Three signs up to Virgin Media for 5G backhaul

(Image credit: Huawei)

Virgin Media’s fibre network will provide backhaul services for Three’s 5G infrastructure, covering more than 3,000 sites across the UK.

Backhaul describes the physical connection between base station and an operator’s core network. In the 5G era, fibre backhaul is essential if operators are to manage the expected increases in mobile traffic and power services that require ultra-low latency.

Having the appropriate bandwidth in place eliminates bottlenecks and improves the experience for customers.

Virgin Media Three backhaul

Virgin Media says its network will provide “near-unlimited” bandwidth for Three’s 5G network and that it will build full fibre connections to busy locations in cities. 

Network densification will allow 5G to fulfil its potential and will necessitate on the deployment of small cells that can provide high speeds and high capacity. This micro infrastructure will rely on fibre.

Three uses a combination of backhaul suppliers, including BT, CityFibre and SSE Enterprise Telecoms. The addition of Virgin Media into the mix is significant as it suggests a further democratisation of a market that has traditionally been dominated by BT.

“We’re building the high capacity fibre backbone that will link mobile phone masts and cell sites across the country and power the UK’s 5G future,” said Peter Kelly, Managing Director of Virgin Media Business.

“With a powerful network and skilled engineers already in place, our infrastructure will help mobile operators to roll out their 5G network at scale. Virgin Media Business is fast becoming the backhaul bastion for 5G rollout.”

Last year, Virgin Media struck an “extensive wholesale agreement” with Vodafone and also provides backhaul services to other carriers and resellers who supply mobile operators directly. All in all, Virgin Media claims to support more than two fifths of the UK’s voice and mobile data traffic.

That proportion will increase with the Three deal and could increase still further if a joint-venture with O2 comes to fruition. Earlier this week, it was confirmed that Liberty Global and Telefonica, the parent companies of Virgin Media and O2, were discussing a possible merger of their UK assets.

A deal would mean only EE, which is owned by BT, would be beyond the reach of Virgin Media.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.