Virgin Media has ditched plans to bid for 4G spectrum to focus on building a nationwide Wi-Fi and small cell network that it aims to wholesale to operators.
The move marks a change of policy for Virgin Media, which flagged interest in bidding in the forthcoming 4G spectrum auction earlier this year.
Speaking to Mobile, Virgin Media director of mobile Jamie Heywood said the company is planning to roll out a small cell and Wi-Fi network across the UK’s major city centres, following the successful launch of its Wi-Fi service in 70 London Underground stations this summer and a separate small cell trial on London’s Oxford Street earlier this year. He said: ‘We are looking at ways of extending our network to areas beyond the London Underground both inside and outside the home.’
Heywood said the small cell network, which can carry 4G services, is particularly suited to the urban environment, where levels of data usage are high. He added that the MVNO was in talks with other cities ‘about our 4G and Wi-Fi ambitions’.
Access to Virgin Media’s Wi-Fi services in Tube stations is currently limited to Virgin customers but Heywood said the company is seeking to cut wholesale deals with other operators as it builds the network out. He revealed that Virgin will also seek to sell access to its small cell network to operators wanting to boost their next generation services in urban areas.
Heywood said the decision not to bid for 4G spectrum is partly driven by its host network EE winning approval last month to roll out 4G services later this year, ahead of its rivals. He added: ‘We don’t see any benefit to us bidding for 4G spectrum given what we are.’
Virgin Media plans to extend its Wi-Fi service to 120 Tube stations by the end of the year, opening the service up to other mobile networks. Heywood said the rollout was ‘a tremendous success’ with Virgin customers accessing the service for more than eight million sessions over the Olympic period. He added: ‘One of the great opportunities we have is to be able to drive large increases in traffic over our network. It benefits our customers with faster speeds and it benefits us by saving on payments to our host network operator.’
Analysts said Virgin’s plans to use its Wi-Fi and small cell network to make wholesale deals chimed with a growing demand from operators for additional coverage, particularly in cities. IDC telecoms analyst John Delaney said: ‘There is clearly an opportunity for Virgin to offer its Wi-Fi and a small cell network on a unified wholesale basis to other operators who are increasingly looking at how they can extend their networks in this patchwork way to provide extra coverage for increased demand in urban areas.’
Editor: Carol Millett