Virgin Media and Liberty Global have announced plans to connect an additional 4 million UK homes and businesses to the cablenet’s fibre network.

The £3 billion investment, dubbed Project Lightning, is Britain’s largest investment in broadband digital infrastructure for more than a decade. It is anticipated to create 6,000 direct new jobs, including 1,000 new apprenticeships over the next five years.

On completion Virgin Media, which has been stuck at 50% coverage for most of the last decade, will reach 17 million homes. Under the ownership of Liberty Global, Virgin has begun the process of expanding its network to 110,000 homes across east London, Glasgow, Sunderland and Teesside.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I welcome this substantial investment from Virgin Media which is a vote of confidence in our long-term economic plan to support business and create jobs by building a superfast nation backed by world-class infrastructure. These 6,000 new jobs and apprenticeships will mean financial security and economic peace of mind for thousands more hardworking families across the country. Together with this Government’s rollout of superfast broadband which has now reached more than two million UK homes and businesses, this additional private investment will create more opportunities for people and businesses, further boosting our digital economy and helping secure a brighter future for Britain.”

Mike Fries, Liberty Global Chief Executive Officer, said: “Our next-generation fibre-rich networks reach 50 million households across Europe, enabling our customers to discover and experience the endless possibilities of the digital world. After a record operating performance, Project Lightning is a significant investment that demonstrates the confidence we have in Virgin Media and the UK as a place to do business.”

Last month, BT announced plans to deliver ultrafast speeds of up to 500Mbps to most of the UK within a decade. The telco plans to deploy, a digital subscriber line (DSL) standard, designed for local loops shorter than 250 metres.

Virgin is touting broadband speeds of 152 Mbps, though twice as fast as current speeds from its immediate competitors, in the ball park of the a “few hundred megabits per second” touted by BT as an initial offer.

Liberty Global is also preparing trials of DOCSIS 3.1 technology across Europe later this year. This technology could extend Liberty Global’s speed leadership to up to 10Gb when it is fully deployed in the future.