back to article Virgin Mobile coughs to choking its customers

Virgin Mobile UK has admitted it is capping mobile data at 2Mb/sec - claiming it is for the benefit of customers - as it tries to keep everyone connected. Customers started noticing the speed cap in the last few days, but as it's being applied piecemeal it has been hard to pin down. That is, until the company last night …


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  1. Anonymous Coward 101
    Thumb Up

    If this is true...

    ...and lower speeds really will translate to a more reliable connection, then I would applaud Virgin for seeing sense. When you are using your phone outside, is 8Mb/s really a great deal more useful than 2Mb/s?

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      It would depend what you want to do with it. If you want brief bursts of a high speed then its poor.

      Offering an unlimited service then quietly capping the speed later is a bit shadey, sure if it was sold as unlimited & capped at 2mbps thats fine. The other way is rather dodgy ground, at least for customer perception.

      1. Rob

        Contract change

        Would this not constitute a change of contract, thereby giving customers an opportunity to use their get-out clause?

        1. Test Man

          Re: Contract change

          No, because there'll be a clause in the contract specifically mention "traffic management".

        2. Michael Habel

          Re: Contract change

          Thats why the Shysters created the "The Fine Print" for, so they can screw with ya all they want and you can do jackall about it. Use this as a get out of Jail clause. HAHAHA not likely...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Contract change

          "Offering an unlimited service then quietly capping the speed later is a bit shadey"

          "Would this not constitute a change of contract"

          Mobile data is never sold on speed, only on the monthly data usage. The only way it would be a change of contract is if the speed restriction prevented you from exceeding your usage allowance.

          Constantly downloading at 2Mb/s for a month would allow you to download about 648GB a month. So your unlimited 1GB a month of data is still obtainable.

          1. Yet Another Commentard

            Re: Contract change

            "Mobile data is never sold on speed, only on the monthly data usage."

            An interesting point - but quite often these things are marketed on speed, albeit not sold on such.

          2. shrewd

            Re: Contract change

            My math says under your regime and given a limit of 1GB a month they would only need to provide you with a 0.3KB/s download speed.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Contract change

              "My math says under your regime and given a limit of 1GB a month they would only need to provide you with a 0.3KB/s download speed."

              Then that would be the minimum speed at which they are contracted to provide for a monthly period*. I don't see your point? What I said is still true regardless of the downvotes, you are not sold 1MB/s mobile Internet, you're sold XGB a month mobile Internet.

              They cannot sell a speed based mobile Internet package for the simple reason that they cannot guarantee the speed, it is dependent not only on signal strength but also the number of users sharing the connection at any given time as well as atmospheric conditions.

              * If you want to be really pedantic, they have to provide less than that since outages are usually written into the contract unless you have a business SLA.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Contract change

                And to make my point, you might want to take a look at the following data packages. None of which mention the speed anywhere.




    2. OneArmJack

      Re: If this is true...

      If it was a steady 2Mb/s I would agree with you but my connection at home and work has gone from a steady 8Mb/s to one that varies constantly between 300Kb/s and 2Mb/s. That's very noticeable even when browsing.

  2. Rampant Spaniel

    hmm nothing to do with offering unlimited data to hook in customers then choking on the bill from your infrastructure provider when people begin to use too much!

    I bet it sounded really good in the marketing blue sky thinking & raft building retreat.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Nobody has offered properly unlimited data on anything in decades. If you think they have, you should read the small print.

      No doubt that that is part of the problem, in some way, but so what? Their fix is reasonable.

      Mobile, why do you need more than 2Mb/s? Hell, nobody even guarantees that you can ever get your 8Mb/s (wireless connections and all that) and, nationwide, the average connection is going to be closer to nothing at all than 8Mb/s anyway. If you're RELYING on your 3G connection to go that fast, you need to buy something else - always have had to. If you're just a casual user, why do you need more than 2Mb/s (which is more than most iPlayer SD streams anyway).

      I don't think I've even seen downloads faster than that, ever. I am a Virgin customer, was a T-Mobile customer and my first instinct was "Oh no!" followed by "Er, well, actually, who cares?" when I read the details.

      It's a nationwide wireless shared resource. 2Mb/s is bloody amazing as far as I'm concerned and I'd be happier to get 2Mb/s everywhere I go than 8Mb/s in any one particular place / phone / connection / contract anyway.

      1. OneArmJack

        If 2Mb/s is all anyone needs then the networks have just wasted an awful lot of money on LTE

        1. Lee D Silver badge

          "If 2Mb/s is all anyone needs then the networks have just wasted an awful lot of money on LTE"

          Not if it lets more people do 2Mb/s at the same time than 3G does. Which, I believe, it does.

      2. EvilGav 1
        Thumb Down

        Both GiffGaff and Three offer truly unlimited data plans - the former for £12 a month and the latter for £15 a month (or £12 if you sign up for a 12 month contract).

        1. Badvok

          Sorry EvilGav1 but giffgaff do not offer truly unlimited data. There are caps of 1GB/hour and 3GB/day, still a very good deal but unfortunately not truly unlimited.

          1. Gio Ciampa

            I'd say those limits are tethering-related - from the giffgaff website:

            Patterns indicating illegitimate usage

            We monitor the mobile internet activity which takes place on the network each day and we have developed a system to identify tethering based on this information.

            The specific triggers which help us to identify tethering are referred to as ‘tethering indicators’. The tethering indicators which we use are varied. They include, but are not limited to:

            Having tested a number of devices and applications, we feel that any usage over 1GB/hour or 3GB/day is indicative of illegitimate usage

            Using a significant amount of data for a long period of time (ie we’d expect someone to sleep at some stage within a 24 hour period).

            It is a very small minority of members who are identified as tethering using these indicators, but unless this usage is prevented, illegitimate usage consumes an unfair amount of network resources.

            1. Badvok

              Yes the giffgaff limits are there to DETECT tethering because not all phones are transparent about how the data is being used and there are some apps explicitly designed to hide tethering. So, even if you do manage to exceed 1GB/hour or 3GB/day on your phone, you'll still be blocked because they'll assume you are tethered.

              Of course there is a way to get around those blocks, you use a giffgaff plan that allows tethering, though strangely enough none of those have an 'unlimited' data allowance.

        2. h3

          Giff Gaff is pretty limited.

          They don't like you to use more than 20GB - three on the otherhand is more reasonable at something like 90GB

      3. Rampant Spaniel

        Thats fine, if it suits you thats great but you do understand other people may have need of a faster connection. If virgin advertise unlimited, any form of limits beyond those of contention or the actual physical limits of the deployment is fraud. Yes they are technically allowed to BS their way to putting in limits and fair use clauses, but just because you can buy your politician doesn't actually make it right, it just stops you being sued.

        As for what do I use my lte connection for, wuxga vnc seems to take up a reasonable amount (its painful on 3g) and uploading proofs goes a lot quicker. Netflix also seems to use a fair bit :-)

      4. Badvok

        "why do you need more than 2Mb/s (which is more than most iPlayer SD streams anyway)."

        Why would anyone need more than 640KB RAM in their PC?

        FYI, we are starting to see phones/tablets offer Full HD displays these days, many are already Basic HD capable - keep up!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    don't you worry

    you'll get the speed of up to 3 Mb/s when we launch out fabulous 4G service!

  4. Dazed and Confused

    Re: 2Mb/sec should be enough for a video stream

    With the standard display on phones rapidly heading towards the laughingly called full HD spec, 2Mb isn't going to be good enough.

    (side note, how long till the average pixel count on a phone screen exceeds that of the average laptop?)

    1. Buzzword

      Re: 2Mb/sec should be enough for a video stream

      Given that the average laptop sports a measly 1366x768 resolution, probably not long.

      1. batfastad

        Re: 2Mb/sec should be enough for a video stream

        I agree on laptop resolutions, it's pathetic. Trying to find anything with a half-decent res that isn't the size of a bus is impossible. I'm trying to replace my Asus Z71VP 1680x1050 with something in the £400-£500 range, it turns out there's nothing with a better screen than my 7 year old beast. I don't think I'm being unreasonable in my expectations, I don't even care about clock speed, an i3 is fine for editing text files, just let me buy a laptop with a resolution that isn't rubbish!

        Rant over.

    2. EvilGav 1

      Re: 2Mb/sec should be enough for a video stream

      Sod laptops. With the top end phones this year all sporting 1080 screens, they all match the average desktop monitor!!

    3. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: 2Mb/sec should be enough for a video stream

      Whether the pixel count does or not, you've fallen into a trap. The point at which they do, you'd have to have your phone close enough to take up more of your total vision than a laptop does when you watch a movie.

      It's the "HD TV syndrome" all over again. If the screen is 6 foot away, I need about a 50" screen to cover my vision. On my laptop, I need a 17" inch screen to cover my vision, and to be about 18 inches away. On a phone? I'd need either a huge screen or LITERALLY to have the thing on the end of my nose to cover my vision.

      Hence I can choose to look silly, damage my eyesight through extremes of focus, pay a fortune, risk lots of bandwidth charges, and pay through the nose for the phone in the first place, in order to watch HD on the move, or I can just watch an SD movie or (actually) not care that the movie is HD or SD and hold it at, say, a comfortable arm's length like I would if I wanted to watch a blockbuster movie on a phone (?!). Let's not even get into MPEG artifacts, either - HD or not, you're going to "lose" more information for your eyes that way than ANY other anyway.

      Personally, I watch lots on my laptop. SD or HD has never really been a concern at all because I don't sit at the point where I could spot individual pixels on the screen (don't think "one white dot on a black screen", because your eyesight will pick that up - think "single rogue black dot on a really dark scene anyway, while moving and I'm trying to concentrate on the film") or the laptop fills my vision. Hell, I used to watch TV on a PCI TV card with dedicated aerial on my early Super VGA screens (1024x768), and it was so pin-sharp that people used to comment on it, even when it was tucked into a on-top window or full-screen. People literally couldn't believe that the monitor was that good, from the same image source.

      Hell, most people's "fix" for having a HD screen is to enlarge their default font size and image scaling in their browser. They don't complain that the images are blurry, even though there's NO OTHER WAY for the image scaling to work.

      HD screens on phones might come about. HD data rates might come about. But if you were to secretly switch them to an SD-bandwidth stream mid-flow (easily possible with VBR encodings), they'd be hard-pressed to ever notice at all.

      To paraphrase XKCD, your top-of-the-range HDTV is about as good as the monitor I bought in 1998, and not quite as good as the one I bought in 2002. When it gets to 15 years after your first HDTV purchase, you'll see that actually it's nothing magnificent or fabulous at all, unless you are doing pixel-work.

      1. Dazed and Confused

        Re: 2Mb/sec should be enough for a video stream

        A lot of what the extra pixels are used for is cancelling out the effects of the MPEG artefacts, that and dithering the appalling course colour pallet (skies do work in 8bit blue). Its a mistake to think that the resolution of your eyes is the only limiting factor. As Nokia have recently demonstrated with their 40MP camera, it doesn't have all those dots to make a 40MP picture, it uses them to make a decent 6 or so MP picture.

        The calculations of angle of resolution of my TV at home suggest that I don't need HD, but its easy to tell the difference between HD and SD. Its easy to tell when iPlayer only has the SD version rather than the HD one, or when the net is being lousy again and the HD stream isn't usable.

        Besides, phones have HDMI output, so when stuck in a hotel it can be useful to drive the telly from the phone.

        Now my point about laptops is entirely different. There, personally, I just want more bloody dots on the screen to display more information, the main thing I do to earn a living doesn't work properly on a 1080line display, I've built a work flow that needs more.

  5. James 51

    Will they be reducing the price as well?

  6. Arachnoid

    Nothing like free unlimited internet

    And to prove a point I guess for virgin customers there isnt......

  7. Arachnoid

    If this is true...

    Yes you keep believing that restricting connections somehow makes for a better service..........your not on SKY broadband too are you?

  8. EddieD

    Ah, business as usual at Virgin

    Trying to make not giving us what we pay for seem a positive thing rather than saying that we just can't provide what we sold...

  9. David Wood
    Thumb Down


    They starting blocking tethering on my account earlier this year. It's been working fine for the past 3 years but according to Virgin's support team they "don't allow tethering". Unfortunately I can't find my 3 year old contract to see what it says about tethering.

    Looks like I'll have to jump ship when my contract comes up for renewal. The annoying thing is that I only tether once every few months and NEVER use much data, in fact my plan is capped at 1GB.

    1. Richard 22

      Re: Tethering

      Three offer 5GB tethering for £5 a month as an add-on to any other packages (or at least they used to). I don't think the one-plans (unlimited data) allow tethering, though I don't think it's blocked.

      1. TwistUrCapBack
        Thumb Up

        Re: Tethering

        I have a trusty PAYG 3 sim in my galaxy S2 , pay 15 squid a month and get 300 mins, 3000 texts and UNLIMITED data .. i usually get about 3meg which i happily use to stream sky go all night with my xbox teathered to it ..

        Go 3 !!

      2. M Gale

        Re: 3 and Tethering

        For the £25pcm One plan on a rolling monthly deal, you can use your unlimited data for whatever you want.

        Just like it should be. Why the hell should 50MB direct to a phone mean anything different to 50MB dished out to a portable access point?

      3. Jonathan White
        Thumb Down

        Re: Tethering

        The One plans allow unmetered tethering, within normal acceptable use limits. To quote three's web page

        'If you're on The One Plan you can use the internet when you're out and about with other devices including laptops, tablets and games consoles, just by connecting them through Wi-Fi or USB to your phone. You can tether on all our One Plan tariffs including SIM Only with a 1-month rolling contract.

        Some of our other Pay Monthly plans as well as Pay As You Go plans come with all-you-can-eat data, but they don't allow tethering.'

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Virginmobile 2Mb/s Cap...

    Not forgetting of course who provides Virginmobile's underlying network infrastructure.....T-Mobile, now EE. They could well be enforcing data caps on their MVNO's...?

    1. Chris007

      Re: Virginmobile 2Mb/s Cap...

      I was going to posit a similar thing and that all the current providers will implement this in the coming months/year or so and helpfully "suggest" that their nice shiny [expensive to build] 4G network will cure that.

  11. Lallabalalla
    Thumb Down

    The majority of their income from calls?

    I think the majority of their income is from the contracts whereby you are charged for calls you never make - minutes that you never use. THAT is money for old rope.

  12. Chris Byers
    Thumb Up

    I've been a Virgin Mobile customer for many years now. TBH, their service has been reliable and I've never had any qualms about the speed of the data connection. As long as it will continues to be reliable, sync my mail and allow for some browsing and emergency tethering (which I can still do!) I'll be happy.

    Do I need more than 2Mbps to my phone? Nah, not really.

  13. mertron1

    the jokes on us

    so the question is whether customers would sign up to a service that offers up to 8mb/sec only to flog them off with 2mb/sec speed that still might not be guaranteed....the answer is obviously no....but unfortunately they forget to mention this to their own customers. i call this not only misleading the very people who keep them profitable and in business but down right scandalous.....these mobile networks just seem to have a free reign in doing anything they want without consequence with the regulator (ofcom) pathetically weak to do anything about it...and if they do its years away and by that time the networks would already have profited enough to introduce new ways of scamming thir customers.

  14. koolholio

    Traffic Management in general

    2 MB is somewhat sufficient for a family of 4 (500kb/s each), how you utilise your bandwidth is primarily up to you, you may wish to use WMM-QoS... 802.11e (uses half celling) you may prefer to use Application-Port-Service-QoS 802.11p (works much more efficiently, when configured correctly according to your needs, but causes more overhead within a LAN)

    160p HD works with roughly 250kb/s :-) so what are some people on about! Your eyes cant see much difference anyway! 1080p requires more 750 - 850kb/s.

    At this point, do the math of what you actually require... taking into account the following:

    Its up to you to download and install updates correctly, its up to you to ensure your devices aren't virulently spreading malware, its up to you to be careful what links you click on. Its also up to you to ensure you are fully aware of the contract you signed up to.

    Traffic management has pretty much been written into every ISP contract for over 10 years now, so you cant say 'I never expected this' or shout 'I'm going somewhere else' ... because you're just changing the goalposts.

    It is no good having a connection which says 16MB/s that you shout at your ISP for... or brag about down the pub if 14MB/s of it is noise and subsequently discarded! >_<

    Lets all get real with whats realistic... Users and ISPs included.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. M Gale

      Re: Traffic Management in general

      "160p HD works with roughly 250kb/s :-) so what are some people on about! Your eyes cant see much difference anyway! 1080p requires more 750 - 850kb/s."

      160p "HD"? Whut? You sure that wasn't a typo of "720p"?

      Anyway, let's assume 0.25 bits per pixel compressed video in 1080p.

      1920*1080 = 2,073,600 pixels.

      2,073,600 * 0.25 = 518,400, divided by 8 = 64,800 bytes per frame.

      At 25 frames per second, that's 1,620,000 bytes per second. Quite a bit more than 850 kilobits. In fact several times as much. At 30fps it goes to 1,944,000 bytes per second, which doesn't really leave much of a budget out of that 2mbit/sec. None at all with a very large amount owing, actually. In fact you wouldn't get much change out of two megaBYTES per second.

      Now remember that video streams are not regular, and tend to have keyframes every few seconds followed by a bunch of delta information showing how stuff has changed since the last keyframe. Suddenly, that 2mbit/sec limit seems a little... small.

      Of course, not many people will play 1080p over a mobile phone... but some people have tablets, and some of us do like to tether, or plug our HDMI-port-enabled phones into TVs.

      (edited because of a few schoolboy errors.. the real figures are even worse!)

  15. Horridbloke

    It isn't even unlimited...

    I'm using one of Virgin's 30-day rolling contract deals. The "unlimited" internet deal is, if I remember correctly, currently subject to a 3GB / month "fair use" policy, with vague threats about something perhaps happening should you go over that limit.

    The only time I've breached one Gigabyte on my phone was the month I drove eight hundred miles with Google Navigator displaying the aerial photography overlay - being a pillock in other words. The infrastructure isn't there for everyone to stagger around perpetually streaming high definition video, and probably never will be. Accept it and cheer up.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: It isn't even unlimited...

      You can bet that, come the day that the other operators have 4G coverage and launch their services, offering the ability to stream high bandwidth video will be *exactly* what they encourage their customers to do in their advertising.

      I mean what else is that high-speed connectivity for? Most other uses are at most a bit bursty but only video and file transfers will actually max out the connection available.

  16. Danny 14

    you get what you pay for. Paying £12 for 1000 minutes and 1gb data and you are going to have some sort of caps on there. It is cheap for a reason, here we see it is also throttled to 2Mb. Even less if you only want a few minutes.

  17. Beefycraig

    They are just a frustrating company

    I am in the middle of an argument with Virgin at the moment, they are saying I have the movies switched on and I don't. But that's a full rant for another day

    You can pretty much set your clock with the throttling of bandwidth. At 7p.m. I go from having 20 mbps to 2mbps. It is generally frustrating and some times fucking frustrating. This is on the home broadband not their mobile.

    To be fair I am pretty pissed off at them.

    1. M Gale

      Re: They are just a frustrating company

      Well, Virgin do throttle their land-line broadband.. but only after you download a gigashitload all at once during peak hours, and only for the duration of the day.

      Honestly, they're possibly the best land-line ISP out there. Just a shame the mobile offering seems a bit pants.

  18. .thalamus

    Poor cap implementation

    The issue isn't really the cap itself, although 2mbit down isn't great.

    The issue is that they have implemented it in such a horribly broken way that you get a burst of high speed data for a second or two, then nothing, then another burst a few seconds later.

    This causes problems with audio and video streams, and makes sites load slowly in the browser.

    If they had implemented the cap properly, most people would not have made a fuss. The cap which they have implemented gives you bursts, not a continual stream of data, which causes problems.

    Tmobile used to cap their PAYG offerings to 384kbit/sec down. Although this was annoying and they lied about it, their cap was implemented properly and you would get a continual 384kbit/sec down.

    Virgin, on the other hand, have made an utter mess over the implementation which has allowed a lot more people to notice it than otherwise would have.

    Also, it took them far too long to be honest about it, and they are still lying by stating that their data is unlimited. It isn't, it is limited, by a speed cap.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Poor cap implementation

      "Also, it took them far too long to be honest about it, and they are still lying by stating that their data is unlimited. It isn't, it is limited, by a speed cap."

      Though when has "unlimited" ever meant "unlimited speed"?

      I'll grant you the "unlimited" word has been truly abused by mobile ISPs, but as long as you can download as much stuff as the pipe is capable of without incurring extra fees or a cut-off.. then I'd happily call that unlimited. Unlimited use.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    unlimited anything is a guaranteed fail...

    Research "the tragedy of the commons"

    Ever been to a "free bar" - some people take advantage and get paralytic. An "all you can eat" buffet? take a look at the average American to see the result of that.

    17 years ago I hosted my websites on a server offering "unlimited traffic", then the provider hosted a porn site on the same box. Access speeds dropped to totally unusable. I moved everything to a capped service that guaranteed the consistent level of service I needed.

    The problem is that the typical tech-ignorant punter just looks at headline speed marketing garbage and disregards the asterisk taking them to small print.

    I would rather have slower and reasonably consistent than superfast sometimes and virtually dead at others. With Mobile we are in any case familiar with the voice/SMS services going to poor or no signal - even in well served areas your SMS at midnight on new years eve/day from trafalgar square will struggle so surely nobody expects data to be consistently good.

    Anyone know a good uncapped domestic electricity supplier? No, you pay for what you use.

    If there are people who need 8mbit on their mobiles let them pay a premium, don't just hope those with lower usage will subsidise you.

    1. M Gale

      Re: unlimited anything is a guaranteed fail...

      The difference is that there is no finite reservoir of bits that's about to run out if everyone uses them up. This isn't like dragging a few kilowatts out of the mains grid and expecting the power station to stay fuelled forever.

      The problem is, too many people seem to think that there is some kind of bit reservoir. There isn't. The only limit is the amount of data that can be transferred in any given time period. With sensible traffic management and by not oversubscribing your networks with endpoint connections that are way too high for the core network to cope with, then yes, unlimited usage of a mobile network connection is very possible. Three are managing it right now.

      2mbit is a bit low, though.


    "Data is a drain on mobile operators - which means added costs for the operators"

    Then they have got a pricing problem.

    Too much demand, too little supply, means they are under pricing their service.

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