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Virgin Media has unveiled its much-trumpeted 50MB broadband service for customers in Scotland, the Midlands and south London.

Just over 1.5 million homes in Scotland, the Midlands and south London will today be able to sign up for super-fast broadband with the official launch of the Virgin Media’s 50MB service – an event the company’s chief executive officer described as marking a “revolution” in the way that UK consumers use the internet.

Neil Berkett outlined his hopes for the service at today’s official launch in which he also unveiled price points and terms of use for the company’s new products. The service is priced at £51 per month for the broadband connection only and at £35 per month when customers take a Virgin phone line for £11 per month. Those opting for the latter deal benefit from unlimited weekend calls to UK landlines.

Both deals include what the company describes as a “slinky, state-of-the-art” modem, a wireless N router and adaptor and free PCguard internet security. Similarly, customers taking either deal also benefit from the Broadband Extras incentive. This allows them to access exclusive entertainment content that has been developed in conjunction with brands such as Lego and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Existing Virgin Media customers who currently pay for 20MB and who want to upgrade to the 50MB service can do so by paying an extra £10 per month. Meanwhile, those who are new to Virgin Media are liable for a £50 one-off connection fee.

Addressing a press conference, Mr Berkett shrugged off speculation that the relative expense of the service would limit its appeal at a time when consumers are struggling with soaring household bills and was dismissive of concerns that the company was launching 50MB despite some analysts’ perception that there is lack of demand for faster broadband in the UK.

To back up his assertion that the service will enjoy strong take-up, Mr Berkett pointed to the fact that similar doubts were raised over consumer demand when its 20MB service was launched. The product, which had hitherto been its premium offering, now accounts for 83 per cent of its customer base, he said. Mr Berkett also noted that customers will be prepared to pay for what he claims is “the best product in the marketplace” and added that trends that show “consumers have an insatiable demand for bandwidth consumption” suggests that a strong market for faster connectivity exists.

Currently the service is only available in selected areas, but according to Mr Berkett the company is aiming to make it available for 12.6 million households within the next 12-18 months. To publicise the launch, Virgin Media is planning a TV and print advertising campaign. And, although the company’s CEO would not be drawn on a figure for the marketing spend, he said that the company “could not be accused of not telling it in the past” and added that a sizeable sum is earmarked for promotion for the 50MB service.

Virgin Media promises that its 50MB broadband will cut download times, enable subscribers to perform multiple tasks quickly and simultaneously and allows members of shared households to benefit from ultrafast access without affecting the quality and speed of service they receive. Meanwhile, gamers will enjoy greater responsiveness while playing online, due to the improved latency of the service, while all consumers will be able to enjoy uninterrupted smooth streaming of video and watch television in high definition.

By way of comparison, the second fastest broadband connection available to UK consumers is 24MB offered by Be Unlimited. Virgin Media has pledged that it will be able to increase the speed of its service in years to come via its fibre wire network to give connection speeds comparable to the 200MB service currently being tested in Germany.

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