Virgin has its own stealthy plan to deliver broadband to regional Ireland

6 Feb 2018

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

While Ireland’s National Broadband Plan descends into a tangled mess, Virgin Media is working quietly and effectively on its own regional roll-out strategy.

If Virgin Media has its way over the coming years, it could be in a position to potentially serve between 75pc and 80pc of the population of Ireland with cable broadband.

The company has been quietly working away on its own €4bn plan called Project Lightning to bring 4m homes in the UK and Ireland into the 1Gbps sphere – or GigaWorld, as it calls it.

‘The UK and continental Europe are tough to compete with but we will probably get to between 75pc and 80pc of the population by the time we finish the programme’

The strategy has been quietly deployed while the National Broadband Plan for Ireland becomes a political hot potato after Eir sensationally exited the procurement process, just months after the ESB-Vodafone joint venture Siro did the same.

The need for speed

According to Paul Farrell, vice-president of commercial at Virgin Media, the company is working incrementally on a regional roll-out strategy, focusing primarily on key towns. He said it has eschewed making broad announcements as it has to compete with Liberty Global for investment projects.

“The UK and continental Europe are tough to compete with but we will probably get to between 75pc and 80pc of the population by the time we finish the programme.”

By the third quarter of Virgin Media’s financial year, the company is understood to have passed 842,000 homes with broadband services. The company’s flagship broadband services are 240Mbps and 350Mbps for residential customers, and up to 500Mbps for business-to-business customers.

“It’s our policy to compete with every country in the Liberty Group to get capital expenditure, and we have to make a compelling case for why an Irish town is as deserving as a town in the Czech Republic, for example.

“But we’ve been able to deliver and our focus has been on towns of between 5,000 and 10,000 homes where we are able to make the case for the minimum volume for potential penetration.”

Traditionally oriented towards cities and towns, in the past year, Farrell said that Virgin Media has succeeded in deploying and upgrading broadband services in Tuam, Castlebar, Newbridge, Kildare, Drogheda, New Ross, Enniscorthy, Gorey, Wexford, Arklow, Ennis, Kilkenny, Carlow, Portlaoise and Portarlington, with many more to follow.

In addition to this, Virgin Media has been deploying free public Wi-Fi across eight regional Irish towns, including Arklow, Kildare, Gorey and Drogheda.

The news comes as consumer connectivity testing platform Ookla named Virgin Media as Ireland’s fastest broadband provider for the third year in a row as well as its fastest in-home Wi-Fi network.

Comparing hundreds of thousands of tests carried out by consumers themselves, Ookla studied the 90th-percentile speeds delivered by all the major internet service providers in Ireland during the award determination period between Q2 and Q3 of 2017.

Virgin Media provided the fastest average speeds, delivering 90th-percentile download speeds of 209.27Mbps compared to Eir (81.28Mbps), Vodafone (66.99Mbps) and Sky (62.74Mbps).

Virgin Media’s in-home Wi-Fi also excelled, providing customers with 90th-percentile download speeds of 176.15Mbps, compared to Eir (74.41Mbps), Sky (58.89Mbps) and Vodafone (58.84Mbps).

Online Armour for keeping kids safe online

In related news and in conjunction with Safer Internet Day 2018, Virgin today launched Online Armour, a new app that  provides complete internet security, helping parents to ensure that their children are safe online.

“This encompasses antivirus protection, an app scanner, browsing and banking protection, and parental control features that block unsuitable websites and apps, and allow you to manage the time your children can spend online, to ensure not only are your children safe, but so are your personal details,” Farrell said.

Virgin developed Online Armour for its users with infosec player F-Secure. It provides protection for up to 15 devices across your Virgin Media broadband network and is available to customers for €4 per month, with the first three months free.

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