Virgin Media reports Project Lightning added 147,000 premises in last quarter
Virgin Media now has some 5.08 million broadband customers in the UK and its latest financial results under the umbrella of its owners Liberty Global show that this is growing which is exactly what the Project Lightning footprint expansion project was designed to do. Project Lightning added 147,000 premises passed in the last quarter, taking the new footprint to 943,000 premises since the project started and of the 49,000 new additions in the quarter 64% of those where in the Lightning footprint. Other changes such as options for 1 month contracts will be helping people to sample the broadband services without the worries of a long contract and while we expect the majority of new additions to be using 12 or 18 month long contracts to reduce setup costs, offering 1 month contracts will act as a confidence boost.
The additional footprint is not free and since the project started some ?681 million has been spent, and the freshness of the 943,000 premises passed figure is highlighted by an addition cost figure that the 857,000 premises where service is being marketed cost ?538 million to build, so there is 86,000 premises built to which are not able to order just yet. The Project Lightning roll-out uses a full fibre build usually in totally new areas, but for areas close to the existing DOCSIS footprint the FTTN architecture with coax into the home is expanded. The product split is a bit confused as the report does not appear to split these into UK and Ireland so we presume the 64% of customers on a 100 Mbps or faster service does include Ireland where nothing slower than 100 Mbps is being marketed.
The costs and demand demonstrated by Virgin Media are something that needs deeper study as it will help inform any planning for deployment of a large full fibre platform, or put simply in the last quarter they built past 147,000 premises but saw an additional 31,360 new connections across the whole Lightning footprint, so in terms of paying back the cost of building a new network take-up is the key to justifying the capital expenditure since if only 2 in 10 sign up and its costing ?630 to pass each premise the revenue generating customer needs to create revenue of at least ?3,150 and with Virgin Media reporting an ARPU of ?49.89 that is 63 months of subscriptions and that is ignoring the reality that large chunks of the revenue will be accounted for by ongoing costs.
With Openreach touting the arrival of G.fast (though impact has not really been seen in retail market yet) one would have hoped for something a little exciting in the form of a commitment to bring DOCSIS 3.1 and maybe 500 Mbps or Gigabit packages to one UK cable area at the start of 2018.
DOCSIS 3.1 is important not just for the higher headline speeds but greater bandwidth available which carries potential to improve the peak time experience and as other scale up their ultrafast footprints if they can keep the peak time quality as high as they do now for slower connections Virgin Media will find itself playing catch-up rather than being seen as a speed leader.