So I’ve switched back to Virgin Media. Back in 2008, frustrated by some IP issues and throttling, I moved from Virgin Media to O2 broadband. There was also the issue of cost. O2 were offering up to 16Mb for £10 a month, Virgin at the time were 20Mb for £37 a month so quite a difference. So after two years why switch?

The main reason is speed. The image above is a test on my new connection this morning. A true 50Mb down but more importantly, 4.6Mb upload. Wowsers. Since leaving, Virgin Media’s XXL package has been upgraded from 20Mb to 50Mb. Nothing else on the market at the moment can touch this for download speed. Speedtest’s are all well and good – how’s the real world performance? Very good over the last week. Video’s, podcasts and, ermmm, ‘other’ large downloads are all delivered in record breaking time. I did some testing with DNS and I’ve kept with OpenDNS as I still find them the fastest option comparing them with ISP’s own DNS and also Google DNS.

One of the issues with faster download speeds though is that upload speeds have never kept pace and so much of what I do, and want to do more of, is dependant on uploading. Uploading podcasts, uploading photo’s and HD video from the 550D and cloud backups. All take a considerable amount of time when you’ve only got 1Mb upload speeds. Virgin earlier this year announced an upgrade for everyone’s upload speeds so the XXL package now comes with 5Mb upload. Looking at the speed test above I am very nearly getting that and it is making a tremendous difference. Cloud backups and photo uploads are now four times faster. Considering some of the Flickr set uploads can take over an hour you can see how much a difference it makes. It also makes cloud backup a more realistic option. If your using Virgin Media, visit (your modems configuration page) to find out what upload and download speeds your modem is currently operating at.

All this speed though comes with conditions. Firstly, £35 a month is a lot more than the £10 a month I was paying to O2. However O2 have recently changed their broadband tiers so I was likely to move to £20 a month with O2. Secondly, all tiers on Virgin have traffic management. During peak periods p2p and newsgroup traffic is throttled to protect other services. A lot of people cry fowl over this but I’d rather have that than a broadband service that is ruined by people stealing content which if we’re honest is the vast vast majority of p2p and newsgroup traffic. I know the complainers point to legitimate reasons for p2p and newsgroups but that just doesn’t wash. I’d rather have fast web, video , voice and game traffic over a totally unmanaged service.

Another aspect of Virgin’s traffic management is that your connection speed can be throttled depending on how much you download and now also upload. The table above is taken from Virgins current traffic management help page. Downloads on XXL aren’t throttled at all but if you have the new upload speeds they are. However it’s only after you’ve uploaded 6GB that the speeds is temporarily throttled back to 1.5Mb. Pretty generous and not going to be an issue for me. Any backups that I do will be scheduled for times when I’m not likely to be using the connection.

Another reason for moving was a deterioration in the service from O2. Not only were average speeds starting to drop but connections were being lost every couple of days. I can accept slow but I hate when the service goes down. The internet connection is used for so much now that I hate unreliability.

Overall I’m delighted with the service but as with all things it’s early days. Over the next 12-18 months Virgin are rolling out 100Mb down, 10Mb up for £43 a month. I’ll see how the cloud backups progress before deciding if it’s worthwhile moving as the speed at the moment is plenty enough for me. It’s interesting looking back to when I first got broadband and it was 1/2Mb down and that was plenty fast. Times change – i wonder what speed (and provider) I’ll be with in 2012?

BT I-Plate

With O2 going well I decided to try an I-Plate to see if it would make any difference. The I-Plate filters your broadband signal and for a lot of people has improved sync speed and also stability. It’s also fairly cheap to buy (£12.69) and easy to install. It arrived yesterday and I’m pleased with the difference it’s making. The first pic is without the I-Plate, the second with.

Without I-PlateWith I-Plate

It took a couple of minutes to fit and the results are repeatable and the benefits are seen with real world downloads not just on speed test sites. One caveat is that this only works with a BT NTE5 master socket although there are other faceplates that you can use to replace the whole master box. There is also no guarantee that you will see a speed improvement with one fitted – take a look at the Broadband Buyer link above to see customer feedback for the range of opinions on the product. However considering how cheap it is I would say it’s worth a punt, especially if your seeing slower performance or disconnects.

O2 Broadband

A week last Friday I ordered O2 broadband. I’ve now spent the first weekend on the service and so far so good. This is just a quick write up of impressions and performance of O2 so far.

The O2 router was shipped and arrived in plenty time for line activation. Activation also took place on time (last Thursday) and I got an e-mail and text from O2 saying I was good to go. I didn’t have chance until Friday to try it out and unfortunately I hit problems. No broadband detected and after trying the router plugged into the master socket it was exactly the same. I phoned O2 (freephone support) and after 30 min’s of trying various options and O2 conducting line tests they decided I had a duff router and shipped me a new one. It was an hour later before I discovered what was the real reason for the failure. I had no dial tone. I contacted O2, they said it was a BT issue so I contacted them. Cue lot’s of hassle in actually getting to speak to someone. Automated tests telling me I had/hadn’t a fault and twice I got cut off while holding to speak to someone. Eventually I got a human being. Woo hoo! After another 20 min’s they insisted I had no fault but would send an engineer out on Saturday. if it’s your equipment at fault we’ll charge around £200 at the very least. Nice. They also put a redirect onto my home phone number and it was this step that finally revealed the problem.

A friend had been trying to get through since Wednesday night and on Friday morning the phone was answered….by a sandwich shop. On connecting my broadband a mistake had been made and my home phone number was being directed to the local sandwich shop instead. Nasty. With this info the BT engineer fixed the issue on Saturday afternoon and I could connect to O2. First test – what speed am I getting?

Using I was getting download speeds of between 8.5 and 9meg. Upload was consistently over 1meg. Never really trusting the speedtests it was time to do some real world downloading. Newsgroup downloading always maxed out my Virgin connection and is a good indication of true speed. On O2 I’m getting around half the speed I was getting on Virgin. Baring in mind that’s for just over a quarter of the price (£10 for O2 against £37 for Virgin). Uploading is also faster with O2 than Virgin which should help with video uploading and also 360 and PS3 game hosting. The problem I’ve had before with ADSL though is consistency. So far (since Saturday afternoon) the speed has been very consistent, certainly more so than Virgin which at nights (without throttling being applied) could easily drop down to 5-7meg. There’s also been no disconnects so far but it’s early day’s and it will be interesting to see how the connection copes with the busy week night periods which is where I’ve had issues before.

I did expect to have issues with the router O2 supplied. It’s wireless G only and I was expecting to have to buy a new ADSL router. It’s a rebadged Thomson TG585 and forum posts had put me off the router. However wireless performance in my house is excellent – on a par if not better than the D-Link N router I used with Virgin. The router is set-up to run WEP from first switch on which is good. WPA and WPA-II are also supported. It should be noted though that the router admin user doesn’t come with a password but that’s easily rectified.

Out the box the 360 and PS3 set-up with open NAT and NAT Type 2 respectively which should be perfect for online games. No faffing around with DMZ’s or opening ports. I’ve tried both consoles online and it’s been excellent. Halo 3 and Wipeout both need good connections to perform well and I saw no abnormal lag issues in either. Happy days.

The router is accessed via a web front end which isn’t particularly user friendly. Many settings that I’m used to tweaking on the D-Link are missing. Many stat’s that you would expect to see in the interface are missing. Cue terminal and command line interface (CLI). This reminds me of the Speedtouch I used years ago – very reliable router but changes were made via a CLI and this Thomson isn’t much different. I guess this makes support for O2 easier as there’s less for home users to tinker with. To see current line stats, essential for troubleshooting ADSL issues, you type the following from terminal:

Login name: SuperUser
Password: O2Br0ad64nd
adsl info expand=1

Not hard but not user friendly either. I also wanted to change to OpenDNS rather than O2’s DNS servers and again this isn’t available via a web page but is instead:

dns server route flush
dns server route add dns= metric=0 intf=O2_ADSL2plus
dns server route add dns= metric=0 intf=O2_ADSL2plus
dns server route list

Overall, very impressed so far. O2 support (as Gordon has highlighted before) has also been excellent, even texting and e-mailing this morning to say they can now see I’m connected at a good speed and also that they will now start taking payments. I’ve really liked the whole ordering process that O2 use – far slicker than I’ve seen from anyone else. However I’m still prepared for issues over the coming days. I’ve been burned before with good solid speeds and then loads of disconnects. So far I’ve had none and if the rest of the week is as stable as the weekend it really will be bye bye Virgin. Here’s hoping.

Bye bye Virgin?

Tired of Virgin’s throttling and high prices I’ve signed up for O2 broadband. I currently pay £37 a month for 20Meg broadband from Virgin and while the service has been reliable the throttling is getting in the way. It’s also hard to justify that price when O2, Sky and others are offering equivalent services for just £10. I do however have some concerns.

Back in October 05 I moved to Freedom2Surf’s 8Meg. Initially it looked a good move but after only 3 months I left the service and moved to Virgin (NTL at the time). Since then Virgin have been very good. There’s been the odd bit of downtime and a month of my IP address showing as being routed in Ireland but in general there’s not a lot to complain about apart form the price. Looking back I still have a fear that the ADSL service for my house will not be as reliable as Virgin’s cable service.

That’s why I ultimately chose O2 over Sky. They are currently offering a 50 day money back guarantee which will be plenty time for me to set-up and try their service and ensure that it’s reliable…as well as fast. Speed is up to 16Meg download and up to 1.25Meg upload. So slightly slower download and a much improved upload. Real world speeds, I expect, will be a lot less than that due to distance from exchange and also the cabling to and in the house but only time will tell.

I ordered the service yesterday and the first impressions are good. O2 keep in touch with you via website, e-mail and text messages. The service should be enabled by next Thursday and the O2 modem and router have already been shipped. Hopefully it works out well as the cost saving is pretty massive over Virgin. One snag – the router is only a G so if it initially looks a good move I’ll need to pick up a new router. Anyone have a good recommendation?

Broadband Joy

Finally I have a fast and stable broadband connection thanks to NTL. It was installed last Friday and since then I have not had one disconnect. Contrast with Freedom2Surf’s LLU service which was flaky and prone to disconnects. I also seemed to suffer some accusations of lag while gaming online although I was never entirely convinced it was me. Saying that, there has been no lag at all since NTL was installed.

Secondly the speed is impressive – most impressive. About 30 minutes after the line was installed I took an ADSLGuide speedtest which you can see here. Almost a full fat 10Meg connection. Real world speeds i.e. downloading, streaming and general web surfing have also been very impressive. Web pages were a lot snappier than previous suggesting that NTL’s DNS servers are working really well compared to my last two providers.

Contention however can definitely be seen with NTL but not to the same extent as the ADSL network in my area. Yes I’m in a Glasgow on a big exchange (western) but to slow down at night to less than 50k/sec is pretty unacceptable. I should have been seeing 6Meg. I find NTL is dropping to 4-6Meg in the evening but at other times maintains the 9-10Meg speeds. SO after one week I can only recommend NTL’s cable service. I’ll update later in the year once I’ve had more experience of their long term performance.

Finally – Freedom2Surf have lost the plot. I cancelled with them last week but they had the cheek to phone this week and offer 2 free months connection and a promise to fix all my issues. I wasn’t impressed with this at all – why not fix the problem while I’m a paying customer and not when I leave. Sounded like they have had quite a few users leave recently. They also admitted today that they have been traffic shaping over the last weeks. I wish they had been up front so that people knew this was happening – it would have saved a lot of wasted time and money in contacting their support desks. Their reputed honesty and good support seems to have gone out of the window. In case you haven’t figured it out I didn’t take them up on their free months offer. Good riddance.

Confusion…pity the consumer

After my PlusNet raves it was bound to fly back in my face. PlusNet have now announced that they aren’t going to implement a Fair Usage Policy after all but instead use contention levels to deliver their service and cut down on those who abuse (i.e. continually download). Instead of a 30Gig + unlimited overnight downloads it will be £21.99 for an unlimited but contended service. Contention will be set at 30:1 and unless you go above 5:1 contention that’s it – no speed cuts, no download limits. Good.

The confusion this has caused is massive – 16 pages of posts and counting and two very confusing posts from PlusNet employee’s –

If you mean will shaping apply, then yes, but as I said the amount and type will vary based on the products which haven’t been announced so I’ll say no more.

and on another thread at almost precisely the same time

I can confirm that traffic shaping isn’t being applied across the product range. It will be applied on Broadband Plus, but not across the board on Premier.

While this has totally changed the PlusNet view of the last 3 months they have also announced to compliment this new Premier products, but they felt it would confuse the user if they revealed the specifics – please wait for the 28th of April for more details. Bloody Hell.

Until now I’ve been happy with PlusNet – great service and support and night and day compared to BT Broadband. Their service is still top notch but their communications team need a shake. All they do is confuse the user and dropping little bits of info through forum posts only confuses users more and leads to, ultimately, users drifting off to other providers. I’m more than happy to be paying £21.99 for 2Meg and the heavy users suffering a poorer service however I will not accept traffic shaping of any kind. Time to check out other providers in case I need to change. Where’s the phone number for UK Online?. Their £29.99 for 8Meg is getting more tempting by the day.

Cheaper Broadband

After a short wait and lot’s of hoping PlusNet have finally launched their new pricing structure. So today I was able to switch to 1Meg broadband, around 200Gb download cap and a hopeful upgrade to 2Meg in the next month or so for a monthly fee of £21.99. Lovely. Had to pay £14.99 to change from paying £29.99 a month but I’ll make that back by summer.

Just need to wait for BT to start rolling out their 8Meg products later in the year to get 8Meg for £21.99 – that will be a bargain.

Hard Sell

UK Online have now installed their LLU gear in my exchange. I know because in the last 4 days I’ve had two letters and two phone calls telling me all about it. That means I could have 8Meg downloads with 400k uploads for a mere £39.99 a month. That speed comes with a 500Gb monthly cap and a free wireless router – not too shabby a deal especially compared with NTL/Telewest who’s 3 & 4Meg deals seem dear in comparison, especially with the new caps introduced by NTL although it will be interesting to see how they implement them – kick people off who regularly abuse? (The cable company’s really should be offering far more to hammer home their fibre network advantage. Shame.)

Despite the temptation I will be sticking it out with PlusNet. From next month I will hopefully be on 2Meg for £21.99 a month. If the BT trials are successful I should then have the opportunity to move to up to 8Meg download and 1/2Meg upload later in the year again for £21.99. Bargain. Even if that falls through the UK Online deal will still be there – they just need to improve their performance if Adslguide forums are anything to go by. More speed – can’t wait.

PlusNet Upgrades

PlusNet have announced changes to their broadband packages. As expected they’ve moved to charging on a download capacity basis rather than speed. April will see all their customers moving to the fastest line possible from their exchange and later in the year onto 4 & 8Meg connections if the exchange supports it. Class. Details of the fair usage policy can be found here – £21.99 per month for 2Meg speed and potentially 230Gig download a month sounds an absolute bargain 🙂

Sea Change

After mentioning broadband earlier this week it looks like some exciting developments will start to move fast internet access forward in the UK. ADSL has been for many the only way to get broadband access, and has always looked a slightly poorer cousin compared to cable. NTL but more so Telewest have always offered faster download speeds for a comparable if not cheaper price than ADSL providers. Indeed Telewest now offer 4Meg downloads with NTL offering 3Meg.

However Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) is now starting to happen across the country and not just in London and the South East. UK Online and Bulldog are offering ADSL speeds of up to 8Meg with an increased upload of 400k. BT has also announced they will be trialling 8Meg download speeds from April this year and also testing ADSL2+ this year which can see broadband speeds go up to 18Meg (depending on line length from exchange). All this is great news but the pricing structure of broadband will have to change radically to support these speed increases.

This is where (I think) Max DSL comes in. From April BT will launch Max DSL which allows ISP’s to set your download speed to the maximum available on your line. Initially this will be to 2Meg but hopefully by year end it will be whatever your line can take up to 8Meg. This is great for the customer as it can be done transparently by the ISP but how will the price of your connection change? I think most ISP’s will move to a pricing structure that gives you bandwidth rather than speed. So £20 gives you 50Gig per month, £25 70Gig and so on. This will allow then to charge the heavy users who use up bandwidth the most money and likewise charge less for the smaller users who only use a few gigabytes per month. Most of the big ADSL providers have been introducing download caps and indeed NTL will be doing likewise for their broadband users. This is all well and good as long as the ISP provide clear guidelines and allow users to track their usage which is something my provider, Plus Net, has done since day one.

Indeed Plus Net is seemingly going to make an announcement next week on their future pricing structure for premier account holders. I’m hoping it will include details on upgrades, their fair usage policy and also future plans for the year ahead but it may just detail price and speed changes. I’ll just need to wait and see but finally the UK market is starting to catch up with the rest of Europe…but not the Swedes who can get 100MBit/s for 54 US dollars a month. Drool.