Get your hands off my Internet, Virgin!

Get your hands off my Internet, Virgin!

Summary: Getting into the finer print of Virgin's broadband-over-3G plans is a little like getting up close and personal with the office hottie and then discovering they have a personal hygiene problem. Last week, Virgin launched two broadband packages using HSDPA -- high speed 3G -- as backhaul instead of the traditional ADSL used by fixed line broadband.

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Getting into the finer print of Virgin's broadband-over-3G plans is a little like getting up close and personal with the office hottie and then discovering they have a personal hygiene problem.

Last week, Virgin launched two broadband packages using HSDPA -- high speed 3G -- as backhaul instead of the traditional ADSL used by fixed line broadband. One of the bundles interestingly also featured a fixed line-style phone, which also uses the mobile network.

While the data packages aren't on the generous side -- with either 4GB and 1GB monthly -- the pricing's fine, the idea's original and it's good to see an ISP or mobile network that isn't afraid of selling itself as a fat pipe, pure and simple.

The packages aren't aimed at the heavy user, so no online gaming with these bad boys, but using 3G rather than ADSL means a huge advantage in terms of mobility -- plug in the modem wherever you have a signal and you're ready to go. Because there's no ADSL involved, there's no associated installation costs or fussing, and no fees to pay if you move house which, as someone who has just moved into a flat without a working phone or broadband connection, I can really see the advantage of.

Yes, the traffic gets shaped if you go over your download limit but where doesn't it? And at least Virgin's piddling 128Kbps shaping is still a few steps up from the quite-frankly-embarrassing 64Kbps some ISPs offer.

So far, so blah. Once you're at the traffic shaping note in the terms and conditions, you'll also see another addendum: P2P traffic is shaped at 64Kbps at all times. Leaving aside the question of whether Virgin is technically capable of blocking all peer-to-peer applications, I find such a practice abhorrent.

It is up to an ISP to act as a fat pipe and that is all. Regulating the Internet is not up to the ISPs, no more than it should be up to landline companies to ban their users from talking about illegal or inappropriate matters on their handsets.

P2P traffic is, of course, not necessarily illegal and, I would suspect, it's not the legality or otherwise of such content that has caused Virgin to put its foot down on the issue. Perhaps it doesn't like the idea that its customers might be using their broadband packages for Skype and are therefore diddling Virgin out of voice minutes. It might also feel that having users on bandwidth intensive applications like BitTorrent could potentially slow up the network.

If either of those reasons are the rationale behind why Virgin has seen fit to stomp on P2P, then it has no business being an ISP, whatever transport mechanism it uses.

Broadband providers' outlooks and their networks alike should be robust enough to handle a little P2P; yet Virgin's behaviour on the issue would seem to indicate this latest 3G offering will not propel it to the ISP big league for some time yet.

Topics: Broadband, Legal, Mobility, Piracy, NBN

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52 comments
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  • Business Decision

    For god sakes, someone shows a bit of nounce and delivers an innovating offering and you want to knock it, seemingly just for the sake of it

    Clearly this is aimed at ‘Mom and Pop’ type users not likely to be P2P users so Virgin have clearly made a business decision to shape this kind of traffic on this package. Its very clearly noted so no one could feel tricked or deceived. To state “I find such a practice abhorrent.” Shows some interesting priorities, I find Child Abuse abhorrent not a company making a commercial offering.

    This comment:

    “Getting into the finer print of Virgin's broadband-over-3G plans is a little like getting up close and personal with the office hottie and then discovering they have a personal hygiene problem.”

    And from your last blog:

    “It's rather like boasting you have the biggest wang in the world, but erectile dysfunction -- it impresses no-one”

    Make me really wonder about Zdnet really is where technology means business or is it where juveniles who didn’t make the cut for El Reg go?

    Renai Le Mai you are sorely missed…..
    anonymous
  • P2P throttling

    I think the reason behind P2P throttling has little to do with moral judgments or voice minutes (since Virgin already provides free unlimited national calls as part of this plan.)

    I think you have to be realistic about the limitations of wireless networks: there is a very limited amount of bandwidth to go round. The trouble with P2P is that it is capable of gobbling up 100% of bandwidth 24 hours a day, no matter how big the bandwidth is. That's less of a problem for wireline networks because if a customer is maxing out their individual connection, they're not going to affect other customers. But on a wireless network, if one or two customers in a cell are going flat knacker, other customers will get poor speeds.

    I'm not an advocate for ISPs limiting what customers can do on their connections, but I think in this case the P2P throttling is fine given the circumstances: it's a wireless network, Virgin has been very up-front about the P2P throttling before it has sold a single modem, and the pricing of the service is cheaper than ADSL (taking into account line rental and the calls you'd have to pay for if you weren't getting Virgin's unlimited landline calls.)

    The service may not be perfect, but then nobody's forcing anyone to take it up. I reckon it's good that there's an ISP out there offering 4GB of usage for mum and dad type users for around the same price you'd pay for many ISPs' $29.95 200MB - 500MB plans (taking into account the cost of line rental on top of that.) With those 200MB - 500MB plans, you won't be able to do much P2P before hitting a 64K throttle either!
    anonymous
  • bandwidth isn't a packet of tim-tams

    The p2p angle is pretty simple. Anyone with even a remote interest in topical events in the IT world cannot possibly miss that p2p is one of the single largest demand drivers.

    It's 24x7 nature results in the kinds of load HSDPA technology and the cellular network were never really designed for.

    Expecting a WiMaX like free for all, from a mobile network, is pushing it.

    As Dan suggests, load on each cell is a big factor here. And with respect, I honestly do not see any hard-core p2p user grabbing this with both hands.

    It's a fantastic offering in a market that desperately needs exactly this kind of revolution (particularly the voice + data angle) to kick the established juggernauts into some kind of actual competition and provide a (relatively) inexpensive option to those whom may lead a nomadic lifestyle or are not in a logical position for cable, ADSL and such.

    And what is with the sexual overtones? Un-cool.
    anonymous
  • Knocking Innovation

    I read the article with interest. I am unable to get a landline because the previous tenants broke it and my landlord doesn't want the expense to fix it. Fair enough. I wanted to go wireless before just for internet but the costs were exhorbitant. now there is real choice.
    The mobility factor is what I want too. The download amount is fair (if you don't think so have a look at the major offerings).
    Shaped is good, one major player charges you 15c a mb.
    P2P, well not all of us want to do that. Many other players in the market provide service in that space.
    Stop mocking innovation.
    BTW, yes it is way uncool to use sexual inneuendo. Drop it and grow up.
    anonymous
  • P.S.

    I thought your intro about the office hottie was very funny and a good lead in to a tech story. Anything to combat the "Back in 1996, when Optus first introduced mobile data..." snore factor.. ;-)

    Bring on the sexual innuendo, I say.
    anonymous
  • Dan

    Innuendo and humour is all well and good and has its place (as mentioned earlier 'The Register' does it, but does it well) but this is meant to be a business targeted site. This kind of stuff doesnt play too well on Firewalls/proxies etc or even simply people reading over your shoulders in office. Todays comment wasn't too bad (although not v funny) but the 'wang' comment the other day was OTT.

    Lets be honest you wouldn't see it on news.com
    anonymous
  • get an idea

    if you want to eat bandwidth with P2P please by all means stay off mobile broadband - the *real* users will thank you for it!!!
    anonymous
  • yeah

    your making it out to be somthing it isn't.

    it is a 4gb service at 512k with line rental and cheap calls included. for $60 with isdn like shaping

    telstra basic adsl 256k with 200mb (.2gb) and line rental plus calls on top is $59.95 without discounts. with 15c mb over use charge

    which is better?
    anonymous
  • Why P2P is Discouraged

    The reason why P2P is discouraged is to reduce the potentially detrimental impact to other users on the same cell. P2P can be packet and connection intensive so to place a restriction on a wireless service.

    Dan Warne has already covered this off so I won't harp on.

    Other than that, it's a good article.
    anonymous
  • Good Article?

    Why is it good when you yourself have stated there is a very good reason for P2P to be limited? That fact makes the whole article redundant surely?
    anonymous
  • Upwardly Mobile

    Jo, I hope you have thicker skin than me!
    anonymous
  • What's wrong with pointing out the flaws?

    I'm not knocking innovation at all, in fact, I compliment Virgin here. The blog itself reads: "the pricing's fine, the idea's original and it's good to see an ISP or mobile network that isn't afraid of selling itself as a fat pipe".

    For those that missed it, I'll say it again: I think what Virgin's doing is, fundamentally, a good idea and a welcome shift in the market. However, ISPs seem to be a little too keen to sell themselves as 'mobile broadband providers'. As Virgin's struggle with P2P shows, HSDPA is not up to being a true broadband replacement just yet - if the service wants to sell itself as broadband, it should afford users all the same freedoms as fixed internet.

    In a few years' time, 3G and LTE will be a more than adequate broadband fat pipe and we'll all be P2P-ing our hearts out on it. That's simply not the case right now, as the restrictions show.

    As for the innuendo: There's no sexual suggestion there, I'm afraid - just the idea you're standing very close to someone. If you're reading more into 'getting up close and personal' than I intended, I would suggest that the problem lies with you looking for some sauciness that doesn't exist.
    anonymous
  • As mentioned above

    To reiterate:

    As for the innuendo: There's no sexual suggestion there, I'm afraid - just the idea you're standing very close to someone. If you're reading more into 'getting up close and personal' than I intended, I would suggest that the problem lies with you looking for some sauciness that doesn't exist.

    My intention is to entertain, not offend. However, this is a blog and purely my own thoughts, so please remember it will veer to the irreverent on occasion.
    anonymous
  • Quite right Dan

    You wouldn't see this on news.com, although I would suggest that's because they don't tend to cover the Australian broadband scene.
    anonymous
  • Ignoring the point

    For you, who seems to have missed it, I'll say it again (as multiple comments have) there is a vast body of Internet users ( I would wager the vast majority) who have no interest in P2P!

    Jo I know a big techo such as yourself is no doubt busy downloading Linux ISO's all the time but most people just want web and email. Luckly for you there are other options as Virgins is not for techo's like yourself.

    Was I right Jo is that your P2P usage?
    anonymous
  • Ah Jo...

    But they are a CNET Network and your equivalent in the US, but you knew that. I am assuming ZDNET Australia doesn't have a problem with them as you frequently run there content?

    I think the point is that they actually understand their remit and actually employ some journos who understand tech.
    anonymous
  • 'Abhorrent'

    "To state “I find such a practice abhorrent.” "Shows some interesting priorities, I find Child Abuse abhorrent not a company making a commercial offering."

    Oh dear. Anonymous, please keep a sense of perspective - this is a blog on technology, not on my opinion of the worst ills of the world. Upwardly Mobile is devoted to wireless IT, and makes no pretensions to cover a wider sphere and never has.

    Bringing child abuse into a discussion on wireless broadband rather shows some interesting priorities on your behalf - the two subjects are not comparable in terms of importance so please don't try to compare them. A very silly argument indeed, Anonymous.
    anonymous
  • Best is Better

    Lawdy, people, anyone that is not a technorati would think we'd all forgotten about humour, you know, Anonymous... I heard it was popular in the late 80's...

    Jo, you write well, it's entertaining, you pose an interesting question about the role of the ISP going forward and whether the current hidden agenda from numerous Govt and business lobbies is forcing businesses like Virgin to act as bandwidth police in order to limit the use of key offerings for arguably nefarious P2P purposes. Anyone able to get their thinking out of 0101010101010101010 might read between the lines and realise Best is not necessarily bagging Virgin or its offering, she's drawing a larger debate out into the open and providing (speaking for myself only) a bloody good laugh while she's at it. Having worked with numerous ICT lads over the years, I dinf it HIGHLY amusing as a ladette, that it is suggested saucy sidelines are so shockingly inappropriate because in my experience they are some of the most ribald in the business, honestly, one step away from havign calendar girls on the office wall and so incrediby happy to find a lass who is happy to engage in a bit of sporty spicy banter, possibly a rare thing for folk like Anonymous? If you had a humour lobotomy recently, I can appreciate the indignation but for the rest of you, get a grip, think a little more deeply about what is being written, drag your eyes up beyond the code and appreciate the job being done by Best, which is better than many absolutely rubbish blogs out there in this space. Hats off Jo and don't apologise for being a good writer with a sharp wit and a funny turn of phrase!
    anonymous
  • Bingo

    Bingo Dan. It's the same thing that hold back mobile television - these networks aren't designed to be saturated 24/7, and P2P is certainly very capable of that.

    Jo, as much as I wish we could paint Virgin as a bad guys on this one they are working within known technical constraints and have had made an appropriate decision for the situation. I doubt Skype came into it - alhtough I'm sure the thought of blocking Skype doesn't keep them up nights either :)
    anonymous
  • p2p

    A review was done on the product and the traffic prioritisation was not enforced. However the allowance is on the low site but perfect for a mom and dad users.
    anonymous