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Virgin Media doubles broadband speeds free of charge

Virgin Media has a well-earned reputation for championing higher broadband speeds as one of the UK’s leading internet service providers. In fact, back in July, we reported that the company was trialling connections with downstream speeds of up to 1.5Gbps (and 150Mbps upstream), which at the time it claimed was the world’s fastest cable broadband connection.

The company already offers the fastest home broadband connections in the UK, with its 100Mb service having been available for over a year, and now Virgin Media has announced plans to invest £110m GBP ($168.5m USD / €132m EUR) on an 18-month programme to at least double the speeds enjoyed by almost all of its 4.1 million broadband customers, free of charge; where appropriate, customers will also be provided with new modems and routers without charge to cope with the faster connections.  

Currently, 74% of its subscribers connect via the up-to-10Mbps service, and these will see their connections double in speed to 20Mbps. The 12% of subscribers who currently have the 20Mbps service will see their speeds tripled to 60Mbps, while those on 30Mbps will also rise to 60Mbps. Those currently on 50Mbps will double to 100Mbps, while those on 100Mbps will see a more modest increase to 120Mbps.

Virgin’s 120Mbps service will enable customers to download HD movies in just a few minutes and an album in seconds, and is three times faster than the fastest speeds currently offered by rival provider, BT. Currently, its fastest service, BT Infinity, offers speeds of up to 40Mb to customers, but last year, the company announced a massive £2.5bn ($3.8bn / €3bn) investment to roll out fibre-optic broadband to at least two-thirds of UK homes and businesses by 2015, with the aim of delivering speeds of up to 300Mbps to major urban areas.

For now, though, Virgin remains the king of the hill as far as broadband speeds go, and not just on paper. According to the UK’s telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, Virgin Media customers enjoy speeds that are consistently close to the advertised downstream speeds. In November 2011, for example, Virgin customers on 10Mb connections averaged speeds of 9.55Mbps; by contrast, the average 'real world' speeds of 20Mbps and 24Mbps connections from Virgin’s leading competitors – BT, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband – was around 7-9Mbps.

British Prime Minister David Cameron voiced his approval for the upgrades, saying that Virgin’s investment in higher broadband speeds “will provide a great boost for the economy and change the way many households, consumers and businesses use the internet”.

Virgin Media’s CEO, Neil Burkett, underlined the company’s commitment to supporting the Government's initiatives to dramatically improve the quality and reach of the UK’s broadband services over the next few years, stating that Virgin has a “track record of leading Britain’s digital development”, adding that “having a fast, reliable broadband service should not be a luxury”.

The company hasn’t yet provided details of changes to upload speeds, but in a statement explained that “upstream speeds and traffic management fair usage amounts will be increased in proportion to the increase in downstream speeds”. When the company upgraded its customers' broadband speeds free of charge in September 2010, upload speeds more than tripled for some customers.

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