Virgin Media makes Manchester its second giga-city

Following the initial launch in Southampton, Virgin Media has announced Manchester is the second city in the UK which will be offered ‘gigabit’ speed broadband services.

The overarching plan is to bring gigabit speed broadband services to 15 million homes by the end of 2021, and starting today, 500,000 homes in the Manchester region will be able to sign-up to the eye-watering download speeds.

“Manchester is a major centre for Virgin Media and the place our Project Lightning network expansion first started, so switching on our hyper fast gigabit services will help to once again transform connectivity across the city and surrounding areas,” said Jeff Dodds, Chief Operating Officer at Virgin Media.

“The Government has called for nationwide gigabit connectivity and we’re helping them leap forward to reach this ambition by turning on our next-generation Gig1 broadband across our entire network over the next 24 months – a speed and scale unmatched by anyone else.”

Starting at £62 a month for an 18-month contract, with prices frozen for 24 months, this certainly isn’t a broadband package for everyone. How many people feel they need the 1,104 Mbps peak speed which is being promised is another dubious question, though it won’t be long before services emerge which create the demand. It might sound ridiculous, but when the networks have been created, someone always comes up with a way to use the speed headroom.

While it all sounds very promising, there is a big difference to the speeds down the pipe and what is experienced in the home.

Speaking at Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam, Ramón Garcia of semiconductor firm KDPOF highlighted that the router is the main problem for many consumers. After conducting research, Garcia highlighted that many homes are not set-up to experience gigabit speeds, suggesting not enough work has been done by telcos to spread the connectivity euphoria away from the router.

Although there has been a lot of work done to develop wifi mesh systems to improve connectivity throughout the home, there are circumstances where a wired backbone would have to be introduced to improve coverage. This is something which has largely been ignored by the telcos, as the main concern is to improve speeds down the pipe while little attention has been paid to the router and beyond.

This might be a stumbling block for Virgin Media, though it did introduce ‘intelligent wifi’ earlier this year which aims to improve the allocation of connectivity in the home. The software will not only choose the least congesting channel but will also allocate bandwidth to devices depending on what applications are being run.

With this launch, Virgin Media are offering another upgraded router, the Hub 4, which boasts more antennae than its predecessor. This does not necessarily address the issues of the far away corners of the home, but it is certainly another incremental upgrade to improve customer experience.

Whether the Mancs are able to experience the same speeds promised by Virgin Media remains to be seen, though we remain hopeful as this is further evidence the UK is sorting itself out when it comes to fixed connectivity. For years, the UK has languished in the ‘also ran’ category when it comes to broadband connectivity and fibre-to-the-home deployment, though there is gathering momentum.

Ericsson and T-Mobile US breach gigabit barrier on unlicensed spectrum

Ericsson and T-Mobile US have announced they have done it. The gigabit barrier is seemingly symbolic for telcos, and now T-Mobile US can start congratulating itself.

The test took place at T-Mobile’s Bellevue, Washington lab using the Ericsson Radio System and test equipment from Cobham Wireless, with the top speed hitting 1.1 Gbps. Who knows what this means now, but perhaps with this mission completed, CEO John Legere can get back to doing what he does best; insulting AT&T and Verizon on YouTube.

“T-Mobile has built the nation’s fastest LTE network by innovating and bringing new technologies to market for our customers,” said Neville Ray, CTO for T-Mobile. “This LAA technology builds upon our deployments of 4×4 MIMO and 256 QAM and will give customers even greater access to near gigabit speeds in 2018.”

“Breaking the 1 Gbps-mark means that commercial gigabit speeds are not far from reality for many broadband users, with our LAA and MIMO technologies as key enablers,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Head of Networks at Ericsson. “It is also an example of how innovatively we work with partners to push the boundaries of technology and achieve new milestones.”

This is not the first example of getting past the gigabit speed barrier, Verizon and Ericsson teamed up in August to give a successful demonstration, but T-Mobile believes it is the first to do so by combining licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Using unlicensed spectrum is a notable step forward as it does make it more feasible to achieve these speeds in a real-world environment.

The data speeds were achieved by combining several LTE technologies including 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and 12-layer Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), aggregating two licensed carriers and three unlicensed carriers. LAA has been demonstrated previously on 10 layers, falling short of the milestone, but those extra two layers seemed to have done it for the Swedes and the magenta army.