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Virgin Media Sparks ‘Project Lightning’ Expansion

Virgin Media, the largest cable operator in the U.K., said Manchester will be the first city to be wired for “Project Lightning,” a £3 billion (US$4.7 billion) plan that calls on the MSO to extend its broadband network to an addition 4 million premises over the next five years.

Virgin Media, a unit of Liberty Global, said it will start by shelling out £75 million (US $118.6 million) to connect to 150,000 extra premises in the Manchester (up from about 300,000 today), and is breaking ground on the first 20,000 of them this week. Those locations will get access to a DOCSIS-powered network that currently supports downstream speeds of up to 152 Mbps, outpacing competitors such as BT, TalkTalk and Sky, the MSO said. Virgin Media estimates that the expansion in Manchester will result in about 500 new jobs.

Taking a page from the Google Fiber playbook, Virgin Media said it will prioritize expansion in Manchester and other neighboring areas and cities based on demand from consumers and communities, which can register their interest at virginmedia.com/cablemystreet.

“Our message is simple:  help us to cable your street,” Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media’s CEO, said in a statement. “If you want to switch to broadband speeds twice as fast as you can get today, simply register with Virgin Media to ‘cablemystreet’.”

"This is wonderful news for Manchester residents and businesses,” added Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey. “We are in the midst of a remarkable transformation of the UK's digital landscape, and Virgin Media's £3bn investment will play an important role in ensuring our cities are fully equipped to meet the challenges of the digital age in which we live."

Virgin Media announced Project Lightning in February, revealing a plan to expand its HFC network to a total of 17 million premises.

Virgin Media’s current, fastest residential DOCSIS 3.0 broadband tier tops out at 152 Mbps downstream, but noted in February that parent company Liberty Global was preparing to trial DOCSIS 3.1, a next-gen access platform designed to handle multi-gigabit speeds, “across Europe later this year.”