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By Eva Bakowicz, World Markets Research Centre

The United Kingdom's broadband cable operator, NTL, has rebranded as Virgin Media and has announced its expansion plans. Virgin Media is the United Kingdom's first company to offer quadruple-play services, combining digital TV, broadband Internet access and mobile and fixed-line voice telephone services.

The company plans to sell its services through 15 Virgin Mobile stores, as well as more than 100 promotional sites in shopping centres across the country and concessions in Virgin Megastores.

Virgin Media is also exploring further possibilities of tie-ups with other retail stores. Customers will be offered four price plans, including two bundled services priced at £20 (US$39) per month, three at £30 per month or four at £40 per month, plus the option of a "VIP" premium package.

For comparison, rival BSkyB offers a combined triple-play package branded See, Speak, Surf which includes a bundle of digital TV channels, broadband Internet access and voice telephony for £26 per month, but customers are still required to pay a monthly subscription to BT for the line rental.

The merged NTL-Virgin Mobile group expects to take on rival pay-TV giant BSkyB, as well as the country's leading telecoms group, BT, for top spot in the United Kingdom's entertainment, broadband and telecoms industries. NTL strengthened its position following its acquisitions of the rival cableco, Telewest, and the country's leading MVNO, Virgin Mobile, last year.
The operator bought Virgin Mobile in July last year for £962.4 million, which merged NTL's 5.1 million cable customers with 4.3 million Virgin Mobile users. The tie-up with Virgin has enabled NTL to boost its distribution capacity. The company is also moving into the content production space and is planning to launch its own interactive TV-on-demand cable channel, branded Virgin Central, later this month.