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.

Vodafone pumps Manchester for 5G ecosystem development

In a few weeks’ time, Vodafone will become the second telco in the UK to switch on its ‘5G’ network, but up in Manchester, the team is focusing on ecosystem development.

At an event dubbed ‘Go Beyond’, the Vodafone team launched its Digital Innovation Hub in an attempt to help the next-generation. This is perhaps one of the important facets of 5G which is missed in general discussions; 5G isn’t just about speed, its about offering new tools to innovators to create services which would not be deemed possible on 4G networks.

“The Digital Innovation Hub is an example of how we are empowering today’s start-ups and small businesses with the expertise and technologies to help turn their blueprints into reality,” said Anne Sheehan, Business Director at Vodafone UK. “Our 5G services can help UK start-ups become global leaders in their fields.”

For the telcos, being first to launch 5G offers a competitive edge in the utilitised world of connectivity, and also bragging rights, but there is a bigger win for the economies and societies which drive forward the fastest; the opportunity and ability to get a jump start to create services which will define the technology world of tomorrow.

This would appear to be one of the objectives behind the innovation hub opened here by Vodafone; put the technology in the hands of start-ups and entrepreneurs.

“Such investment and commitment from the private sector supports our ambition to make Salford one of the world’s most attractive cities for digital enterprises,” said Paul Dennett, City Major of Salford.

“It will also boost the local economy and help attract new jobs and opportunities for the people of Salford, Great Manchester and beyond. This commitment also further strengthens Salford’s Innovation Triangle connecting MediaCityUK with the University of Salford and Salford Royal Foundation Trust, our outstanding and leading hospital in the City.”

Think about the impact which 4G had on yesteryear and today. Many of the countries who were the first to launch 4G networks created some of the most influential technology companies in the industry today. Prior to 4G, Uber, Spotify, Tencent, Alibaba or AirBnB didn’t exist (or did but weren’t anywhere near at full scale), but with the new connectivity buzz, new jobs, wealth and segments were carved out.

Arguably the UK missed out on this craze. It was the 28th country to launch 4G networks, and while it maintains a healthy position in the technology standings today, other nations who were quicker to the finish line reaped greater benefits.

5G isn’t just about going faster, it is about having the opportunity to create services which are not conceivable today. But to do that, the networks need to up and running. With all four of the MNOs planning to launch 5G this year, and each taking a slightly different geographical rollout plan, the UK has an opportunity to capture the new revenue created through the upgraded networks.

The UK currently accounts for around 35% of all European unicorns created over the last few years, while the technology sector has outpaced average GDP growth by 4X since the European referendum. The technology sector is on the up in the UK, but 5G launches and scaled deployment are critical to ensure this position is not eclipsed by other nations.