Virgin Media (www.virginmedia.com) has published details of its new traffic management policy which it says will affect the top 5% of its users who are heavy downloaders. Virgin is yet another company that is adopting a policy to deal with the problems associated with unmetered bandwidth use.
Some balancing factors to restrict utilisation to sensible levels which are sustainable to the ISP financially are absolutely essential or the speed of service to users as a whole will deteriorate fast. Whether this is in the form of 'per gigabyte' charges, fair usage policies, usage caps, traffic shaping or simply left down to contention is a choice for each provider. Virgin compare the problem to a traffic jam which is a very good comparison in terms that most users will be able to understand.
On the basis of their analysis, Virgin concluded that just 5% of customers were downloading such large amounts of data that the service for other users in those areas were being affected. It quotes a figure of 3GB just during peak times and equates this to 750 music tracks in the space of a few hours.
Virgin have announced that at peak times from 4pm to midnight, those users will find their speeds will be 'moderated' (i.e. slowed down). The extent of the traffic management will depend on which package you're subscribed to. If you are slowed down, this will last for four hours from when the traffic management is applied.
|Package||Allowance||Maximum Speed||Capped Speed|
|Broadband M||350 MB||2 Mbps (download)
200 Kbps (upload)
|1 Mbps (download)
128 Kbps (upload)
|Broadband L||750 MB||4 Mbps (download)
512 Kbps (upload)
|2 Mbps (download)
192 Kbps (upload)
|Broadband XL||3 GB||20 Mbps (download)
512 Kbps (upload)
|5 Mbps (download)
256 Kbps (upload)
The allowances before speeds are slowed down are quite low for the Broadband M and L packages. Even occasional downloaders, who may be slowed down by simply downloading a single film from a rental service, may be affected. We note, however, that the capped speeds are still quite generous and the effects of the limits are quite short. We do expect Virgin will need to tweak the numbers, in particular to deal with the very highest of downloaders who can still maintain a 5 Mbps speed on the Broadband XL package.
One of the strengths of Virgin's plans is the imminent launch of the up to 20 Mbps services, which will mean an even better experience for most users who can receive information quicker than ever before. The restriction on the heaviest users will start to take place at the same time as the speed upgrade for those on its Broadband XL (extra large) package.
Overall, this is a necessary step which Virgin have accepted needs to take place to make sure the majority of users experience a good level of service. We expect, however, that they will need to tweak the formulae to find the right balance.