BT Infinity coming – Adios Virgin Media


BT Infinity cabinet being installed

BT Infinity cabinet being installed

As my phone line had a fault which BT failed to fix after five visits I rather lost faith in them and moved to Virgin Media cable which bypassed my dodgy phone line entirely. I started out on 20 Mbps broadband plus their phone line. As VM call charges are a long way from being competitive I used VOIP for making calls. In fact the only reason I took the VM phone line in the first place was to get a cashback deal on the package and some new customer benefits like a free install and 3 months either free or half price (I forget which).

Things on VM went well and I upgraded to their 50Mbps package. Once my year was up I cancelled the phone line and swapped to Vonage VOIP who took over my old phone number. This meant anybody I called could see a proper number on their callerid and not the strange VOIP number they saw before.

Naturally things didn’t continue to go well and I fell into the black hole suffered by many cable subscribers – my area became over subscribed and suffered massive congestion with speeds falling way way short of the 50Mbps I’d subscribed to. I was given a fix date months in advance and these VM fix dates have a habit of slipping and slipping so I downgraded to 10Mbps which is a lot less than I used to get on ADSL but as that was all I got a lot of the time that was all I was prepared to pay for. Although there was some relief in advance of the original date months later my connection still suffers congestion as can be seen from the huge amount of jitter – boring technical stuff which means bad news for online gamers and users of VOIP as gaming can become next to impossible and VOIP call quality suffers.

With the dodgy phone line going back to ADSL would lead to a long long path of further visits from the boys with muddy boots trying to get it fixed. I decided to wait for BT Infinity which bypasses the voice line for broadband right to your nearest street cabinet so there would be a good chance the the fault wouldn’t matter. If it is in the last leg then Infinity has an engineer install and should be fixed then anyway.

At the time BT Infinity was estimated to come in December 2012. A revision to that timetable took it to June 2012. Those times are not when the entire exchange area can get Infinity but when at least 10 cabinets have been enabled. It doesn’t even guarantee that any given cabinet will ever be enabled. I wasn’t really expecting anything quick as a lifetime of disappointments has taught me that as Forrest Gump discovered Sh*t Happens (and quite often too).

So when on Friday 9th March I saw some barriers around my local BT phone cabinet I had to investigate and to my surprise saw that the new Infinity cabinet was at least in place. My wife mentioned that she had seen some OpenReach bods with lots of yellow wire working on another cabinet which I’m guessing was the fibre. So maybe BT Infinity will be available on time or even earlier and I can tell Virgin Media exactly where to stick their over contended service and speed upgrades which for me are not estimated untill 2013 anyway. Of course BT Infinity could be the subject of a future I Don’t Believe It but I’ve seen few complaints on the broadband forums I’ve checked.


30 April 2012.

Worth noting that since this page was originally written BT has removed the artificial 40Mbps cap on the FTTC product and as a result maximum headline speed is now advertised as upto 76Mbps down 19Mbps up and many do get pretty close to those speeds.

I wasn’t sure my local Infinity cabinet was powered which is apparently usually the last step before final testing and commissioning for public release. As it’s on a main road which is busy pretty much all  the time I hadn’t managed to hear it humming but came across an LCD mains test screwdriver I’ve had for ages and it showed that the cab is indeed powered up now. I’m hoping it may become available before the predicted 30 June – well I assume 30th as some idiot in BT appears to think there are 31 days in June…

The mythical 31st of June...

19 May 2012.

By chance I found that houses a few doors from mine could already order Infinity. After some digging around I discovered that the houses fed from the same pole as mine could not order but just about any others could. I emailed the BT CEO office about this apparent data error and that story can be found here in Computer says NO

Technical blurb
For the technically minded the reason Virgin Media can offer high headline speeds but frequently end up delivering a whole lot less is down to the way cable broadband works. It uses frequency blocks which equate to an analogue TV channel. With the current technology each channel can provide 50Mbps downstream and most areas are operating 4 channels. The current upgrade plans will probably eventually increase this to 8 but right now the total local bandwidth is 200Mbps. Upstream is currently 1 channel which can provide 18Mbps which will probably increase to 2 channels 36Mbps.

That 200 Mbps down 18Mbps up is serving a couple of hundred or more customers and Virgin Media are selling unlimited use 100Mbps down 10Mbps up on it. All you need is a single 100Mbps user hammering their connection and half the bandwidth has gone. Of course at 100Mbps just about anything will be downloaded pretty quickly. The real problem lies with P2P torrents. Unrestricted seeding by a couple of 100Mbps customers can fill the upstream and you need that upstream for browsing too as each downstream packet has to be acknowledged by sending an ACK to the server. If that is delayed your performance suffers. Virgin Media do use packet shaping which is supposed to address this problem but evading it is childishly simple. The result is a happy torrent freak and a few streets of people getting poor performance. That Virgin Media don’t address this really is an I don’t Believe it. Even if they did the increase in VoD (video on demand) services mean that bad news may well be coming your way if you are on cable because those puny local pipes simply can’t sustain high numbers of video streams and upgrading the local network to cope is both time consuming and costly.

The economics for xDSL services are completely different. ADSL can suffer poor headline speeds due to long lines but the new FTTC technology reduces the effective line length to your local telephone cabinet. True the Infinity product is currently only delivering a maximum of 40Mbps down in many areas and probably a typical customer will only be getting 30Mbps or so (I’m told that the current average is 36Mbps) which looks poor compared to cable which is set to become 30-120Mbps with 120Mbps available to all in a cable area but just why do you need such high speeds?  Certainly you won’t see much difference between browsing at 100Mbp and 10Mbps or  even 2Mbps come to that. All you need it for is bulk downloading and xDSL technologies are far better equipped to deliver high bandwidths as opposed to high speeds than cable. IMO in ten years or so the current Virgin Media broadband products will not be the cash cow they currently are.

Since this article was originally written BT have launched Infinity 2 advertised as 76Mbps down – in effect a doubling of the original 40/10 to 80/20 absolute maximum speeds less overheads. This isn’t new technology. It’s a removal of the artificial maximum speed caps presumably imposed while BT monitored performance in practice. As the caps were on maximum speed this explains why there was a high average speed of 36Mbps on the original product and suggests there is much more chance of getting a fair bit less than the headline rate if you happen to live a fair way from the cabinet serving your home.