Whoosh, goes Liberty Global’s Virgin Media with 8Gbps trial

07 February 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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UK cable operator Virgin Media says it is trying out home fibre connections at 8Gbps, with symmetrical upload and download.

The UK company, which is owned by Liberty Global, does not intend to make this speed standard, said Ben Thomas, head of broadband (pictured).

“We’re not about to roll out speeds this fast in the near future but great innovation trials like this allow us to test the capabilities of our network,” he said.

But Virgin Media is successfully tested a connection offering speeds of more than 8Gbps to homes in Papworth, a small community around 15km north-west of Cambridge.

The connection uses Virgin Media’s existing fibre network to provide download speeds more than 200 times faster the UK average, said the company.

Broadband market researcher Paolo Pescatore said: “The time to deployment is impressive, which underlines what can be done with the existing infrastructure. It is important to address the exponential growth in data traffic as people own more devices and are accessing a wide range of services. The biggest use case is video services – which will proliferate due to HD, 4K and eventually 8K streams.”

One trial user – a composer – lamented that before the trial she’d had no more than 1Mbps, not even enough to stream radio channels.

The trial will last around six months with around 50 homes, said Virgin Media. It will use Ethernet passive optical network (EPON) technology, which is normally limited to 1Gbps. However new equipment and software from Arris has allowed the faster speeds.

“The world thought multi-gigabit speeds would only be for lab tests, businesses and governments,” said Steve McCaffery, managing director of international business operations at Arris.

Virgin’s claims were verified by Sam Crawford, founder and CTO of speed testing company SamKnows. He said: “This trial has been delivering speeds far in excess of what we typically see in customers’ homes. By using SamKnows-certified measurements, Virgin Media was able to inexpensively troubleshoot issues quickly to consistently deliver innovative multi-gigabit speeds to real customers.”

The testing company said on its blog that it set up the test equipment at Virgin Media’s Manchester point of presence. “We could see just over 8Gbps from the customer’s home in Papworth.”

Virgin Media said the technology could download and upload ultra-high definition 4K movies and TV programmes, very large files and 360 degree videos almost instantaneously.

Pescatore said: “Beyond faster speeds, these moves will provide plentiful benefits for when 5G arrives to ensure there is enough backhaul capacity.”