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Virgin Media to avoid unachievable speed claims
Tuesday 04 August 2009 14:42:13 by John Hunt

Virgin Media are promising to avoid claims of unachievable speeds for its National Broadband product. This is the service that is available if you live in a non-cable broadband enabled area, and is provided using DSL over the phone line like most other broadband providers.

The new marketing for the national products will set out the speed as being "the fastest broadband we can give you" which is largely limited by the distance to the local telephone exchange. The cable broadband service, which it calls fibre optic broadband, will still be listed as providing an "up to" speed based on the product purchased as these are not affected in the same way as the technology limited ADSL based products.

"Many consumers are confused by speed claims that are, at best, misleading and, at worst, disingenuous. I hope our National Broadband Speed Promise will help people choose the product that's right for them and set a new standard of transparency for the whole industry."

Neil Berkett (CEO), Virgin Media

The new national broadband range will also increase speeds by using ADSL2+ technology which will in time allow Virgin to provide more services such as television over the broadband connection to areas where it hasn't been able to before. Virgin signed a deal with Cable & Wireless over 2 years ago for the provision of wholesale broadband services in the areas where it doesn't run its own network. The upgrades to ADSL2+ may well be part of this deal showing its light. In addition, from this month, customers will also be able to pay for their phone line rental, usually payable to BT, direct to Virgin.

With this change to marketing, Virgin's products will sit out of sync with those of other providers who market their services as 'up to 24Meg' or 'up to 8Meg', when with these products, that headline speed is actually unachievable. Providers are of course required by the Ofcom Code of Practice to advise people how fast their service is likely to be before they sign up, but this doesn't place restrictions on speeds quoted in advertising material. It would be refreshing to see other providers take a step in the same direction, but in the short term, this change may make it harder for consumers to actually compare products as they find differing information from different providers so can't easily do a like-for-like comparison on price.

Virgin won't fade away from exuberant advertising claims however as their cable broadband services, which they market as fibre optic broadband, will continue to be listed at its full 50Meg speed, as is their right as this speed is achievable between your home and Virgin's equipment. Whether defining it as 'fibre optic broadband' is right when it's actually a fibre-coax hybrid network is of course an open debate.


Posted by cyberdoyle over 8 years ago
All ISPs should say 'the fastest we can give you using obsolete copper network' and that would be more like the truth.
The infrastructure is incapable of delivering much, due as you quite rightly point out to distance. Until the incumbent sorts that out the ISPs can't deliver anything like what they have been advertising.
Posted by black5 over 8 years ago
good for them at last we will be able to know what we actually can best i can get with virgin is 1.8m instead of the up to 8m has advertised.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
Virgin should not use "up to" on the cable network as the link speed is fixed. What a load of tosh, it is VM who are being disingenuous using "up to" where there is no variability.

Any fool knoweth that rate adaptive ADSL goes as fast as it can.

It is not correct to say "that headline speed is actually unachievable" - I get 8128k all the time.
Posted by dov1 over 8 years ago
you don't get 8128k, your router syncs at 8128k but you can't download at that speed. More likely your max download speed will be ~7200K and this is what should be advertised.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@black5:1.8Mb fits with the description 'Up to 8Mb'. You got what you signed up for. All ISPs state that the actual speed is line dependant.

It's 'up to 8Mb' in the same perfectly valid sense as 'The M25 supports speeds up to 70mph'.
Posted by dov1 over 8 years ago
It should be advertised as 'up to 7Mbps'
Posted by Foggy_UK over 8 years ago
@ AndrueC 'The M25 supports speeds up to 70mph' in each lane, but what if I bond the lanes together? Can I do 210mph ? ...and what happens when I go past Heathrow with is extra lanes... :0)
Posted by c_j_ over 8 years ago
"what if I bond the lanes together? Can I do 210mph ?"

It can do more passengers (or tonnes) per hour if you bond the lanes together, otherwise they wouldn't be talking about widening it to sixteen lanes or whatever. Something's static too, but not static IP.

As with any performance claim, you need to know the relationship between the advertised performance, the real performance and the real-world needs.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@dov1:actually yes. It's ironic that someone with technical knowledge can explain and understand the 'Up to...' bit but also has the ability to understand that '..8Mb' is totally impossible.

They should have called it 'Up to 6.1Mb' to allow for overheads :) :)
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
I'm no more bothered by ISP's not indicaring overheads than I am by hard disk manufacturers stating sizes as they do. It's not significate for the vast majority of people.

cyberdoyle - You're deep in whaaambulance terratory about networks now, srsly
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
"you don't get 8128k"

oh yes I do. That's the ATM cell rate and I'm clear what it means and what I'm getting.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
herdwick, actually the up to traditionally is used on any contended service to describe that speeds may be below due to contention. It actually shouldnt be used on dsl to mask low synch speeds.
Posted by mishminx over 8 years ago
Seems to be little more than marketing obfuscation.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
"actually the up to traditionally is used on any contended service to describe that speeds may be below due to contention" - wrong. BT's fixed speed services were never described as "up to", that terminology was introduced for rate adaptive services.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
furthermore as the description applies to the connection speed, not the throughput, it isn't affected by contention. "maximum downstream line speeds" as one ISP puts it, not download speeds or data rates.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@herdwick:Good point I suppose although it's going a bit far for me. I think it's reasonable to expect people to understand about line distance issues but ATM is unreasonable for the lay person. No one officially tells them they are buying an ATM service. They are told it's for TCP/IP transmission.

In any case it's still wrong. the ATM speed is 8.128Mb :)
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
"They are told it's for TCP/IP transmission" - I doubt it, as the marketing people wouldn't have a clue what that was either.

I think there is a case for an ASA or OFCOM code of practice saying that the link speed should be expressed in terms of its useful data carrying capacity minus the overheads, but while that doesn't exist one has to fully understand what one is being told in order to judge it.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
The important point here is that it's consistant and comparable across all ADSL installs, so I don't see the need for a code.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
yes BT didnt use it on their fixed speed services but I seen it used on fixed speed services around the world. The way VM do it is accepted practice worldwide.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
What, lying about the actual speeds by overloading UBR's and traffic managing anyone who does actually dare download much?

Yea, I'll agree that's accepted ISP practice, but not something I'd like to see encouraged.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
it still beats what BT are doing.

you seriously telling me a up to 24 meg service with a synch of 4mbit (means you will never ever get above 4mbit speeds) is better than a 20meg cable service that is slow in the evenings but gives you full burst at quiet times. Not to mention that cable connections rarely drop whilst adsl lines are affected by all sorts of interferences etc.

and lets not forget many adsl isps have their own traffic management on top of the inherit problems of adsl, BTr dont exactly allow people to download heavily at full speed during peak times either.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Depending on its use, very often the 4MBit will be massively, massively superior. Ping and packet loss are just as, if not more important to - say - many gamers as raw speeds.

And you /can/ pick an ISP suited to you on a BT line, with NTL you have no choices.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
Sadly unless VM unbundled their cable network you would still be using the same infrastructure at the points where contention can happen.

Making VM unbundle would be a non-trivial exercise for many reasons, it's several orders of magnitude more complete to unbundle cable than DSL.
Posted by leshewitt over 8 years ago
Good grief, we're back to this "up to" again. People who are IT literate know perfectly well what it means. I'm about 4km from the exchange at home and get a reasonable 5.4mbps sync rate for a very cheap price. I think it's fantastic on ancient infrastructure. However, ....

I just had a look on TalkTalk's web site and it says "Fast speeds: up to 8Meg". Nowhere on that page does it mention that you can get a much lower speed. On the next page you click to, it says "Get speeds of up to 8Meg (depending on your location and line)". That's still misleading for Jill/Joe Public.
Posted by leshewitt over 8 years ago

How about "Speeds will be slower the further you are from the exchange". The ISP's must realise that if people are still complaining that they are "not getting what I'm paying for" then their advertising is not clear enough. "Simples..."
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