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Ntl: Telewest is to be rebranded Virgin Media Business, with the company’s consumer division’s next-generation broadband network providing a platform for the launch of faster business broadband products.

Virgin Media’s fibre optic network is the most extensive in the UK, offering speeds of up to 50Mb and is available to 13 milllion homes. Until now, the service has been marketed at the consumer home broadband market, with campaigns focussing on the scope that a quicker connection offers for fast downloads and an improved online gaming experience.

The move to rebrand ntl: Telewest, however, will see the business division use the network to offer firms a super fast broadband service tailored for small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Business experts regard access to faster, affordable broadband as crucial if UK firms are to be able to compete effectively in the global digital economy.

Addressing delegates at a press conference to mark the rebranding, Mark Heraghty, Managing Director of Virgin Media Business, said that a closer association with Virgin Media would bring a “halo effect” to business broadband provider. Previously, NTL’s lack of brand recognition meant that is has been the “broadband sector’s best-kept secret” he admitted.

Cost savings accrued by using the consumer division’s extensive network will allow Virgin Media Business to focus on providing customers with improved support and position it as a viable and compelling alternative to BT, he claimed.

Mr Heraghty added: “We have big ambitions for Virgin Media Business. Our main goal is to grow the company, but we can only do that if the market likes what it sees.

"We’ve got to be better than anyone else and that means delivering the basics brilliantly, as well as matching customer needs with our technology and great service.”

Telewest has recorded double-digit growth for the last three years. This has accelerated in the last 12 months in the wake of large contract awards from local authorities and other public sector bodies. Most notable among these is a deal to deliver a £90 million enhanced network, as part of the rebranded company's involvement in the Hampshire and Isle Partnership, which also entails the development of a managed solution for monitoring the services on offer.

To sustain the level of expansion, the company’s forward strategy will see it focus on core technology areas through adding to its Ethernet portfolio. Improvement of customer service, meanwhile, will enhance the appeal of its offering. This is to be attained by expanding the capability of its customer portal by “integrating services into a single application” to put businesses “firmly in the driving seat of their operations".

Key service enhancements customers can expect are enhanced fault and order management, online billing and performance management.

News of developments comes after BT last month launched a new business broadband service, dubbed BT Business Total Broadband Fibre. This features a headline download speed of up to 40Mb. Companies signing up for BT’s offering also benefit from prioritized traffic, multiple VoIP, video conferencing and cloud applications.

BT’s launch of its enhanced business service, which was accompanied by a new BT fibre optic broadband consumer product range, has escalated competition between the two companies. Following BT’s move, Virgin Media responded by highlighting what it perceives as significant shortcomings in the BT next-generation broadband products.

Criticisms leveled at BT included the fact that although its network uses VDSL technology, the last stretch to the customer’s home is serviced by copper wire. As a result their “broadband will still be affected by distance” with the result that “many BT customers will not get the speeds they expect”.

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