26 June 2019
Virgin Media has trialled the use of wireless radio signals to help connect homes in a Newbury village to gigabit speeds and TV services over full fibre - a first in the UK.
The innovative trial, led by Liberty Global and using Ericsson radio technology, has made use of high-capacity millimetre wave radio technology to connect two “trunk” points over 3 kilometres with a 10Gbps signal. The signal is then converted within a cabinet and services are ultimately delivered to premises over a full fibre connection.
Virgin Media has started by initially connecting 12 homes in Greenham, located just on the edge of the market town of Newbury. These homes are currently receiving reliable 1Gbps download and 150Mbps upload trial speeds alongside the full line-up of TV services from Virgin Media. Residents are connected directly with fibre and use Virgin Media’s Hub 3.0 router and V6 set-top box.
By minimising disruption and avoiding the need for lengthy and expensive civil engineering work, this wireless backhaul could mean that trunk network build costs are reduced by up to 90%. This reduction could help make it viable to connect premises previously deemed too costly or logistically challenging such as rural areas and apartment blocks. The connectivity could also be used to help connect mobile providers and business customers.
Jeanie York, Chief Technology and Information Officer, Virgin Media said: “As we invest to expand our ultrafast network we’re always looking at new, innovative ways to make build more efficient and connect premises that might currently be out of reach. While presently this is a trial, it’s clear that this technology could help to provide more people and businesses with the better broadband they deserve.”
While Virgin Media has trialled this technology with 12 homes, the 10Gbps radio link can sustainably support delivery of residential services to 500 homes when considering a 40% average annual growth in data consumption. Furthermore, following configuration changes, the radio link can be upgraded to support a 20Gbps connection - meaning 2000 homes could comfortably be connected in one area.
A 3km wireless distance is currently the optimal target to guarantee reliability in all weathers, however these radios can be chained together and used back-to-back which increases the range and scope of connectivity without compromising capacity or availability. As part of the trial Virgin Media also tested and optimised the wireless trunk signal in a range of weather conditions including 80mph winds and 30mm rainfall to ensure the connection remained stable throughout.
Virgin Media is currently investing to expand its network across the UK and Ireland to provide millions more homes and businesses with ultrafast connectivity. To date Virgin Media has connected an additional 1.7 million premises to its network through Project Lightning.
Virgin Media expects further trials of this technology to commence later this year.
Notes to editors
From a network engineering standpoint this trial in Newbury marks the first time in the world that a wireless trunk link has been used to deliver services in a Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) model.
DAA decentralises and virtualises certain aspects of network functionality to create a more software-defined network and bring digital fibre signals closer to premises. Alongside greater bandwidth and capacity this improves the reliability and efficiency of a network and positions it for future developments.
This trial uses E-band radios that operate in light licensed spectrum (Ofcom governed) of 70-80GHz to transmit 10Gbps over 3km via line of sight all whilst maintaining 99.95% availability.
The radios are installed in Newbury that is on-net to Virgin Media and are fed via a 10 gigabit digital optical circuit. The radios (Ericsson’s ML6352 MINI-LINK) then wirelessly transmit the 10Gbps of traffic to the area of Greenham, located 3km away. The radio in Greenham is receiving the 10Gbps signal and feeding that into a DAA node situated within a cabinet. From that DAA node the digital signal is converted into a DOCSIS signal. The DAA node interfaces with an inverted node and TV and Broadband services are distributed to trial participants via a fibre to the home (FTTH) connection.
This trial is the first in UK to deliver residential TV and data services over a wireless 10Gbps hop.