4 Weeks with Virgin Broadband

It’s more like 5 weeks now but I thought I would do a quick update on how I’ve found Virgin Broadband since joining at the start of November.

Raw speeds are still very good. Take for example the speedtest from this morning.

Generally I get that kind of speed so the service is definitely delivering. However there is a lot of throttling of peer to peer and newsgroup traffic. This varies from day to day depending on, I guess, the traffic levels locally. On certain days it makes little difference, on other days you can see download speeds of a few k/s instead of the usual few Mb/s.

However this isn’t new and is applying to more and more ISP’s. Downloading out of peak times is breathtakingly fast. 7-8Gb files are taking 30mins or so. Uploading to Amazon S3, Flickr etc has also been very quick now that the 5Mb upload speed has been applied. The uploads are the only part of the service (on 50Mb) that are subject to caps and if you go over the cap your speed is throttled to a still usable level but it’s worth baring in mind. I’ve scheduled backups to non peak times and it’s working well.

Overall I’m pleased with the service so far. Quick and reliable with no noticeable drops.

Fibretastic

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 http://192.168.100.1/CmOpConfig.asp (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?

Miscellaneous Monday

I’ve not blogged for a long time. Been very busy and not really had too much to post about that Twitter can’t take care off. Still, in times of post crisis I always resort to this kind of thing. Lot’s of bullets and lot’s of bite sized….tweets. Ahem. Anyway, on with the nonsense:

  • O2 broadband has been up and running for two weeks and so far it’s all good. Great for online gaming and I’m getting a rock solid 8-9Meg with no throttling. I’ve now left Virgin so saving quite a bit of cash each month. Take that credit crunch!
  • Speaking of which – crazy times eh! Makes me question the pension I’m in. Eats up lot’s of my salary and I’m again questioning what I’ll really get at the end of it. At the same time I know I need to do something for when I eventually get old. Or do I? Could anyone have predicted banks being nationalised, taxpayers bailing out the massive institutions and the global demise in the stock market? I guess Alistair Darlings warning at the end of August doesn’t look so negative now. Brown is also coming out smelling slightly better than he was just a few short months ago. Is this finally turning the tide for Labour? I have my doubts as ultimately they will be portrayed as the guys that got the economy into this mess. Still, interesting to note how quiet the man with the plan is. Knobber. Also nice to see shareholders moaning that they have been wronged. Ho ho ho.
  • I’m enjoying Fringe.
  • New Apple laptops. Macbooks, Macbook Pro’s and…thats it. While everyone wants a tablet I still can’t see it happening. To much of a clash with the iPhone. I don’t think we’ll see a glass touchpad either. Just doesn’t sound right but you never know. I won’t be buying whatever they release (that was bold!). Although I do want to replace my current desktop and laptop with a new laptop at some point. Time will tell.
  • Had a nasty migraine this morning. First in quite a while. Annoying.
  • Fifa 09 is superb online. Best online footie game by quite a margin. This will probably be the first year that I won’t buy Pro Evo. Only thing that sucks is people who quit games early because they are losing. I still get the win but it’s pretty unsatisfying. The club options where you and friends get to play in the same team against others is a real highlight. Highly, highly recommended.

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 speedtest.net 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:

telnet 192.168.1.254
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=208.67.222.222 metric=0 intf=O2_ADSL2plus
dns server route add dns=208.67.220.220 metric=0 intf=O2_ADSL2plus
dns server route list
saveall

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?

I live in Ireland?

Generally my broadband connection behaves pretty well. Indeed I threw up a speed test on Friday night to Flickr showing how close to 20Meg I was getting. Quite impressive especially as it was peak time. I also had a voice in my head saying that posting the speed test will no doubt lead to trouble. Little did I know it would be so soon.

For the first time today I saw adverts on BBC News. As it happened first thing I thought maybe the BBC had decided to cash in it’s sites. I know the rest of the world get adverts so why not UK? But during the day the adverts would sometimes appear, then disappear. Hey ho. Then I tried to access some iPlayer content.

iPlayer

This content isn’t available in your country. What? I so want to see that Doctor Who trailer as well – you know – the one with Davros! So where in the world am I if not in the UK? Trust Google to know…

GoogleYes. Ireland. Clicking on Google took me to what it thought was my home country page. Mmm. What was wrong – Virgin Media or OpenDNS? Disabling OpenDNS showed it was Virgin at fault. A reboot of the modem made no difference. A bit of digging about showed that I wasn’t alone with this issue and that using Virgin’s webcache proxy would solve the problem. So using a proxy of webcache.virginmedia.com and port 8080 I was back in the UK with iPlayer available again. The only snag is the drop in speed. Compare the two speed tests below, the first one with the proxy enabled – quite a difference.

Webcache Speedtest

No Webcache Speedtest

Now I’m not convinced that the webcache speedtest is not reporting right as generally the browsing speeds all felt fine, except they should do, they are cached by Virgin. But site’s that aren’t cached all felt fine too. Weird. I’ll get onto Virgin after the weekend if this doesn’t resolve itself. Sigh. Should have never have done that initial speed test. Jinxed.

Giveth with one...taketh with the other

More Virgin Media news and this time you really do wonder what’s going on! The one that grabs most headlines is that they are to pilot a scheme working with the BPI to send letters to users downloading music illegally via P2P. The pilot is not up and running but according to the Telegraph is starting soon. In some ways it’s no big surprise as there’s been lot’s of talk about a proposed three strikes and your out system. Indeed some ISP’s have already sent letters to users warning them about the content or bandwidth they are using. As long as there are no false positives and the action they are taking is clear, transparent and applied to all users can anyone really complain? Not really, although I’m still surprised that they will act in cases of ‘suspected’ piracy. I would damn well hope they act when they have concrete evidence and it’s not just a way of targeting heavy downloaders and their Linux iso’s.

What makes this all a bit more odd is that Virgin Media are beta testing a new Usenet service. In conjuntion with Highwinds they are looking to improve their newsgroup offering. What are newsgroups – well according to Virgin they are:

…discussion forums (usually on a specific topic) but can also be used to download and upload files such as photos and videos.

No shit Sherlock. Their binary retention will be at least 7 days and text retention over 90 days. Not bad for a free service although nothing like the service you get from providers like Giganews. Notice also that newsgroups are great for photo’s and videos. No music to be found though. Or applications, games, books etc. Just photo’s and video’s.

This doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. What happens with one provider will eventually happen to all. What I want is a reliable fast connection at a reasonable price. On reflection this isn’t what Virgin are offering although I must admit to it being prety bullet proof compared to ADSL. Time to switch?

Shady Virgin

Virgin have been running STM (Subscriber Traffic Management) for a while now. To be honest I haven’t felt much impact although it certainly hasn’t increased my speeds any by affecting ‘the top 3%’ of users downloading or uploading at peak times. I’ve got no real problems with the rules but I do have problems when Virgin apply them when they like at times of their choosing.

Now Virgin have confirmed to a user that STM applies at different times at bank holidays and weekends. That would explain why I was throttled when grabbing some Oracle iso’s a few weekends ago. I put it down to general slowness in the area but it picked up quickly a few hours later. I guess it shows how bad the service can be if I people are throttled without really realising it. Of course there’s nothing on Virgins official page about this. This all smacks of Plusnet when they had to deal with the increased pressures of downloads against cost to user. While the STM is sensible in principle at least tell us how and when it will be applied. Honesty makes a big difference.

Some of the other posts in the link above got me thinking though. Is it really a slippery step to a pay as you go broadband service? Great speeds both down and up but you pay per GB? Is that the most fair way of moving forward with broadband in the future? I’ve no clue but it will be interesting to see how the next 12-18 months change the landscape (if at all) with the increased usage of video and the move to HD by more and more people. 25GB download for just one film? No thanks, not at today’s speeds. I’m sure the music and film industry would love a move to that kind of model. I’d just like to see more consistency for my money…current speed is 3MB which certainly isn’t what I’m paying for.

Falling Behind

Looking at these two graphs for broadband speed and price, the UK is falling behind not only world but European nations when it comes to overall connection speeds and how much broadband costs.

With more services moving to digital distribution and our ever increasing dependence on internet connections and services it’s critical that the UK’s infrastructure is improved over the next few years to give us a fast and reliable broadband service with a greater choice for the consumer.