Virgin’ on the deceitful?

I got an email from Richard Branson this morning. Well, all right, I don’t think he personally sat down and typed it, unable to resist the urge to tell me about my particular cable modem connection, but he seemed pretty excited. Here’s an extract:

With the launch of our 50Mb broadband this year, the possibilities are virtually limitless. Who knows what speeds we’ll be able to bring to you in the future. But rest assured – since you’re on the fibre optic network, you’re on the right network.

With fibre optic technology the possibilities are virtually limitless.

On top of almost infinite speeds, there’s the simply brilliant things that only fibre optic broadband brings. Right now, you’re already getting unlimited downloads and free internet security. But we’re about to bring you more.

and he goes on to talk about backups, file-sharing and so on.

All this is possible thanks to the power of fibre optic broadband.

What amuses me is the claim that things like ‘free internet security’ and ‘backups’ are only possible over fibre-optic networks, especially when the cable that comes into my house is quite clearly made of copper. I suppose their point is that all those bits of copper connect in the end to a fibre backbone, but isn’t the same true of DSL? I guess that a truthful statement might be:

All this happens a bit faster thanks to the fact that our fibre/copper transceivers are placed closer to your premises than most of our competitors’ and we use coax rather than twisted-pair for the last bit.

But that wouldn’t have the same marketing punch, would it?

Anyway – this rings a little hollow at the moment. I’ve been a happy Virgin Media customer for many years. The service (which they bought from NTL) has been fast and reliable… until a few months ago when things seemed to get somewhat wobbly. And in the last couple of weeks we’ve had to reboot our cable modem rather too often for comfort. Reports of VM’s experimentation with traffic shaping may or may not have anything to do with this, but it’s not just my connection – in the office we’ve gone as far as getting an ADSL line installed to see if that gives us a better connection.

The great thing about ADSL, for all its technical limitations, is that it’s a more open market. Once the BT man had visited to connect up the wire, we had a choice of who would actually provide the broadband service. It may be a bit slower, but it should be more predictable – we could call up small companies where you could speak to someone who knew about contention ratios, and the effect that different latencies would have on our VOIP codecs. The experiment starts next week, so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

But in our case it may prove that a choice of informed, personal support services was the disruptive technology that even the amazing fibre optic network failed to deliver…

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Alex Brown
Senior Internet Product Manager
Virgin Media

It’s somewhat reassuring to know I’m not the only one experiencing a reduction in service quality from Virgin Media over the past few months. Like you, I find myself having to reboot my cable modem more often that I used to and, here in Ely, we’ve had a couple of recent quite lengthy service outages. For a freelance graphic/web designer, it effectively means work grinds to a halt. I’ve used the service on and off with since the very early days of Cambridge Cable and it has never been so bad. Perhaps it is indeed time to look at alternative options…

Nothing is impossible in marketing. Everything is just a finite improbability, which as any engineer will tell you can be made possible with a hot cup of tea.

I too have had to power cycle my modem more frequently – three times last week. I had ascribed this to the new modem we received having moved house.

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