VirginNet to dual host service - C&W frontrunner

VirginNet is on the verge of signing a deal with a major telco to dual host its services after it admitted that its existing provider NTL would find it "too hard to cope" with an expected increase in traffic.

NTL has a contract with VirginNet until the end of this year to host its portal services and provide free Internet access to VirginNet customers but according to a VirginNet spokeswoman the wholesale ISP solution provider will need help. Cable and Wireless is rumoured to be a front runner.

"We're looking to dual source our ISP services," she said. "We are not dumping NTL we are just hoping to appoint another telco or maybe two to work alongside NTL. We've had thousands more people accessing the site and that puts a lot of demand on one provider."

NTL, a 49 per cent stake holder in VirginNet, was rumoured by a Sunday newspaper to be for the chop, a fact denied by both parties.

VirginNet now has around 250,000 users without any direct advertising or marketing of the free service. The company expects that figure to rocket over the next few months following a series of campaigns to target specific market sectors, such as Virgin Atlantic's frequent flyers and Virgin MegaStore customers. "To do this we have to be confident we have the necessary capacity and bandwidth in place," said the spokeswoman.

NTL, which also hosts Which? Online as part of its ISP portfolio, is better known for its cable services. The accusation that it cannot cope with an increase in VirginNet traffic will be nothing more than embarrassing.

"We were surprised by the stories but there's nothing we can say," said a spokesman for NTL, who added he was aware of VirginNet's desire for a dual sourcing arrangement. "We're a 49 per cent stake holder and that must have some bearing. We've been performing at top speeds and our network is hot but we can't comment on anything more. We're obviously talking to VirginNet about all this."

NTL has, according to VirginNet, already worked on increasing bandwidth, particularly in the US, while plans to increase European bandwidth by eight times will be implemented next month. The intention is, according to VirginNet to extend this capability and ensure a degree of future proofing with an additional partner such as Cable and Wireless.