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ASA upholds complaints against Virgin Media 'fibre optic' advertising
Wednesday 04 February 2009 18:56:47 by Sebastien Lahtinen

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has dealt yet another blow to Virgin Media by upholding a number of complaints relating to its national press advertising for the firms broadband services.

Virgin Media has been controversial within the technical community by advertising its 50 meg broadband service as 'fibre-optic' when it is based on a fibre-coax hybrid solution. Sky and a member of the public challenged Virgin's claims about the way in which the advert implied that the copper local loop used in ADSL broadband was unable to cope.

"EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT FIBRE OPTIC BROADBAND THERE'S ONLY ONE COMPANY ACTUALLY DOING IT The way we use the internet is changing. Now that we're watching more things like BBC iPlayer, the old-fashioned copper phone wires that other broadband companies use, are struggling to cope. But as people are beginning to realise, there is a solution - fibre optic broadband. After investing about £13 billion, only Virgin Media have fibre optic broadband that's widely available. Prices start at only £4.50 a month, guaranteed for a year, when you take a Virgin phone line for £11 a month."

Virgin Media National Press Advert (quoted from ASA Adjudication; our emphasis)

Sky also challenged Virgin's claim that it was the copper network causing problems pointing out that Sky did not need to implement a traffic management policy to restrict its customers broadband use on its copper based network, whilst Virgin Media did have such a policy on its fibre network. We note that whilst Virgin have retained the right to implement a traffic management policy on its 50 meg broadband, at present it only seems to apply to 10 and 20 meg services, although it appears take-up of the fastest service does not seem to be great in the first month or two since its launch.

 The ASA makes reference in its judgement to the claim that "the maximum theoretical download speed that could be achieved through a single copper phone line was 24 Mb"--This is the current maximum based on ADSL2+ technology, but the theoretical maximum speed  from a copper local loop is greater (based on the laws of physics) and is in excess of 100Mbps for very short lines. We need to stress for readers however that this is not a service you should be expecting in the near future, although fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) based services similar to Virgin Media's fibre-coax hybrid solution will increase the maximum actual speed over the copper network.

Virgin Media defended its position on traffic shaping suggesting that this was only to curb the activities of a very small number of individuals, and referring to articles written on the BBC and here on thinkbroadband relating to BT's FTTC rollout. The ASA rejected Sky's claim that the traffic management implemented by Virgin Media meant that it was unable to cope with demand noting that Virgin had made clear in advertising that both types of services were affected by the volume of users.

However, it upheld the other four complaints relating to the way in which Virgin Media portrayed ADSL as struggling under pressure of increased consumer demand, judging that the comparison was not fair or substantiated. It also upheld a complaint relating to a quote from BT relating to a national fibre network being at least 20 years away, noting that this referred to FTTH, although it also concluded that Virgin's claim to be 4 years ahead in other adverts was unlikely to mislead since this was FTTC and equivalent to Virgin's current hybrid setup. Similarly, it concluded that Virgin's claim to have the "only fibre optic network widely available in the UK" was in breach of the codes of advertising practice relating to truthfulness.

"We told Virgin to avoid exaggerating the impact that high bandwidth applications were having on the speed of delivery of ADSL broadband and to remove the claim 'fibre optic broadband is already here and paid for' in ads that referred to the extent of their network coverage. "

ASA Judgement

The battles between the service providers on what is and is not an acceptable comparison will continue. We have no doubt that Virgin is helping to push the boundaries of broadband to the next level, but the content available online is not yet in place to make 50 meg broadband such an obvious step against 20 meg services. Also, indications are that congestion is increasingly moving from the 'last mile' (the distance from your home to the telephone exchange or local collection point) to the inter-links back from the local exchanges to central locations, as evidenced by speed reductions at peak times; this peak time drop is not caused by distance of the premises from the local exchange which is the cause of many ADSL speed problems. In simple terms the peak time congestion can result in people who have a 1Meg broadband connection being unable to reliably play a 0.5Meg video stream.

Probably the more important question is when will we start seeing upload speeds in excess of 2.5 meg?


Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
"theoretical maximum speed from a copper local loop"

hey correct me if wrong, but BY YOUR OWN GRAPHS, the actual speed falls WAY short of this...
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
"the maximum theoretical download speed that could be achieved through a single copper phone line was 24 Mb"

the important word here is PHONE LINE.. I do believe that bethere would have thought about how to get 50Mb out of this before just tying two lines together???
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Um, again, upload is relatively unimportant to most users. Download speeds and reliability, now..

Also, good to see that Sky, unlike BT, know how to write a deacent complaint!
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
its just one big game with the ASA and a lottery. Will they uphold or not? complain and find out :)
Posted by kendal01 over 8 years ago
comnut, it depends on a number of things with copper as to how fast it will run, theoretically the copper line will run 50-100mb but it needs to be a good quality install just like any certified cat5 etc installation.
Posted by kendal01 over 8 years ago
Dawn, i would disagree with upload not being important. more people use pc's and xbox etc for gaming and they essentially host the games, upload is very important for those people as it's the difference between hosting a game for 2 people and 20 people. a 20 player game is much more fun than 2 player imo.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
For theory on copper loop speeds see

Virgin simply quoted maximum speed on ADSL2+, but there are actual products like VDSL and VDSL2+ that perform well on short loops. We expect VDSL with the FTTC deployments. VDSL2 on short loops which FTTC will have could give DOCSIS3 a reasonable run for its money.

Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
the problem with copper is typical speeds quite simply suck, best case scenario speeds may well be good but on typical performance it loses. Of course the industry and regulators keep only looking at best case speeds which makes copper seem way better than it actually is.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
As part of the industry I disagree, some of us are well aware of the limits. The comments in the news item are meant to highlight the mistake made, i.e. theoretical is very different to an average or maximum advertised speed.

DOCSIS 3 is only going to manage the 200Meg speeds via bonding.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
kendal01: yes, *of course* we can wire up the whole country with Cat5, and even get 1Gbps service!!! :) :)

Back to RL with a bump... as I said, the problem is the **phone lines**..

Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
is what we are stuck with in most places, basically only TWO WIRES twisted together...

Do note I am NOT talking about cable..:)
DOCSIS = Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification..

Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
I take your point of theoretical etc, but it still amounts to 'pushing too far'...

If something is claimed to be 'theoretically possible' and it is soon found to be impossible, they should not be sued for misrepresentation!!
Posted by barneydog over 8 years ago
re VM Traffic management:- when the windows 7 beta was released i had to download twice because the first download was file corrupted. no problem. i checked my connection speed later that day, and again the next day, to find, that my speed had dropped to 2,3 on a 10MB connection. (i normally get 9.4MB) so, i rang VM to complain about this tardy connection speed only to be told that traffic management has reduced my connection speed. i pay good money for my bb connection, so i dont expect the connection speed to drop when just downloading 4.6GB.
Posted by kendal01 over 8 years ago
comnut, note i said good quality install. a majority of our copper cabling is aging and is not of good enough quality to support these speeds but there are places that will be able to because they are recent installations and possibly have a much shorter loop.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
Copper itself has a long life, where problems arise are joints, overhead runs in contact with trees/hedges etc. In many cases older copper wiring is of a heavier guage giving lower attenuation for DSL use.

Some areas will still have Al cabling, which has a higher attenuation.

So just because you think your phone cable has not been touched for 40 years does not mean it is useless, or that sections on the exchange side have not been replaced more recently.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
kendal01: even a *perfect* install would still have problems, just as andrew has said...

AFAI can figure out , BT's 21CN is meant to be the answer to this, with Cat5, optical fibre, and ethernet principles in the mix..

whenever I research this, people keep saying 'it is nothing like that, its this...'
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
Of course some say '100 Mb is possible' - and forget to say that this involves bonding many twisted pairs, and all the other stuff like coax, etc, etc, but NOT the *existing* single twisted pair...

As I said above, BeThere would have done it if it were possible without having to bond two lines..
If there is a BeThere expert watching I would be interested in the 'why' ... :)
Posted by c_j_ over 8 years ago
BT's much over hyped and now much delayed 21CN is mainly about reducing operational costs (£1bn/year? [1]).

21CN itself does absolutely nothing for the "last mile", although if you were feeling generous you could say it puts a better infrastructure in place to support "last mile" upgrades, and you could link that to the "we'll do FTTH if you pay us £lots" game BT are playing.

Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
please cj, we are talking about ASA and speeds here, not BT's practices...
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
kendal01 - Um. very few Xbox games allow local hosting for more than 8 players. And the limits on that are far more to do with processor speeds than bandwidth.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
andrew I have to honour your loyalty to BT in defending a very outdated local loop, typical speeds obtained on BT copper is just 4-5mbit, I expect typical 'obtainable' speeds on cable are significantly higher. Of course everyone synchs at max on cable so the slowdowns will only be from congestion or throttling.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
comnut his point is relevant since the ASA claim VM are wrong to point out in adverts that their local loop is superior.
Posted by kendal01 over 8 years ago
dawn,you know nothing about xbox games then. i have many that allow you to set up 16,18 and more players.the limits are not processor speeds but bandwidth requirements. on average each player in a multiplayer game requires in the region of 60-100k.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
kendal? Statistically speaking, not that many allow more than 8. A bunch of shooters do allow it, usually via dropping frame buffer size on the hosting console.

And yes, I know it's highly inefficient on used bandwidth in multiplayer games.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
chrysalis: true, but what about when the only other *major* network (guess who?) cannot get to the speeds VM can?? (using its OWN network, not BT's... )

NO evidence beyond **theory** yet....
Posted by NameOfTheDragon over 8 years ago
Dawn et al, upstream bandwidth is a dam that is currently holding back a lot of water. The Internet has always been bi-directional and full duplex. Domestic class ISPs have created an artificial situation limiting upstream speed, which is holding back innovation. Online gaming is just one example of why upstream is needed. Businesses are desperate for more upstream speed so they can run web servers, email servers, VoIP services, remote access solutions for staff who work from home, cloud computing services, the list goes on.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Notd; "The internet" was only ever been bi-directional between major nodes such as universities. It changed when it started stretching everywhere.
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
If you rent private circuits into the internet they will be bi-directional. The A in ADSL is the clue - asymmetric.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
note in ADSL the download speed is only achieved AFAIK by limiting the upload... I'll bet there are a LOT more wanting JUST high d/l - you will have to talk to your ISP to get the upload better.. wish you luck, its most likely a minority cause... :)

Unless you want to pay a lot extra for SDSL...
Posted by user589 over 7 years ago
plenty of complaints here:
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