Virgin to roll out new 4K TV boxes as broadband numbers grow

15 Feb 2018

Paul Farrell, vice-president of commercial at Virgin Media. Image: Virgin Media

As Project Lightning strikes, Virgin Media parent company Liberty Global is on a consolidation course with Vodafone.

Broadband and TV operator Virgin Media is to introduce 4K-enabled set-top boxes to its TV and broadband subscribers in Ireland later this year.

The move comes as broadband subscriptions rose from 356,300 last year to 363,500 in Q4.

Virgin Media, which is owned by international cable giant Liberty Global, reported that revenues from cable, excluding broadcast, were up 2pc year on year.

Virgin ended 2017 with total subscriptions of 1,021,200, which rose by almost 50,000 to 1,071,100 when you include mobile subscriptions.

“Growth was underpinned by mobile, B2B and our ongoing network investments, where we connected a further 42,700 premises,” vice-president of commercial at Virgin Media, Paul Farrell, said in a statement.

“Our multi-year network expansion programme, Project Lightning, is bringing Ireland’s fastest broadband and the best-connected entertainment experience to more and more customers in towns and cities across the country.

“Virgin Mobile continues to grow, with 50,000 mobile customers now enjoying great value, contract flexibility and the best smartphones on the market.”

Where Lightning strikes

Virgin Media has its own €4bn plan called Project Lightning to bring 4m homes in the UK and Ireland into the 1Gbps sphere.

This includes a stealthy regional roll-out plan that Virgin Media has been quietly working away on without fanfare, addressing towns such as Tuam, Castlebar, Newbridge, Kildare, Drogheda, New Ross, Enniscorthy, Gorey, Wexford, Arklow, Ennis, Kilkenny, Carlow, Portlaoise and Portarlington, with more to follow.

Speaking with, Farrell explained that, in conjunction with broadband deployments, the company is working on the next generation of TV services.

A key element will be the arrival of new 4K set-top boxes later this year. Farrell said that the new boxes will be based on TiVo V6 technology but augmented with a new user interface.

“It will be all about creating the next-generation TV experience and will substantiate having the best broadband quality in the home.”

Farrell said that Virgin Media’s Red House service, which ensures homes get the best connectivity and quality in the home for all devices, has been a game-changer.

On a competitive level, he said that rival Sky’s decision to move to a future without satellites, dependent purely on broadband, is likely to be problematic in a market such as Ireland, where Sky accesses broadband from wholesale.

“As you move up the chain from HD to 4K, that implies dependencies on quality and speed, and we know that customers are using more and more data.

“Sky’s announcement about dropping satellite creates a challenge. If they don’t have the ability to control their networks, it could be a very volatile development for them.

“And that’s our unique selling point. We own the network; we control the quality and the speed.”

Ball rolling on possible merger

Virgin Media’s parent company, Liberty Global, reported revenues of $4bn, which were up almost 3pc year on year.

Liberty Global recorded a net loss of $2.8bn for the year compared to a $1.7bn profit in 2016.

During the quarter, Liberty Global announced the sale of UPC Austria and completed its Latin American split-off.

News that Liberty Global is in talks with UK-headquartered telecoms giant Vodafone about selling off some of its key assets in Germany and eastern Europe has sparked fresh speculation that the former may eventually merge with Vodafone.

A full-blown Vodafone-Liberty Global combination with a joint value of £90bn has been seen as a possibility for some time now.

Such a combination would challenge some of Europe’s biggest telecoms players and, if Liberty Global’s cable infrastructure is combined with Vodafone’s fixed and mobile infrastructure, it would be a formidable digital player indeed.

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