Virgin Media to leave BT trailing in its wake

The paucity of BT’s next-generation broadband speeds are being exposed by Virgin Media, which says it will roll out 50Mb/sec connections to nine million homes by the end of the year.

BT’s 21CN network – which is starting to be installed across the country – will offer maximum ADSL speeds of 24Mb/sec. However, BT admits that many customers will not come close to reaching that theoretical maximum, and the network rollout isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2011.

Virgin, on the other hand, claims that nine million of its customers will have access to 50Mb/sec lines by the end of 2008, following successful trials in Kent. The company already offers 20Mb/sec connections, which are only slightly slower than BT’s 21CN highs.

Worryingly for BT and its customers in non-cable areas, Virgin says it’s not even close to reaching its network’s full potential.

“We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with our cable network, and we will continue to look for new ways to satisfy the growing demand for even faster broadband in the UK,” says Neil Berkett, acting CEO of Virgin Media. “We’re proud to be leading the country’s superfast broadband revolution.”

However, Virgin isn’t quite at the forefront of broadband speeds. Last week, we revealed how H20 plans to offer 100Mb/sec broadband connections by running fibre cable through Britain’s sewer network.

BT’s sluggishness will give further food for thought for Competitiveness Minister, Stephen Timms, who late last year summoned Britain’s telecoms chiefs to discuss the bottlenecks in Britain’s broadband network, but offered no concrete solutions.

Timms had floated the idea of public investment in a nationwide fibre-to-the-home rollout, which BT has repeatedly stated it cannot make a business case for. But with the economic climate turning, the chances of the government making such a multi-billion investment seem ever more remote.

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