back to article Virgin Media ads throttled by peak time bandwidth squeeze

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has rapped Virgin Media for making dodgy claims about its download speeds after a complaint by rival BT. The "Hate to Wait" campaign, which ran in national newspapers, trumpeted the times it estimated Virgin Media broadband subscribers to download songs and TV shows. The ads failed to …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Down

    Pot & Kettle

    I see, so BT can get away with its "up to 8MB" service delivering 200KBps at peak times (in my case) because they didn't make any explicit claims.

    Anyway, both BT and Virgin are shitty Phorm pushers. Moved away from BT and now get a consistent 10MBps from what is supposed to be an 8MB WiMax service.

    A broadband provider delivering speeds *higher* than advertised? How novel!

  2. Mark

    Re: Pot & Kettle

    And one hopes that VM will raise this issue with OFT likewise.

  3. Pete Silver badge

    too much to ask?

    I don't suppose there's any possibility that VM would consider investing money to upgrade the capacity of their network. Given that they have the only cable infrastructure in the country, it would be very easy to simply milk it for all the revenue they can possibly get.

    It seems to me that they've been out-manouvered, out-marketed and completely overtaken by "modern" technologies, while trying to extract the maximum revenue from their creaky old service before it simply dies from obsolescence.

  4. Adam Foxton

    What's the problem with upload?

    AFAIK the signals are exactly the same- in fact one man's upload IS another man's download. Over Ethernet they're carried along on different pairs, along fibre they'll be carried along on different wavelengths and even on analogue phone lines I'm pretty sure both directions have their own wire.

    So how come upload speeds are so much slower than download speeds? The switching speed of the ICs in the modemwill be the same, the data can be pushed into the modem down an ethernet link at about 10gbps- so no problems actually sourcing the information to be sent down the phone lines, the effects of the copper/fibre itself will be the same on upload and download. So again, what's the problem? Is this just a throwback to the days of half-duplex networks over co-ax that the ISPs are maintaining so they don't oversell themselves quite as badly as they have on download?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Pete surely Virgin Media are one of the leading ISP within the UK , how many others have fibreoptic cables running straight to your household ? and how many have the capabilities of issuing 20mb ? completely baffled by your comment and cant establish where your coming from.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    I am still waiting...

    For virgin media to officialy tell me that its strangleing my connection from 10am - after dark.

    I noticed the other day, the current doctor who episode is 500Mb, are they gona tell me that most of there customers will not suffer from bandwith strangleing when during peek times they try to watch what is a mass customer product?

    I mean, do they get 300Mb's fast and then have to wait two lifetimes to get the other 200Mb's?

    With that said, I would like to see 50% of my TV tax spend making the british Internet backbone a shed load faster.

    -Ano - because I am weak.

  7. Frank Bough


    ...are you actually suggesting that VM's cable infrastructure is "creaky" and "old" compared to BT's??

  8. Dangermouse


    "fibreoptic cables running straight to your household?"

    Not in my house, matey! But then, I only live in Central London so is to be expected.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Hello Mr Branson. How're the trains?

  10. Nick
    Thumb Down


    Well VM don't have fibre cables running straight to your household for a start. It's fibre to the street cabinet and copper into your home.

  11. shaun

    one word


  12. Anonymous Coward

    Upload/download speeds

    @Adam Foxton

    No, DSL does not have separate wires for up and down directions, it is shared bandwidth. So, you can slice it evenly and get poor download speeds, or make it asymmetric in either direction and make one direction much faster than the other. Since most people download more than they upload, biasing towards downloads is what is done in most cases.

    SDSL gets symmetric rates by using cables that don't carry voice so the bandwidth normally reserved for the POTS stuff is made available for the uplink.

  13. Anonymous Coward


    Sorry for my lack of knowledge about the placement of fibre (Thanks Nick for the info) , but still VM have the strongest network in the UK , and there not "creaky" and "old".

    Frank pretty much said it in one sentance.

  14. Brian Wright

    @Frank Bough+AC

    Actually you'll find BT has the strongest national network with the largest capacity, far higher than VM could dream of. It also uses fibre, just not FTTP or FTTK, yet.

  15. Danny Roberts

    Virgin Media have no excuse!

    As far as I can see, Virgin should not be allowed to use any sort of qualifier in their advertising or contracts. Yes, ADSL providers have an 'up to' clause in their advertising as they do not know how far you live from the exchange and there is very little they can do about the quality of the line between the house and the exchange. This includes all the 'unbundled' lines.

    Virgin, on the other hand, have complete control of their network, up to and including the line into the house. Cable speeds do not depend on distance from the cabinet.

    As an aside, after complaining to Virgin about atrocious download speeds, they sent me two engineers to replace the modem, completely disregarding the fact that I could get 18Mbit/sec in the middle of the night. The third engineer turned up and admitted that the lousy speeds were purely due to oversubscription.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    VM may have potentially the strongest network in the UK but they DO have the crappest management.

    Bring back the regional cable companies I say. Diamond Cable were SOOOO much better than NTL and VM.

    Paris because even she knows how rubbish VM are.

  17. Mark

    Re: Upload/download speeds

    However, very few home DSL users are sharing their upload with someone with a higher upload speed than download speed.

  18. Anonymous Coward


    ADSL uses frequency-division multiplexing (amongst other techniques) using multiple frequencies. Each seperate frequency can be an up or a down channel, but not both (no carrier sensing here!) So they set a ratio of 1:15 or so, so that you get about between 10 and 20 times more download than upload bandwidth. Of course, it's not really that simple, but this is the gist of it.

    But, unless you are a big P2P seeder, you should not really notice the upload speed restriction. 40-50KB/S should be enough up bandwidth for web and mail access.

    I must admit to being puzzled by haveing a Transmission (BitTorrent client) session showing me a download speed of about 2KB/S from about 8 peers, and an upload speed of 40KB/S to just 2 peers on my VM ADSL line over the weekend. But then, there appears to be some artifical throttling that Virgin are not admitting to, because on the stroke of 23:00 (to the second), my measured download speed (measured by ThinkBroadband speed checker) jumps by a factor of 5-10, giving me a reasonable (but nowhere near 8Mb/S) connectivity. Nobody has told me I am being throttled, and the time does not agree with their published policies. It also slows down on the dot of 07:00 in the morning.

    I only get something approaching my purchased bandwidth between about 02:00 and 06:00 in the morning.

    I'm building a profile that I intend to present to Virgin, to ask what is going on, but they will probably ignore it, like all the other questions I ask about performance, functionallity, and Phorm.

  19. Alex

    Virgin no longer innocent..

    Why are we still talking about Virgin?

    Surely all the customers must have left by now and there would be no story?

    I mean... who the hell would want to stay? They make AOL look good....

    An ex-virgin customer....

  20. Digital Freedom

    @Adam Foxton - What's the problem with upload?

    QUOTE: "So how come upload speeds are so much slower than download speeds? The switching speed of the ICs in the modemwill be the same"


    The Download is encoded at QAM64 by the headend unit into 38Mbit Frames that are 8Mhz in bandwidth, basically just like the DVB-C stuff. (TV Muxes)

    The Uplink is DIFFERENT because the modem isnt high spec enough to generate a QAM64 signal (and the VM network couldnt accept that sort of signal back from thousands of other users on the same local circuits anyway)

    The Uplink uses QPSK which is considerably slower hence the under 1Mbit speeds. There are 8 uplink "channels" and cable modems are set randomly to different talkback "channels" so they should be fairly much load balanced.

    If you get a major bandwidth hog in your area on the same as your "channel" you can ring VM Customer Services and they can talk you through switching uplink modem channels to a cleaner one and this might improve your experience...

    I havent had cable for 2 years plus so things may have changed but hey the basics are probably still the same.

    I can't believe how arrogant Virgin Media have become since they took over NTL/TW areas. They are seriously deluded with the Sky One "problem" and the fact they refuse to connect new addresses to the network like my dads who HAS the distribution green cab box in front of his house but we cannot find one person with a BRAIN in the entire company who can say other than "Computer Says No" in a completely disinterested manner.

    Another great company ruined by crap management.

  21. Adam Foxton

    @Brian Morrison

    Thanks for the explaination! That really is quite odd that phone lines would be configured in such a fashion- you'd think two wires for two directions would be far more sensible.

    Still, a single single-mode fibre can take bidirectional traffic if you use a CWDM or similar tech so here's to FTTH and its awesome symmetrical bandwidth! It'd let you multiplex a decent number of signals together too, so the ISPs would get a decent contention ratio and the consumers would get a great internet connection. I believe a DWDM system could allow an >100:1 contention ratio and still allow far faster connections than we have now, so that could make some serious economic sense.

  22. Martin Nicholls


    "Actually you'll find BT has the strongest national network with the largest capacity, far higher than VM could dream of. It also uses fibre, just not FTTP or FTTK, yet."

    You're not seriously trying to claim that are you? 21CN - or 20CN as I like to call it - doesn't even come close to bringing BT up to a technical level playing field as VM. And to expect that BT will /ever/ fibre you up is absurd. Even if they wanted to (they don't), they couldn't afford to do it because of the years of decay of their network. What's more they're absolutely terrified of you having access to fast IP-based services because they won't be able to reap you for every penny they can.

    I think many people miss the issue here. The VM network is made of of many old providers, some of higher technical quality than others, and some have had higher uptake than others - so it might be easy to offer 20meg/fully used to everybody in one area, another area might be so over-saturated or badly put together that all they get from another is compliants.

    There's another issue I've seen with VM where people are using 10 meg network cards/switches and then worse Wifi and USB to connect up and thinking that it's somehow somebody else's fault.

    That's the kind of thing that causes people general slow bandwidth 24x7 issues, I've seen it so many times now. As for bandwidth limits, I'm not a fan. Hard to see that it's VM's network that's at fault though, the real issue is likely because of UK wholesale IP bandwidth costs which are frankly sky-high compared to most of the rest of the world. Wholesale bandwidth costs about 2-3x here what it does in the US and even they have throttling issues.

    The real problem here is that VM has to be a viable business whereas people relying on BT's ageing/ailing network don't. VM has to keep it's wholsale IP costs down which is frankly a nightmare in the UK. That said being a VM customer I don't like it particularly, but I do understand the issues involved and accept them. Also helps that I'm a night-owl and do my downloading at night :)

  23. pctechxp


    the step up from cable would be fibre to the home rather than to the cabinet at kerb/roadside (the 'last mile' from the cabinet to your house is provided by cable)

    I say, bring it on (I would switch from ADSL if they did this or even replace the last mile cable with ethernet but of course this would require competent network managemnt and some curbs on usage would be required to maintain network stability and quality.

  24. ollyc

    ....talking of AOL....

    talking of AOL...(scroll back)

    i was arbitrarily migrated from AOL to VM for the heinious sin of being a cable subscriber. this happenned last month, all they did was send one email to say - oi you are orf - end of conversation, no customer feedback allowed. reading the above comments about VM will give me something to think about......innit.

  25. Kieron McCann

    The Connection To Your Home Is Not The Problem

    It doesnt really matter how fast the connection to your home is, the throttling takes place in the exchange. BT only budgets for 128k of bandwidth per user - so when it's busy you get far more contention at the DSLAM than degradation on your line. Of course there are also some crappy lines out there...

  26. Simon Painter

    There is another way.

    I have an ADSL2+ service for under £20 a month and that includes a static IP. The service is billed as up to 24 meg and although there are some people who live next to exchanges that can get the full 24 meg, I am damn happy with my 15mbit because it has low contention and an upstream rate if just under a meg.

    Virgin Media could be so much better however they are still undecided about if they are a platform provider or a content provider (see Sky and Amstrad link up as well) and it's hard to be both and still be good at it. I buy my pipe from one supplier who does a fantastic job and I get my content elsewhere from suppliers who are dedicated to providing good quality content and I avoid companies (AOL, VM) who try to do both and end up doing it badly.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "BT only budgets for 128k of bandwidth per user"

    Unless something has changed recently (eg with the promised arrival of the much-overhyped and now delayed 21CN) BTwholesale's prices (and thus their network sizes) are actually based on an average usage of 20kbit/second per customer.


    Correction most welcome if a more recent more definitive reference is available.

  28. Jared Earle

    Farewell Virgin

    "Oh noes! People are using what we sold them. Let's hurt them!"

    I was a Virgin ADSL customer. When they started throttling me, because I was in a rural location, the internet became absolutely unusable. That was when I switched to Be Unlimited. Same cost, better service.

    If Virgin or BT annoys you, just sack them. It's easy enough to do.

  29. Jason Crowley

    well done ASA

    As an ex VM customer and ex NTL customer, they are the worst company out there by a long shot. And yes, they are worse than talk talk.

    As ofcom are too weak to comment on these matters i`m glad the ASA has taken an interest.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bye bye Virgin Media

    May the gods and goddesses have mercy on my connectivity... I've just fired Virgin Media

  31. Jamie
    Thumb Up

    throttling virgin

    I wouldnt worry about it. The throttling is un noticable and the company hardly ever do it. Its happened to us and it didnt make much of a difference. upload was piss slow at the best of times anyway. ,

  32. fon

    more FACTS about ADSL, BE, etc....

    well actually, VM is now the NO 2 provider, behind SKY!! (only about 600,000 behind..)

    - and if you have a better PUBLIC source, please do give the URL....

    Martin Nicholls: thanks for some PROPER info... :)

    - it seems people are just NOT doing the research here, just guessing!!!

    yes, the old analogue telephone only uses two wires! the third you may see is for the ringer, usually disconnected...

    and er, ADSL is about the 'signal' not the wire used - you cannot 'switch to something else'..

    ollyc: please clarify... do you mean the AOL that is managed by carphonewharehouse (CPW), or the previous 'owner' ???

    - either way, CPW uses BT lines, whether you pay your line rental to them or BT...

    VM CABLE does not use BT lines in any shape or form - unless you are talking about the old NON-CABLE service, that uses the old BT ADSL wires, and will have ALL the same problems as all those that use it!

    Kieron McCann: 128K?? that is a load of rot! Unless you are talking 'average bandwidth per customer' ?? - this mean divide the normal useage (say 4pm to 4am?? - 12 hours) by 24hours = half the normal rate, then take a rough figure of 60% that have it installed, already the rate is only 30% of normal!!

    When I was on tiscali until nov. 2007, I was regularly getting, and downloading at 8Mb/s with no problems d/l-ing albums vids, etc... then they must have made a **really bad** decision (bad, cheap DSLAM, argument with BT, etc???) - It goes to show, DO NOT cut corners, customers disappear...

    I looked at the market, and saw how hopeless it was... it was always BT getting in the way, digruntled BT workers having to work on lines that were actually used for, or being changed to, CPW or other non-BT services... I heard even of one that just 'went for parts' and never returned....

    That is why I went for VM CABLE - no 'middleman' problems, and good support (My area is old telewest) - I do realise that NTL areas are still working through stuff, due to their bad equipment!!

    Also can people say what area and TYPE of service they are using? ANY service that still uses a BT LINE of course will get all the same problems!!

    This of course INCLUDES BEthere... look at this review..

    - they were 800m point to point from the exchange, so only got 6Mbits/sec service.

    The main reason I did not do Bethere, is the info on the website is virtually non-existant!!! - Unless you have a member login? a bit pointless, you need the info BEFORE!

    By contrast, all the info is there on most other ISPs... good reviews from ZDNET, etc, but they are not in my area....

  33. ollyc


    ollyc: please clarify... do you mean the AOL that is managed by carphonewharehouse (CPW), or the previous 'owner' ???

    the aol that is recently aquired by CPW (:::sob::: been with aol since 2002)

  34. This post has been deleted by its author

  35. Andrew eaton

    a fluffy problem...

    i think there is always a groce simplification of this problem, firstly there is the line speed, if you are on VM this is not a problem as the coax cable to the local cab is good for speeds upto 50Mbit but this is only to the cab. With BT your speed is dependent on your distance and quality of the cables and your internal wiring and how old the DSLAM you are connecting to. Some adsl routers like Cisco you can see this speed.

    These line speeds are the tip of the ice berg and the fight for speed starts. with VM the first contention is on the local distribution cab(the bigger ones with fans whirring away) and how many users on that cab and what speed they have signed up for.. the fight here is for the connection to the local POP. The next fight is from the POP to London and how maxed out that feed is. once in London it depends where you are going..

    With BT (non unbundled, IP Stream) your first contention is in the exchange from the DSLAM's to the ATM network this is a gray aria. The next big bottle neck is the central pipe. These are very very expensive, last time I looked on the BT price list a 155Mb feed cost £300K a year + £4 per user per month (you do the numbers). This pricing plan makes the economics of adsl pile as many users on this pipe... so getting light users that suff the net once a week is ideal. isp's with multiple pipes can shift users around putting all of the file sharer's on a slow pipe managing the problem. With the advent of Iplayer etc everyone becomes heavy users.

    Unbundled service are very dependent on the network they put in. I know this is regionally dependent if the only connectivity supplier is BT there are economic realities.

    There is one other thing which no mater how fast your connection is the latency to you destination will case tcp windowing problems

    my final comment is virgin's fibre optic advert drives me nuts... i have a 10GB network which is 500x faster... grrrr

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Virgin Media Suck Yet Again.

    Seemingly not content with becoming the IP equivalent of the Waffen Schutzstaffel Leibstandarte of the music industry. We now find that that Virgin Media are lying to their customers over bandwidth. Personally Branson you are getting to be worse than Gates and that takes some doing. Frankly you would do well to remember that the people you are exploiting and sending nasty messages too are your customers. One day very soon you will turn around and find they have all buggered off somewhere else. I would say that you seem to have a Flange of Baboons running Virgin Media but I have no wish to insult a real Flange of Baboons as they would probably do a better job than the morons that you employ. From a personal point of view I knew when you and your minions turned up you would bugger it up. So I am not particularly surprised.

  37. fon

    ah, old times....

    ollyc: well your service may have been good, but most hated it!! a point to note is, most TalkTalk customers use an AOL email address.... My mate has been using it since december, with no problems - just avoid the phone support, and use the talktalkforum - quick results, and beats waiting hours on the phone!! :)

    yes, TW may have been good, but numbers were much less then, and the phone support was usually clueless & pointless! - at least VM is friendly...

    Mainly the problems are caused by bad marketing, companies believing the over the top words of their own salesmen, without realizing it is not possible...

    If a garage said it can serve 1000 people per hour, would you believe it??

    - not when you realize that means you would have to drive in, fill up, pay the bill, drive out in only 3.6 seconds!!!!

    Andrew: The cab may be good for 50M, but how many is this shared to??? you rightly say that of course there are plenty of other 'speed bumps' - a good reason NOT to get a *guaranteed* 20Mb line... I remember when I first got 8M, I had to slow down my browser, due to many sites 'overloading'... it is possible today, but you have to *pay* for it, and then find other problems...

    Sure, you may have a 10G network at home/work, but how long are the cables?? how much intereference over the length do they get from road traffic, road works, weather conditions, lightning strikes, etc???? and of course there would be no interference from other services, like telephone, TV, etc....

    Sure you could maybe wire up a street this way, but have you figured in the cost of digging up all the roads? to say nothing about getting the customer to pay for it!!!

    I dont think they would pay the average 1000 - 2000 cost.....

    others: The next BIG problem is that due to all this stupid 'unlimited, very cheap' advertising, people are getting too greedy, wanting something for nothing - this just does not work in the real world... so go on, leave... it will just make it better for the decent guys... :)

  38. Christopher Woods

    @ Martin Nicholls...

    I've heard from people living in some London areas (who are currently VM customers, too) that BT are beginning to conduct quiet trials of FTTH tech with a view to future rollout. Don't know any more info, was told this by someone who also uses the vm discussion newsgroups... But evidently, even with the DOCSIS 3 rollout, VM will soon be left in the dust with an overcontended, underperforming network if FTTH becomes a viable reality.

    Personally, we're making the move away from cable back to Be* (who we were with for a year before we signed up for XL cable in 2007) - and I can't wait to hook my modem up and finally get a decent quality Internet connection again. No enforced punishment for going over a certain threshold in an evening, just pure and simple internet how it should be!

    Maybe VM need to go down Californee way, I hear they got some internets there they might be able to use

  39. fon

    but do you trust BT?????

    - I think you will find that if BT get FTTH, and it is attractive enough to most people, then of course lots will move to it, and THEY will start getting congestion and too many big downloads, etc.... and I bet they will be in the same position as most very popular ISPs are in now!! - lack of bandwidth, and no-one wanting to pay more....

    If the dream of all this new tech does happen, I am sure BT will mess it up, just like they are doing now....

  40. fon

    just a bit of 'history'.. :)

    Before BB was affordable, loading files more than a few hundred meg was not considered practical on dialup.. Now on BB, no-one worries about it... It only takes hours, not days!

    - the bad side is, the website authors are using this extra bandwidth too, making ever bigger, heavier websites... even MS expects you to download megabytse of fixes every week/month!!! and the poor, on dialup(yes, even in USA!) get more probs...

    If 20Mb ever becomes the 'norm' , as 2 or 6 Mb is today, (I'm using *realistic' figures!) then I will bet much bigger things happen.... bluray downloads, browser ads that look like the tv ads, etc, etc... but we'll have to wait....

    I do not think so though, due to people's hate of 'investing for the future' unlike many other more intelligent places in the world - to say nothing about giant, ancient company infrastructure, that was never designed for it!

    they will just go on expecting it 'as a right' wanting to get ever more, from an underfinanced system, due to their greed, and lack of understanding about how it works...

  41. Anonymous Coward

    @fon - I call BS

    "Also can people say what area and TYPE of service they are using? ANY service that still uses a BT LINE of course will get all the same problems!!

    This of course INCLUDES BEthere... look at this review.."

    I'm with Be and without failure at any point of the day get a solid 2MB/s download (roughly 22Mbps). With that speed there's no need to download 24/7 - you simply download 5-10 minutes prior to wanting to ultilise your download.

    No warnings, no caps, no BS.

  42. fon

    hey, no probs...

    I still say the problem is lack of *official* info from BE.... sure, you are one of the many lucky ones(and you STILL do not say where you live, what type of usage.)... Just like VM in richmond and twickenham - I have friends there who have NO problems, are continously getting full speed, getting great CS, loading lots of albums, films, etc... recently 'seeded' a 500M film, finished it in 5 mins - it would have taken my old BT line a few hours, IF there were no probs.... newsgroups are great, no more thread limitations...

    I say this for all the anti-VM malcontents, who cannot *bother* to find all the help on the website, (available to *non-members* to check as well!), to help find all details needed to 'get you running' ...

    If you can get BE to add that level of detail, then it would sure help....

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like