Broadband ISP and mobile operator Virgin Media and O2 (VMO2) have today published their combined results for Q1 2022, which confirms that their plan to upgrade existing Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) network areas with Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology has now begun. But their fixed line broadband base took a hit.
The main development for VMO2 over the last quarter has been the launch of their new Stream TV service (here). On top of that, we’ve also seen them enter into an agreement to run fiber through OFNL’s existing ducts on new build sites (here).
The operator also spent much of the first quarter carrying out a pilot – Project Mustang – of their plan to upgrade 14.3 million UK premises covered by their older HFC infrastructure with the latest 10Gbps capable XGS-PON full fiber (FTTP) technology (here). The pilot, which involved around 50,000 premises in Stoke, Salisbury and Wakefieldis now complete.
“Following the completion of FTTP upgrade pilots in Q1, the company has now moved to deployment of full fiber across its entire fixed network at a cost of £ 100 per home with completion in 2028”Said the operator, albeit without revealing any details of the first locations to benefit.
The move will of course complement their plan to launch a separate company with unspecified investors, which will build FTTP broadband to another 7 million UK premises in new greenfield areas by 2027 (here) – extending total coverage to 23m premises. Access to this will be available at wholesale, with VMO2 itself being an anchor tenant ISP. VMO2 also has the “option“To separately wholesale out access to their existing network of 15.6 million premises (rising to 16m by the end of 2022), but they haven’t said when this will occur.
NOTE: In order to reach 7 million extra premises by 2027 they’d need to be building at a rate of 1.4 million per year or 350,000 premises per quarter. In other words, the build will need to ramp up .. a lot.
Aside from the aforementioned announcement, we note that Virgin Media also saw their fixed broadband base reach 5,595,800 customers (down by 1,000 in Q1 2022 vs + 60.4K in Q4 2021) and their full fiber broadband (FTTP) network added another 101,000 UK premises to its coverage (up from 93,000 added last quarter).
The sharp fall in their fixed line base occurred on their HFC network (not the Project Lightning areas) and may, in part, reflect the impact of rising competition from FTTP rivals. But as falls go, dropping from a rise of 60,400 to a fall of 1,000 in the space of a single quarter is quite a shock. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the operator announced a price hike during the same period (here).
Quarterly UK Customer (Connection) Figures – Q1 2022
5,595,800 Fixed Broadband – (down from 5,596,800 in Q4 2021)
42,721,500 Mobile inc. Wholesale – (up from 42,243,400)
Meanwhile, the Project Lighting network expansion has so far reached an additional 2.8 million premises since it began some years ago (c.1.5 million via FTTP and the rest as Hybrid Fiber Coax), and their quarterly pace of build appears to have recovered a bit from last year’s slump.
Project Lightning Rollout Since 2017
Q1 2022 = 101,000 Premises
Q4 2021 = 93,000 Premises
Q3 2021 = 67,000 Premises
Q2 2021 = 89,000 Premises
Q1 2021 = 80,000 Premises (impacted by COVID-19 lockdown)
Q4 2020 = 115,000 Premises (some impact from COVID-19)
Q3 2020 = 125,000 Premises
Q2 2020 = 93,000 Premises (impacted by COVID-19 lockdown)
Q1 2020 = 93,000 Premises (some impact from COVID-19)
Q4 2019 = 154,000 Premises
Q3 2019 = 119,000 Premises
Q2 2019 = 130,000 Premises
Q1 2019 = 102,000 Premises
NOTES 1: Between Q1 2017 and Q4 2018 Virgin added 1,017,000 premises under Project Lightning, which works out as an average of 127,125 per quarter.
NOTES 2: Virgin’s fixed network covers a total of 15,749,700 UK homes passed (during 2022 they expect to add a total of 500,000 under Project Lightning).
On the financial front, VMO2 reported total transaction adjusted revenue of £2,500.1m in Q1 2022, which is down from £ 2,720.2m last quarter.
Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media O2said:
“The first quarter has seen us remain focused on delivering and innovating to pave the way for the rest of the year. We have started to ramp up network investments while improving our products and services with big challenger decisions like not reintroducing EU roaming fees. The delivery of fixed and mobile price rises will also support revenue growth and allow continued investment as connectivity demand continues to increase.
We’re pushing ahead into Q2 with the launch of Stream, our new IP-based TV proposition which evolves traditional TV bundles and offers our broadband customers a flexible and innovative way to get their entertainment whilst offering significant additional value. With Q1 showing solid financial foundations from a stabilizing top line and improved profitability, we remain on track to meet our 2022 guidance. “
Overall, we’re a little disappointed that VMO2 hasn’t put more effort into promoting the benefits of their FTTP upgrade program for existing HFC areas. Hopefully they’ll correct this and reveal more information about their rollout plan in the near future, since it is a topic that a lot of our readers are watching very closely. But we suspect they won’t want to say too much until they have a bit more coverage and some retail products ready, which might not exist until early next year.
Meanwhile, the average speed across the company’s broadband base has increased 24% year-on-year and is now 231Mbps. Finally, on the O2 side of things, the operator reiterated that their 5G mobile services are now available in over 400 towns and cities and the rollout remains “on-track“To hit 50% population coverage of 5G services by 2023. In addition, 4G capacity was upgraded in more than 93,000 postcodes during Q1.