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Virgin Media O2 rolls out gigabit broadband to 1.5M more homes

U.K. operator Virgin Media O2 staked a claim as the country’s largest gigabit broadband provider after extending its top tier service to an additional 1.5 million homes.

The cities of Bournemouth, Bristol, Northampton, Sunderland, Wolverhampton, Wigan and York were all part of the latest upgrade, with customers now able to tap average download speeds of 1.1 Gbps on the operator’s Gig1 plan. Pricing for the plan starts at £62 (approximately $86) per month on an 18 month contract.

An operator representative told Fierce the speed upgrade was delivered via the rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 in the aforementioned areas. Responding to a question about uptake of gigabit speeds, the representative said 97% of Virgin Media O2's customers now take up speeds of 100 Mbps or faster.

Its rollout brings the operator’s tally of gigabit-enabled homes to more than 8 million, a figure equivalent to more than half of its 15.5 million-home footprint. For comparison, rival Openreach's gigabit fiber service is currently available to more than 5 million homes and businesses, according to a recent press release.

Virgin Media O2 CEO Lutz Schüler said in a statement it had hit an “important milestone” in delivering the capabilities across more than half its network. He added "with a clear plan to connect our entire network to these speeds by the end of the year, we’ll be delivering most of the government’s broadband target ahead of schedule.”

The U.K. government in March set a goal to deliver gigabit-capable service to 85% of the country by 2025. It said private sector efforts, including those undertaken by Virgin Media O2, were on track to bring gigabit speeds to 80% of U.K. locations and outlined plans to spend £5 billion ($6.94 billion) to cover the remaining 5%.

In addition to its gigabit upgrade project, Virgin Media O2 recently laid out a plan to convert its entire network to full fiber to the premises to enable delivery of symmetrical speeds of 10 Gbps, targeting completion of that project in 2028. This week it announced plans to hire 400 new employees, including more than 300 field engineers, by the end of the year to support its upgrade and fiber efforts.

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