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The UK now boasts another 2 Gbps broadband provider, after Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) launched its Gig2 service.
February 7, 2024
It is available for customers covered by Nexfibre's XGS-PON network footprint, which currently reaches nearly 1 million suburban and semi-rural premises across the country, including Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and London. Nexfibre is the wholesale FTTP joint venture co-owned by VMO2 parents Liberty Global and Telefónica.
VMO2 tested the waters with XGS-PON last summer, pitching the service to a select group of customers. It was very much a soft-launch though – it wasn't promoted on its Website, and it didn't share widely what speeds were on offer or how much it cost. Gig2 is the fully-fledged, commercial launch, and VMO2 is understandably very excited about it.
"Virgin Media O2 has always been at the forefront of innovation to provide hyperfast and next-generation connectivity to homes in the UK, and Gig2 is our latest speed venture which will unlock endless opportunities for future technologies and the ever-changing digital needs of our customers," said VMO2's CTO Jeanie York.
VMO2 has laid claim to being the first major UK provider to offer such a service but that’s a claim that merits closer scrutiny, because the word 'major' is doing a lot of heavy lifting here.
With its scale, breadth of services, and strong brand, there is no denying that VMO2 is a major player in the UK retail market. Other similarly major players, like BT, Vodafone, Sky and so-on, are yet to launch anything that can match it for speed.
However, the record needs to show that VMO2 is not the first provider in the UK to launch a commercial 2 Gbps retail broadband service over XGS-PON.
That honour goes to ISP start-up Yayzi. The Blackpool-based outfit launched a commercial broadband service offering symmetric 2.3 Gbps speeds on CityFibre's XGS-PON network last month.
VMO2's Gig2 service doesn't have the biggest reach either, which perhaps prods the 'major' bubble without popping it altogether.
As previously noted, Nexfibre's network doesn't quite reach 1 million premises yet, whereas CityFibre has rolled out XGS-PON to 90 percent of its ready-for-service footprint, which passed about 3 million homes and businesses at the end of last year.
Yayzi uses CityFibre's National Access product, so wherever XGS-PON is available on CityFibre, so is Yayzi's 2.3 Gbps service. It can be argued that CityFibre has done all the hard work and Yayzi is simply riding on its coattails, but the fact remains that Yayzi got there first.
VMO2 may not be the first market, and it might not have the biggest footprint, but it is the most expensive. Gig2 costs £84 per month, and users who want symmetric speeds will need to find another £6 per month because it's only available as an add-on across all XGS-PON speed tiers.
Not-a-major-provider Yayzi offers symmetric 2.3 Gbps for £50 per month plus a £99 set-up fee, which when spread across the lifetime of the 18-month contract works out at £55.50 per month.
VMO2's prices will probably get more competitive as Nexfibre's coverage grows, because the cost of delivering XGS-PON services will be spread across a greater number of customers. Nonetheless, for now the difference is considerable.
It is also worth noting that smaller operations like Yayzi's sometimes find themselves over-stretched when it comes to consistently providing high levels of customer service.
Then again, major players with their call centres and multi-channel approach to customer contact don't always cover themselves in glory. According to Ofcom's most recent complaints data, Virgin Media was by far the most complained about broadband and TV provider in the UK, and O2 pipped BT as the most complained about mobile operator.
So, Gig2 is more expensive, it's not as widely-available, and it's slower...and none of that really matters because regardless of whether customers choose Virgin or Yayzi – or whoever comes next – they are unlikely to see 2 Gbps on whatever device they're using.
Such are the vagaries of Wi-Fi performance and network contention that the average punter will probably have to settle for speeds that are a little more on the sedate side.
Still, regardless of who did what first, and whether it counts because of their major-ness or otherwise, XGS-PON's arrival can only be considered a positive development for the UK broadband market.
Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.
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