- 15 Dec 08, 17:10 GMT
Within minutes of Virgin Media unveiling its 50Mbps service, I was getting messages from cynics. They wanted to know whether 50 Megs really meant 50 Megs - or in practice would end up being something much slower.
And they were right to be cynical. Anyone who has an "up to 8Mbps" broadband deal knows that they are lucky to get three or 4Mbps. And while Virgin's cable network does not slow up the further you are from the exchange - in the way it does for BT's ADSL customers - it still uses "traffic management" to throttle back speeds at peak times.
Soon, more interesting questions were coming my way - so I decided to put them to the Virgin Media press office. They boiled down to speed and coverage.
Speed: Virgin says it is very upfront about its speed limits. For instance, if you have its 20Mbps service you will have a download limit at peak times - 4pm to 9pm - and if you exceed that you will slow right down to 5Mbps.
But the company insists that at the launch of the 50Mbps service, there will be no traffic management or throttling and you will get 50Mbps - although if you are running a wireless network, you are bound to lose some speed. However, it sounds as though limits may be imposed once the new network it has built on top of its old one fills up with traffic.
Buried in Virgin's press release is an interesting figure. Its users' average monthly data consumption has gone up from 4.7Gb to 8.1Gb over the last eighteen months. That is bound to keep on rising, perhaps more steeply, as more people download movies and watch streaming video.
In other words, the company has built a whole new motorway so that we can speed around the internet but, like the M25, it will attract lots of motorists at peak times, and eventually new speed limits will be introduced.
Some people wanted to know whether existing customers on 10Mb or 20Mb packages would see any improvements. Virgin says the new network will eventually triple its data capacity, and that should have a beneficial effect for all customers.
Others wanted to know about upload speeds. At the start, you will only get uploads at 1.5Mbps, though Virgin says that will be reviewed next year.
Coverage: Plenty of people are asking how quickly this 50Mbps service will be made available across the country - and whether there is chance that those not on the cable network might eventually get it. The answers seem to be "by the middle of 2009" and "not a chance".
Virgin says that by the end of 2008, its new DOCSIS3.0 network - that is, the system upgrade which makes 50Mbps possible - will be deployed in 40% of its network, including parts of Scotland, the Midlands and south London. The rest of the fibre-optic network will be covered by next summer. But note the "fibre-optic" - Virgin also has some broadband customers that are not on its own network but are served through a BT exchange.
They won't get the new service, and a spokesman made it clear that the company, which as NTL and Telewest spent and lost billions laying cable across the UK, "won't be digging up any more roads".
So, a few answers. But I've got a couple more questions. Are people really going to pay £51 a month for Virgin's 50Mbps broadband? And how will BT price its 40Mbps fibre broadband when that starts to make an appearance next summer?
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