Virgin Media Chief Executive Neil Berkett unveiled the company's new 50Mb broadband service today – warning rivals that the company can launch a 100Mb service as soon as they try to respond.

Berkett, talking at the press conference, insisted that the 50Mb package represented a 'step change' but fired a warning at rivals trying to compete with the fibre optic cable company.

"We could have launched 100Mb today if we'd wanted," he said, "we're not capacity constrained.

"We believe that 50 is the right step in the way in which next generation broadband is launched.

"We will always lead the way in terms of upgrades going forward and we will facilitate this change in customers' behaviour, which will itself precipitate the need to move to 100Mb broadband."

Privileged position

He continued: "We're in a privileged position [due to the fibre network] but I think today we are risking our capital - interestingly nobody else has put their hand in the pocket for this process - and we're saying 'let's create what is a next-generation market'.

"When we assess that there is a real market there and that is what we believe will happen, then let's see what happens.

"But in the mean time I think we have launched a compelling product that I think will be a success.

"We expect by 2011/12 we would have four million customers on next generation broadband at 10 Meg and above. This year's the beginning of a complete upgrade for all our customers such that you're either on Virgin Media or you're in the slow lane."

50Mb service

Virgin Media appears to be focusing firmly on the service allowing households to all use the internet at the same time with no slow down, although HD streaming was also a recurring theme.

However, Berkett insisted that the service was not 'the end of a process, but the beginning of a new era' for UK broadband.

"Today marks a historic moment, for both Virgin Media and the UK, he added.

"As the first ISP to roll out next-generation broadband access, our 50Mb service represents the dawning of a new era of high-speed services in the UK and is just the beginning of what we hope to offer our customers over the coming years.

"This service will transform the way people interact and entertain themselves online and will provide a broadband experience that is truly world class."

DOCSIS3

In practical terms the 50Mb service will offer low latency, 1.5Mb upload speeds and takes advantage of DOCSIS3 technology.

Virgin Media calculates that the average high-definition movie can be downloaded in 14 minutes 49 seconds, compared to 46 minutes over a 16Mb connection. A music album should take 11 seconds, compared to 71 seconds over a 6Mb connection.

According to Virgin Media, as of today 1.5 million homes will be able to receive 50Mb broadband.