VMO2 boosts fibre, mobile comms in Essex, Manchester

Revealing the development of its UK communications infrastructure across both fixed and wireless infrastructure domains, Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) has announced it has inked a partnership with Nexfibre, the wholesale fibre operator with whom it is a build partner and anchor tenant, to connect over 12,000 premises in Rochford, Essex to its full-fibre network, while just over 200 miles to the north-west, Manchester city centre and its surrounding areas are to see enhanced VMO2 mobile connectivity in an agreement with comms provider Freshwave and Manchester City Council.

The investment in Rochford is said to demonstrate the progress Nexfibre is making in deploying its full-fibre network to communities across the UK. Nexfibre is the result of a £4.5bn investment from VMO2 shareholders, Liberty Global and Telefónica, alongside investment firm InfraVia Capital Partners. It was launched to create the UK’s first national-scale challenger to BT Openreach, boosting choice and competition in the market.

The key stated objective for Nexfibre is to roll out fibre initially to five million homes not currently served by the VMO2 network by 2026, with the opportunity to expand to an additional two million homes. VMO2 has an exclusive partnership with Nexfibre and aims to have a fibre footprint reaching 80% of the UK when coupled with its own fibre upgrade plans, which complete in 2028, with Nexfibre providing a material baseline of penetration to build upon.

VMO2 currently provides broadband services reaching speeds of up to 2 Gbps across the Nexfibre network. From a technological basis, Nexfibre also claims to be the only current fibre provider of “significant” scale that exclusively uses 10 Gbps XGS-PON technology.

In April 2024, Nexfibre announced it had reached a total of one million premises passed and ready for service, reaching a seven-digit number of premises in 14 months and making it the fastest fibre build programme of any UK network. The business added that it was on track to become the second-largest competitive network in just its second year of operation, and that it was set to deliver its network to more premises than any other fibre provider in 2024, except for incumbent provider Openreach. Its overall goal is reaching five million premises by 2026.

Commenting on the Rochford deployment, Nexfibre CEO Rajiv Datta said: “We are committed to delivering high-quality full-fibre connectivity to communities and businesses across the UK, including here in Rochford. By boosting access to broadband, we are enabling access to the tools needed to participate and thrive in a modern, digital society and stoking growth in the local economy.”

Doug Parrant, head of digital connectivity at Essex County Council, said: “We are thrilled to hear about Nexfibre’s commitment to enhancing digital connectivity in Rochford. This work is key to bridging the digital divide and aligns with our vision for a better-connected county. High-speed broadband allows our residents and businesses to access the essential digital tools and services they need to succeed, alongside boosting economic growth and innovation across Essex. We look forward to continued collaboration with Nexfibre and Virgin Media O2.”

In Manchester, VMO2 has signed an agreement with the City Council that allows the company to deploy digital infrastructure on council-owned assets. In urban areas such as city centres, the large number of people all using their mobile phones at once can place a high demand on the mobile network. Outdoor small cells help meet some of the demand at street level, relieving the wider network and providing a better mobile service for customers. Outdoor small cells are often fixed to existing street furniture, such as lampposts, so are ideal for boosting mobile capacity in busy areas without increasing clutter on the streets.

In the new deployment, connectivity infrastructure-as-a-service provider Freshwave will be deploying more than 20 outdoor small cells on behalf of VMO2 in busy areas of the city, including outside the Arndale Shopping Centre, Manchester Piccadilly Station and Piccadilly Gardens. The small cells are connected to VMO2’s fibre network, which will carry the data to and from the internet. These small cells will immediately enhance 4G signal and are also 5G ready.

“Everyone in Manchester deserves to benefit from high-quality, reliable digital infrastructure,” said councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, executive member for finance and resources at Manchester City Council. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with Freshwave and VMO2 to bring convenient, fair and equitable connectivity to more people in our city.

“We believe that this agreement is a significant step towards achieving the aims set out in our Digital Strategy for 2021-26, which outlines our ambitious vision to build a more digitally enabled future for Manchester. By enhancing communication, improving access to vital services and driving economic growth, improved connectivity will make a transformative difference to the lives of businesses, residents and visitors alike.”

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