Virgin Media TV and Broadband: the outdated, unreliable but cheaper alternative to Sky.
Virgin Media Broadband: line rental
More and more people are choosing to ditch their home landline telephone numbers as mobile phone usage becomes more popular, but ditching the landline means you can't have broadband. Almost every broadband supplier (including Sky) buys broadband from BT "wholesale" and then sells it to you white-labelled under the own name.
Enter Virgin Media (previously called NTL). Unlike all other broadband service providers in the UK, this cabled service doesn't use BT technology to deliver services to your home. Instead, it uses a network of independent hardware installed in most major towns and cities in the UK and generally delivered by fibre-optic cable to a port somewhere outside your home; and then via coaxial cable to your property. This allows Virgin Media to generally provide much faster speeds of internet than BT currently can because the original cable system was more up-to-date than the old fashion copper-cable system that BT owns.
But here's the catch - if you want a 'deal' on your broadband package with Virgin Media you'll be forced to by line rental as well. This is a con, because unlike other suppliers Virgin Media doesn't deliver broadband to your property along a telephone line.
So why do Virgin Media charge a line rental with their broadband packages? Simple: more money. Every other company charges it so they do too.
But Virgin Media is really fast, isn't it?
It's true that Virgin Media offer some incredible speeds compared to other suppliers. I myself am apparently being served 152Mb broadband speeds from Virgin Media.
The problem? The majority home home computers have a maximum ethernet cable speed of 100Mb per second. That means that if if you do manage to get 152Mb at your home router, by the time it's gone along the cable and into your computer you're now down to a maximum of 100Mb. If effect, you're computer has throttled the speed down by 52Mb.
And for wireless users, the speed reduction gets even worth as very few wireless devices can transfer the speeds of a wired Ethernet connection.
Of course, having all that speed does mean that if you have multiple people using the broadband at any one time (like you on your PC, your partner of their tablet and perhaps a child gaming) you will feel less lag than say a 20Mb connection. In reality, however, 100Mb compared to 152mb is really difficult to notice a difference it. Here's my speed from a 2014 laptop over wireless (taken from my laptop when no one else was using the internet and at 19:20hrs on a weekday:
As you can see, I'm able to achieve just over 31Mb. If with a 500Mb connection I'm never going to be able to transfer more than 31Mb/sec of data over the connection.
The upload speed is incredible though - that's one thing I will say. If, like me, you're interested in producing websites and Youtube videos, the ability to be able to upload at over 10Mb/sec over a wireless connection is very handy and a definite plus of Virgin Media broadband.
What about reliability?
I was with Sky Broadband previous to Virgin Media for about 3 years and I can count on one hand the problems I had with reliability of the service. Sadly, the same can't be said for Virgin Media.
In the past week I've had a dropped connection - the router has flashing green lights (never a good sign) and the service can be down anywhere form 10 minutes to a few hours.
Sadly, phone Virgin's Customer Services department really make you feel you're banging your head against a brick wall: they make you switch everything off, plug in to the router direct, check if there's an active connection (clearly not or it would be working!) and all this after spending 5 minutes going through all the options on the phone system.
I'll be honest now - I don't have any stats - but my experience (and my next door neighbour who has been a Virgin customer for over 8 years) is that the reliability of Virgin Media is anything less than to be desired. Look on the Virgin Media support forums if you don't believe me.
Tivo: the most disappointing product in the Virgin Media line-up
If there's one product in the Virgin Media package that really feels cheap it's TiVo, which is Virgin Media's answer to Sky+. This clunky, out dated and extremely slow TV service looks ancient next to a Sky+ HD Electronic Programme Guide (EPG for short). It's slow to react to the remote control and not exactly east to navigate, either. I did ask Virgin why it was so clunky:
On the plus side it does currently have a Netflix application (additional subscription required). As a Netflix fan this was appealing to me when I was considering Virgin Media as a service provider. However, navigation the app is awkward and exploring new titles even more so. So much, that I've ended up plugging my laptop into my TV via HDMI to make real use of the Netflix app. Android Smart TV now on order!
Ending a Virgin Media contract early without penalties
When Virgin Media increase their prices (which they've done to me twice in 8 months) you're allowed to leave your contract within 30 days with absolute no penalties. It's a law.
So, if they hike your price and you're still in a contact ask to leave. They'll try their best to stop you, but by law, they can't. For more information see the blog 'How to end your Virgin Media contract early (without penalties)'.
OK, so I've been pretty hard on Virgin Media, but for for good reason. Using a friend Sky+ HD box for a weekend babysitting showed me just how much easier (and faster) Sky is. That said, Sky seems to be more expensive as a package.
What really annoys me is Virgin's insistence that I must pay line rental to have broadband. That really cheese me off because it's totally unnecessary and would reduce my monthly bill but £15 a month. Especially when the reality is that Superfast Broadband really is more of a marketing ploy than a real benefit to a home consumer.
Personally, with the improvements in Smart TV's and online streaming, I'm likely to ditch everything other than broadband soon.
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