Not really a Virgin after all…

Not really a Virgin after all…

George Wareing

George Wareing, head of mobile and broadcast at Virgin Media Business

Virgin Media Business has the UK’s only nationwide fibre optic network, carrying 35% of all business broadband traffic. Already able to reach 85% of businesses in the UK, Virgin Media Business has the ability to connect to all organisations. Here, Mobile Business speaks to George Wareing, head of mobile and broadcast at Virgin Media Business, on what it is up to at the moment.

In early September, Virgin Media Business announced a ground breaking deal with Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL), the 50/50 joint venture set up by Everything Everywhere and Three back in 2007 to manage and deliver the combined 3G access networks of the two companies. MBNL signed with Virgin Media Business to be the first company to roll out Virgin’s IEEE Synchronous Ethernet (Sync-E) solution, which is a standard for distribution of frequency over Ethernet links.

Customers of Everything Everywhere and Three are now set to get super fast access to mobile data on the move, as the pair signed at £100 million-plus agreement with Virgin Media Business. The deployment will enable MBNL to support the explosion in data traffic and lay the foundations for a transition towards 4G.

High performer

Over the eight years of the contract, Virgin Media Business will build 14 regional aggregation networks across the UK to enhance MBNL’s bandwidth capacity. The high performance network will give consumers an even better mobile experience, allowing them to push their 3G enabled functionalities from video calling through to mobile TV to the limits.

The groundbreaking technology is set to be the UK’s only synchronous Ethernet mobile backhaul service. The first phase of deployment will see MBNL harness the power of the one Gigabit per second Ethernet service, ensuring that mobile data users will have continuous access to the high bandwidth network.

Everything Everywhere and Three will benefit from the increased capacity, enabling them to better transport the data that their combined 35.2 million customers consume when accessing social networking sites, mobile video, mobile music, the mobile internet and applications.

Wareing comments: “We have a UK-wide national network, which is predominantly fibre. For MBNL we’re building 14 aggregation networks and will connect its cell sites into those aggregation networks. Mobile masts collect the traffic for their area and then most of it goes over Ethernet or a synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) network to another mast that the traffic is being sent to.”

SDH is a standardised multiplexing protocol, primarily a transport protocol, that transfers multiple digital bit streams over optical fibre using lasers or light emitting diodes (LEDs).



“With Sync-E, synchronisation is a key element of the mobile network; networks have to be synchronous so calls don’t drop out as the user moves from one cell site to another. SDH is generally used for that purpose, but Sync-E is like SDH, plus it adds timing for the Ethernet network,” he explains.

What is exciting about Sync-E, according to Wareing, is the fact is enables the operator to maximise the capacity of the backhaul. “Over the last three to four years, mobile operators have predicted the massive expansion of mobile data and have started to move to Ethernet. Before Sync-E, the Ethernet speed for backhaul was 100Mbps. But you probably only got 60Mbps out of the that potential 100Mbps, because of the need to time traffic over a connection, which means you have to put a lot of extra data through the network to make that work, which isn’t part of the message actually being sent.

“Sync-E gives our customers 1Gbps backhaul speed, with virtually no overhead for the timing, as the timing is actually built into the network itself. So we’ve gone from ‘just in time’ capacity management today, into something all mobile network operators need that will keep them operating for the next five to 10 years.

“We’re giving mobile operators 10 times the current capacity on most backhaul available today. Though this service, we are giving MBNL enough capacity to take the business into 2018 or beyond, but the service is infinitely scalable with demand,” states Wareing.


Unique proposition

At the moment, Virgin Media Business is the only firm in the UK to have this kind of technology in its network. The company saw a need for this type of technology coming 12 months ago, when it went to its equipment vendor, Transmode, to create Sync-E. Wareing expects his company’s competitors to get in on the act soon, including BT, which dominates the backhaul network in the UK.

However, first mover Virgin is now in talks with other UK mobile network operators in the UK. “We haven’t had to do much persuasion,” remarks Wareing. “The mobile data explosion is breaking the networks today, so we are making sure we can match our mobile propositions to what the operators require.”

Wareing concludes: “Smartphones have been the first stage that’s really grown mobile data. Now tablets are coming out, and apps and content is becoming more data hungry, with multimedia and HD. This contract for us with MBNL is just the starting point; there will be more to come.”

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