marketing around gigabit broadband in the Irish and UK markets, and talk of 1Gbps speeds, are currently misleading because Virgin’s rivals aren’t even offering services at those tiers yet. “It is a real case of ‘Buyer, beware’. Ask the right questions and go and talk to the people in the company. Speed is important but it is that in-home experience that is crucial.”

Farrell said that most homes have gone from an average of 12 devices – from smartphones, smart speakers and other home automation products – to 16 connected devices today, putting pressure on most Wi-Fi routers. “And that’s where speed and the in-home Wi-Fi, and having the best router and best customer service … make all the difference.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years