Virgin Media O2 See Nexfibre Add 194k UK FTTP Premises as Growth Slows

The latest Q1 2024 results have today been released for Virgin Media and O2 (VMO2), which reveals that they’re now home to 5,722,900 broadband customers (up by just 5.3k in Q1 2024 vs 9.5k in Q4 2023) and built another 194,000 full fibre (FTTP) premises via nexfibre (down from c.300k last quarter).

Just to recap. Telefónica, Liberty Global and InfraVia Capital Partners setup a new £4.5bn joint venture called nexfibre in 2022 (here), which aims to deploy an open access full fibre (FTTP) network to reach “up to” 7 million UK homes (starting with 5m by 2026) in areas NOT served by Virgin Media’s own network of 16m+ premises. But Virgin Media, which shares some of the same parentage, is currently the only ISP on this network (here).

At the same time, Virgin Media’s Project Mustang programme is also upgrading their older Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC1) and FTTP based Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG) network – covering over 16 million premises – to harness the same XGS-PON based FTTP technology as nexfibre. But this process isn’t due to complete until 2028, although it will eventually mean that VMO2 and nexfibre cover 23 million premises with full fibre.

According to the latest results, the combined VMO2 and nexfibre network currently reaches 17,193,700 million Homes Serviceable (up from 16.99m in Q4 2023) and the vast majority of that new build is from nexfibre. The nexfibre network alone accounts for c.1 million premises passed of this total (here) and they aim to add another million over the next year.

Nexfibre Rollout Progress
Q1 2024 = 194,000 Premises
Q4 2023 = c.299,000 Premises
Q3 2023 = 250,800 Premises
Q2 2023 = 175,500 Premises
Q1 2023 = 107,800 Premises
Q4 2022 = 24,000 Premises

NOTE: Roughly 4.2 million VMO2 and nexfibre premises are now covered by FTTP (XGS-PON and RFOG), which is up from 4m in Q4 2023. But a tiny portion of the above figures include a small bit of infill build for Virgin Media itself (separate to nexfibre). The c.175,000 premises passed by Upp, which was acquired by nexfibre last year, have yet to be integrated into the total.

The operator’s mobile base has also grown during Q4, although sadly Virgin Media has stopped giving any solid figures for their Pay TV (video) base and that often happens when a base is in decline.

VMO2 Q1 2024 UK Customer (Connection) Figures – Q1 2024
5,722,900 Fixed Broadband – (up from 5,717,600 in Q4)
45,083,300 Mobile inc. Wholesale – (up from 44,861,200)

At this point it’s worth noting that VMO2’s mobile contract base actually declined by -74,500 connections / customers in Q1 “due a slower handset market, seasonality and expected disconnections due to the decommissioning of a legacy IT system“. So the positive growth of +222,100 mobile connections above is actually coming from their IoT and wholesale (MVNO) base, which includes Sky Mobile and Tesco Mobile etc.

The latest results also revealed that 5G coverage is now available to more than 50% of the UK population, which gives us no indication of change from the 50% they reported last quarter. On the financial front, VMO2 reported total revenue of £2,588.8m in Q1 2024 (-0.5% YoY), although we aren’t going to reference the previous quarter’s figure for comparison because VMO2 changed how they report revenue in Q1.

Lutz Schüler, CEO of VMO2, said:

“While there is much to do in the remainder of the year, we are gathering momentum in accelerating fibre build and marketing the nexfibre footprint, launching new services to enhance and improve customer experience, and progressing wider IT efficiency programmes as we continue our digital transformation.

Ahead of price rise implementation, we delivered improved service revenue growth across both mobile and consumer fixed. Our teams also continue to innovate as shown by the targeted launch of 5G Standalone and a new 2Gbps broadband service on the nexfibre network in Q1, highlighting the future evolution of our networks as demand rises and new technologies emerge.

Our performance in Q1 sets the foundations for our full year guidance as we make key investments to support future growth.”

Despite the positive language above, it’s clear that VMO2 are struggling a bit to add new broadband customers, which isn’t surprising when you consider how much pressure they’re under from Openreach and the many rival alternative networks that now exist in the same space.

In the past, Virgin Media has always tried to position itself as the premium option, but that’s a hard position to maintain in today’s competitive market and the recent price hikes certainly won’t be helping. The impact of the latter will feed into the next results too, as well as the ending of any student contracts (these factors could make for a difficult Q2).

Speaking of pricing, this is an issue that feeds into both the wholesale side of nexfibre, including VMO2’s plans to open their network up to wholesale in the near future. After all, they’ll need to be aggressively competitive to compete, while also being able to attract other ISPs to their platform with favourable and fair terms. Not an easy task.

Finally, the average Virgin Media broadband speed in Q1 was 368Mbps, increasing 17% YoY. The recent launch of their new symmetric speeds add-on and a 2Gbps package won’t be having much of an impact yet, but it will be helping as the year goes on.

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