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.

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?

Virgin Traffic Management

Virgin media finally revealed details of their traffic management system which they’ve been trialling for the last few months. While it’s no big surprise that it was coming with so many other companies implementing it in some shape or form some of the limits seem a little low.

  • Broadband Size: M – download more than 350MB during peak hours (16:00-00:00) and your connection will be throttled to 1MB download, 128kb upload lasting for four hours from when it was implemented
  • Broadband Size: L – download more than 750MB during peak hours (16:00-00:00) and your connection will be throttled to 2MB download, 192kb upload lasting for four hours from when it was implemented
  • Broadband Size: XL – download more than 3GB during peak hours (16:00-00:00) and your connection will be throttled to 5 MB download, 256kb upload lasting for four hours from when it was implemented

While I’m not against throttling this seems to be a blunt instrument to address the problem. Instead of throttling back torrent and newsgroup ports to a slow speed they are dropping your full connection speed. For those on M & L, those limits are pretty easy to reach. Just one of the podcasts I subscribe to is over 400MB for one file. With some careful management throttling could be avoided but your back to downloading overnight and during the day to keep peak hours free for normal web use, VOIP, gaming etc which can eat into those limits fairly easier.

Put it another way, once 20MB connections are introduced just 21 minutes at full speed would take you over the 3GB limit. Not much, eh? However factor in that after the 21 minutes you are still getting 5MB and it’s not really too bad. It will be frustrating though if your hosting on Live and you pop over your limit, throttling back upload speeds and potentially dropping your friends. Also, does the new connection speed implement seamlessly or is there a drop and re-connect?

I can’t really see me having a problem on XL although I was considering dropping to L once the upgrades were completed. After these changes I’ll be staying where I am.


OpenDNS has garnered a lot of positive press over the last year. Frustratingly NTL’s use of proxies meant that no matter what I tried, OpenDNS could not be configured on it’s network which meant I couldn’t move to the service.

While I was cleaning up my bookmarks I stumbled again on OpenDNS and now that NTL & Telewest have merged into Virgin Media I thought it was worth trying one last time. Success. So what does OpenDNS do?

DNS requests are made every day from your home connection. E-mails, web surfing, online gaming etc all make use of DNS. DNS turns real addresses (www.apple.com) into an IP address for the physical computer you want to connect to. It makes it easier to surf and also means an address can stay fixed while the computer changes in the background (to a different IP address). Usually you make use of your own ISP’s DNS server which in general works OK but from time to time can have issues. Speed, lack of redundancy and update issues are ones I’ve seen over the years.

OpenDNS provides a free DNS service that promises to resolve addresses quickly and also a few unique services that I certainly don’t get from my current ISP. Firstly there are anti-phisihing features in place so that you will be warned and the phishing site intercepted should you be lead to one. There’s also spelling correction where OpenDNS will look at the URL you’ve typed and if it detects a typo it will redirect you to the correct site. Finally if you look up a site that cannot be resolved OpenDNS will display a page with aletrnatives.

OpenDNSYou can turn off these features if you find they get in the way and you can also see stats on domains visited, IP’s requested etc but that isn’t the killer feature for me. It’s the speed.

Since moving to OpenDNS web surfing has taken on an extra zip. Click on a link now and the page is served far quicker than it was using Virgin’s DNS servers. I’m taking 2-4 seconds quicker for me but your mileage may vary. I’m also convinced that I’m using a more redundant service than my ISP’s servers but time will really tell with regards reliability. The added security features are a bonus but I really do recommend swapping to OpenDNS and at least giving it a shot (that for any ISP you use, not just Virgin). There are great guides on the site for most common routers and operating systems that take you through the small changes that you need to make. Have a go and enjoy a faster and more secure web.