Broadband News

Virgin put new broadband customers on hold has had a fairly poor run of things lately, reports of slower than usual downloads and high latency connections are fairly common. Virgin themselves have now acknowledged the problems and published details of the steps they are taking here. The Register also has some comments from's MD, Alex Dale here.

The most important step is that no new customers will be connected to the Virgin broadband network until around mid December 2003. This move should allow the ISP to stabilise things rather than chasing an ever growing problem. More network capacity is apparently planned for December 20th. Interestingly there is talk of "introducing new caching (or storage) technology", which we would guess means a web proxy, or possibly a peer to peer traffic management/caching system.

The headline grabbing item for many people is the comment advising people to try and stick to less than 1GB of downloads per day, and a total of 5GB in a week. This guideline amounts to around 200 MP3's per day, or around 8 hours a day of streaming broadband video. What is significant is that Virgin has identified 700 users who are uploading/downloading well in excess of this per day, and these people have being contacted to request they try and cut back on their usage.

The topic of traffic limits is always a thorny subject, almost any consumer service in any part of the world is a contended service. This means that costs are kept low by running a network sized so that at peak times not everyone will get a full speed download. In short the bandwidth is a shared resource, and while ISPs generally keep things so that contention only appears at peak times, there are times that the balancing act fails to work. Virgin currently appear to have got the balancing act wrong, precisely why is unclear.

This situation with Virgin is not that unusual, almost all the major service providers have hit this problem at some time. It has often been the case that attractive offers to new customers result in a rush of new users, and new broadband users are often the heaviest bandwidth consumers for the first month or two.


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