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Virgin Media Doubling Broadband Speeds for Free While Competitor Sky Unveils 100Gbps Internet for UK

Virgin Media is doubling customer broadband speeds... for free.

Great Britain is leapfrogging ahead in the global broadband speed race with two announcements this morning that represent major advances in British broadband.

First, Virgin Media is announcing it will double the broadband speeds for four million of its customers starting next month, for free.

The company says it will be the first residential provider in the United Kingdom offering 120Mbps broadband — a 20Mbps speed increase for their existing 100Mbps clients.  Customers on Virgin’s 10, 30, and 50Mbps tiers will soon receive free upgrades to 20, 60, and 100Mbps, respectively.  Those on the company’s popular 20Mbps plan will have their speeds tripled to 60Mbps.

That’s a major advancement for British broadband, where dominant BT-provided DSL runs at speeds averaging just over 6Mbps.

The new speeds were made possible by “modest investments” in Virgin’s fiber network, according to Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett.

Berkett said the new speeds would help meet growing demand for faster access to support the proliferation of new digital devices.  Because Virgin invested primarily in fiber and cable broadband, speed upgrades on their existing infrastructure come “at a fraction of the cost of other network operators.”

That understanding was not lost on Sky Broadband, a growing competitor in the United Kingdom.  Sky this morning announced it has launched a newly-upgraded 100Gbps optical network to support its 3 million broadband customers.  The company is spending several hundred million British pounds on updating its network to position itself to become Britain’s largest Internet Service Provider.

Sky’s new network is based on the latest Alcatel-Lucent fiber technology, capable of supporting 100Gbps speeds on each of the individual 88 wavelengths on a single optical fiber.  Sky deployed the new dense wavelength division multiplexing technology on its existing optical fiber backbone network, demonstrating the infinite upgrade possibilities fiber optic technology offers.

Sky pitches its network capacity to consumers as a key benefit of its service, noting it is free of “traffic management” policies that reduce speeds for customers of other Internet providers.

The upgrade arrives just in time to handle the expected explosion of online traffic with this week’s introduction of Netflix streaming across Great Britain.

Sky Dumps Usage Limits for Most UK Customers, Gives Away Free, Limited Broadband Service to Others

More evidence arrived this week that Internet Overcharging schemes are becoming a thing of the past for many global broadband users.

Sky has announced it is getting rid of its usage limits and speed throttles for most of its broadband customers.  It’s also giving away a free speed upgrade to up to 20Mbps for its DSL-provisioned broadband service.

“It comes with no usage caps, fair use policies or traffic management, making it ideal for those who want the freedom to download emails, photos, TV programs, movies and games. It’s also ideal for those who want to access live and on-demand TV through Sky Player,” Sky said.

That may be part of the plan.  Sky, a satellite television company serving the United Kingdom, is preparing to launch new video on demand features that will work in conjunction with its broadband service.  Delivering faster access, without limits, could be part of the equation of making their video on demand service a success.

For occasional broadband users who don’t exceed 2 gigabytes of use per month, Sky is giving free usage-limited broadband service to customers who also subscribe to Sky’s telephone service.  For those that don’t, the 2 gigabyte-capped service costs £5 ($7.59US) per month.

For those looking for unlimited service, Sky Unlimited is available for £7.50/$11.38 per month for Sky customers with Sky Talk or £12.50/$18.97 per month for those without.  In the United Kingdom, line charges for the phone line are broken out from broadband pricing and have to be considered towards the total monthly cost for broadband service.  Line rental from BT costs £12.50/$18.97 a month for customers who pay by direct debit and receive paper billing (£11.25/$17.08 with paperless billing).

Sky requires a 12 month service commitment.  These prices and plans take effect June 1st.  New customers can get a promotion offering six months of free broadband service, including line rental, when signing a 12-month service commitment.

New customers can get six months of broadband service for free when signing up

Is there a downside to this offer?  Not as far as usage limits are concerned.  However, the service is dependent on BT-provisioned DSL phone lines, which can create great variability in the maximum actual speeds customers receive.  The further away from a BT exchange office, the slower the maximum speed a customer will achieve.

But for existing Sky satellite customers looking for a discount on bundled service and an end to worries about monthly usage or speed throttles, Sky Broadband is a welcome relief for those tired of Internet Overcharging schemes.

It’s also one fewer example North American providers can point to as an excuse to attempt Internet Overcharging schemes of their own.

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