Thursday, November 25, 2010


Virgin Speed Con

Virgin Media have a publicity campaign currently, calling for "honesty in broadband speeds". As well as operating a cable broadband / TV network that covers just under half UK households they provide ADSL broadband nationally over BT phone lines.

The cable service is a "hybrid fibre coax" network using DOCSIS3, the connections are made at fixed speeds of 2,10,20 and 50M with 100M scheduled soon. Less than 100,000 of their 4m plus customers have opted to pay the fairly high price for the 50M service.

Much of the campaign is about "what speed you get compared to what you pay for". There is a large flaw in the concept in that most of the UK broadband connections that are at a fixed speed are Virgin's cable connections and only these "pay for a speed". The rest are rate adaptive ADSL connections that go as fast as the line conditions permit. Cable prices are based on speed, ADSL prices are mainly fixed monthly fees for variable rate products.

So if you look at the measured throughput / speed of a Virgin cable connection you are seeing how congested or otherwise their network is, but when you do the same test on an ADSL line you are combining the effects of the line length with the network congestion and you don't know which is which. So a rural village line may get a speedtest of 2Mbits/s on an "up to 8M" service and you don't know if that's a brilliant result for a 5km line or a poor result for a 1km line.

Moving on to Virgin's "national" ADSL service we get to see some truly misleading marketing. My local exchange has only BT Wholesale equipment, a "Market 1" exchange, and therefore any broadband service will be delivered using BT services. My line(s) are 2.5km long and can just do the full 8128k sync speed if I pay attention and use the right hardware, but more typically they sync at 7000 - 7800 kbits/s.

If I go to the Virgin web site I can enquire about their services, put in the postcode and I am told :-

"You're in a Virgin National broadband area
You can get up to 20Mb broadband down your existing phone line.
But you're not in a fibre optic cable area, so we can't give you Virgin TV."

well the second sentence is completely incorrect as there aren't any 20M or 24M ADSL2+ services on the Wansford EMWSFRD exchange.

So much for this "honesty". Is it a "con" to offer me "up to 20Mb" when it simply isn't available ?

Onward to the number checker, which has the following small print..

"Broadband speeds:
Broadband connection speeds are dependent on a number of factors, such as the distance between your telephone exchange to your house and the line quality, so whilst your broadband speed can vary, Virgin Media National Broadband will always give you the maximum connection speed available based on these factors."

the result for my line is...

"6.0 Mbps - 7.0 Mbps
Great news! Your phone line is lovely and speedy
Unlike some others we're not into capping the speed you get, so we'll always give you the fastest possible broadband we can."

well I agree with the speed prediction, but it isn't what an "up to 20M" ADSL2+ service would give me because there isn't one available.

I wonder what this crap on the results page is about - "Unlike some others we're not into capping the speed you get" - all of the BT provided services on our exchange are up to 8M MaxDSL and all work the same way - nobody caps the speed.

Honest ? You decide.

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