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The details behind Virgin Media’s £3bn Project Lighting internet plan

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In the battle to become the dominant player in the UK internet market, Virgin Media has unveiled the latest salvo – a project which it says will create 6,000 new jobs and apprenticeships as well as bringing £8bn in value to the British economy.

More details on the top line figures can be found in our earlier news story, but Real Business has also gone directly to the source and posed what we think are the important questions for businesses and the owners running them. Virgin Media Business managing director Peter Kelly answers our queries.

What would you say are the current limits of the internet infrastructure in the UK?

People are doing more online than ever before, connecting more devices and for longer. For SMEs in particular, access to the internet is vital to their long term success. Poor internet quality and slow download speeds can be devastating for a growing business.

That’s why our focus has been on improving the UK’s infrastructure. Through our investments, we are supporting business and helping to drive them forward; ensuing they have the connectivity they need, when they need it.

How is this having an impact on the performance of small and medium-sized businesses?

For small and medium-sized businesses, we know that access to the internet is vital for driving success. SMEs are worth an estimated £378bn to UK plc (European Commission’s SME Performance Review) meaning that by using digital tools – such as better broadband – to improve performance by just 1 per cent would create an additional £3.8bn in revenue.

We need stronger, quicker and cheaper connectivity for businesses across the UK. That’s why we re-launched into the SME/SoHo segment last year and recently launched an offering to bring better broadband connectivity to TechCity. 

Small and medium sized enterprises can register interest in improved connectivity here.

What benefits will businesses see, both existing and new customers? 

Up to four million premises – including businesses – across the UK will get broadband speeds at least twice as fast as they can currently. This will have a significant impact on the ease of doing business for businesses and will certainly benefit their customers.

Independent analysis shows we will stimulate economic activity – and the tax receipts that generates of over £6bn with further economic benefits for consumers. 

The areas that we connect first will be determined by the demand from consumers and businesses. We expect areas close to our existing network such as parts of Birmingham could be among the first to benefit.

How far away are we from having a world-leading internet infrastructure? 

We’re already well on our way. Right now we have a £13bn network that we are continuing to build and improve it, helping to keep the UK at the forefront when it comes to digital infrastructure.

How will Virgin be addressing the problems rural-based businesses have with internet speed? 

Every part of Britain needs fast access to the web, particularly the small businesses who are driving the growth of UK plc. The focus of this particular investment programme will be on improving our coverage in areas we already serve today. 

However, as we fill the gaps, if there are villages and rural areas close to our network where there is sufficient demand, we will look at the opportunity – just as we did when we connected the villages of Stallingborough and Harborough in north Lincolnshire last year.

Read more about internet speeds:

In what was does Project Lighting complement and/or beat BT’s openreach? 

BT Openreach has now introduced VDSL – Fibre-To-The-Cabinet (FTTC) – to the majority of the country so it is probable that many – but not all – of the areas we expand to will have BT Infinity/VDSL already. VDSL is reliant on copper connections and so offers wildly variable broadband which, at best, delivers just half the speed of our existing services.

Where in the country will new job concentration be seen?

Almost 6,000 UK jobs will be created; including construction, engineering and sales roles. These will be a combination of roles at Virgin Media and its construction and technology partners – however, the exact location of these will be determined by demand.

What role is the government playing in all of this, and how will a possible change in leadership impact?

The upcoming election will have no impact on our plans. However, we are pleased with the support we have received from government when it comes to finding new and innovative ways to ensure that businesses are getting the connectivity they need sooner. 

Our narrow trenching trial in Papworth, Cambridgeshire is an example of this; increases the speed of building a new network twofold and reducing its cost by a third.

What reassurances would you like to give to businesses that they will be given the tools needed to prosper?

Virgin Media Business recently commissioned research which shows that a quarter (26 per cent) of company founders say getting the right digital technology was one of their greatest challenges when setting up their business – while half say getting the right business advice was one of their greatest challenges. 

By offering a faster, more reliable network we will address the first concern – and we will also be on hand for business advice. We recently launched our free-to-all digital skills learning hub – the Big Digital Skills Hub – ensuring that all businesses can seize the opportunities in an ever-changing business environment, as well as get the tools and support they need.

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