Kill GPRS to make Virgin Broadband fly

Kill GPRS to make Virgin Broadband fly

Summary: After struggling with Virgin Mobile's 3G wireless broadband for a couple of weeks, I discovered a modem tweak that has completely changed my Internet experience.


After struggling with Virgin Mobile's broadband over 3G for a couple of weeks, I discovered a modem tweak that has completely changed my Internet experience.

Virgin Broadband uses mobile phone networks to provide users with an Internet connection and the equivalent of a land-line phone number.

One feature of the service is that, depending on the strength of the signal in the user's area, the modem will switch between three different mobile standards -- GPRS, UMTS and HSDPA.

GPRS is technically 2.5G and offers an experience similar to dial-up. UMTS is starter 3G, providing a slight step up with downlinks of 384Kbps while HSDPA, known as 3.5G, is the most desirable, with a current potential download speed of 3.6Mbps.

This switching feature does have its uses -- when you are in an area outside 3G coverage, the service will drop down to GPRS and still remain connected to the Internet.

However, one issue -- and, after speaking with the tech support team at Virgin, an issue that affects lots of people -- is that the 3G signal is relatively weak inside buildings, causing the modem to stick with a "safe" GPRS link instead of risking a more challenging 3G connection.

On my modem's connection status page, the signal strength floats between -85db and -103db.

I hate GPRS. It makes downloading security patches painful and I struggled even using Web sites like Gmail and Facebook -- YouTube was impossible.

An important fact is that a very weak 3G connection is still about six times faster than GPRS, so in most cases it is better to kill the GPRS altogether and force the modem to stick with 3G.

Luckily, Virgin's modems can be set to do just that.

The process takes about one minute and for me, it made a world of difference.

Follow the steps below and see how you go:

  • Connect to the modem management console ( and log in.
  • Make sure the Internet is not currently connected (either press the connect button on the top of the modem or click the disconnect button in the console).
  • Click on the Connection Settings icon.
  • Click Network Connections.
  • Click WAN Cellular.
  • Click on the Settings button.
  • Scroll down to "Network Type" and select "UMTS only".
  • Click the Apply button. When the page reloads press OK.

Now your modem will ignore the GPRS signal so you have to beware of two things.

Firstly, because your is now set to ignore GPRS, it will only connect in 3G, which means if your 3G signal is extremely weak, instead of switching to dial-up speeds, the connection will cut out completely.

Secondly, watch those download limits. When my signal was mainly GPRS the amount of bandwidth being used was minimal and it seemed I would never be able to use up my 4GB limit. But with a continuous 3G connection, those megabits just fly through the sky.

Topics: Broadband, Mobility, Networking, NBN

Munir Kotadia

About Munir Kotadia

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.

Munir was recognised as Australia's Best Technology Columnist at the 5th Annual Sun Microsystems IT Journalism Awards 2007. In the previous year he was named Best News Journalist at the Consensus IT Writers Awards.

He no longer uses his Commodore 64.

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  • A hard look at the latest developments in IT security with a real world perspect

    Does this blog post have anything to do with IT security?

    Perhaps the blog should be called 'Crap tech tips you could have got weeks ago on Whirlpool'?
  • Patching

    i believe i do mention that if you are using this service, without a real 3G connection, downloading patches is a nightmare.

    thanks for your constructive comments.

  • Oh yes..

    what a nice segue (can you spell tenuous?), with skills like that you will be poached by Today Tonight soon..

    Actually given yesterdays xenophobic headline, which you guys subsequently changed but have provided no explanation or apology for, you will fit right in!

    For anyone who didn't see it the URL still exists so you can see how they chose to originally headline the story...,130061733,339281452,00.htm

    Perhaps while you are posting comments you can pop over there and offer your thoughts?
  • oops, missed a word

    Firstly, because your is now set to ignore GPRS
  • I agree with Anon

    Sorry, but Anon is 100% right. And the lame attempt to justify this blog by mentioning 'patches' (ie, downloading them over Virgin Mobile broadband) only highlights that this blog entry has NOTHING to do with security. Must be nice to write blogs for ZDNET on whatever topic you want, regardless of the topic you're supposed to follow.

    This is one reason why ZDNET's attempts to pass itself off as a serious IT resource is a joke. Maybe the only real 'security' thing here is that journalists obviously have 'security of employment' because they can be so off-topic and still collect their paycheck!
  • Whirlpool

    I came across this page via Whirlpool.
  • Virgin Broadband logon

    Hi I tried to follow your tips on turning off GPRS but when you say to login to the management console - how do I know what username and password to use to access the following page?
  • That is the security section

    Not providing a username / password is where security comes into this crappy blog.
  • RE: VBB login

    This one got me at first too. the username for the mgmt console is set to "admin" as standard and the password is whatever you set it to on your first login.
  • Great report

    Bravo to Munir Kotadia! The slow Virgin Broadband problem has been giving me the shits! Thanks for identifying a decent solution because I am sick of being kept on hold by the Virgin Help Desk guys only to be told that there is nothing wrong with the modem!!!!!

    Keep up the great work,

  • Bloody Virgin Broadband

    Congratulations to Munir. I had a 24hr nightmare after starting Virgin Broadband. The Help Desk was as big a nightmare as continually losing the internet!!

    I was turning my brain inside-out trying to understand why the blasted thing wouldn't work!!

    Have to find another provider now or go back to Telstra
  • Perhaps there should be a place for anonymous comments

    Might I suggest /dev/nul as being appropriate.
  • Been there done that

    Yes, well I tried changing my connection to UMTS only. What a disaster. Instead of regularly switching, it just said "No Network" and I couldn't connect to anything.

    I would have got out of the contract in the first 30 days if I had known it was going to be as bad as it is now. A typical day sees me havving to 'reconnect' 20 - 50 times and wait up to 20 minutes to access a single web page. Phone calls drop out if they are longer than 5 minutes and my friends cannot call me back, they always get 'network is busy' type messages. I called a friend interstate last week and over the course of an hours call, the service dropped out 7 times.
  • Killing GPRS on a Mac??

    Do these instructions work on a Mac though? I just called the Virgin support line and (hello) was told it wasn't possible to specify UMTS preferred through the broadband connection software. Help!
  • Yes on Mac

    The instructions are executed on the actual modem so the operating system is not relevant.
  • Virgin broadband internet/phone

    Our Internet CONTINUALLY cuts out, regardless of what the settings are, as well as our phone that cuts out too, especially if we are on the internet and phone at the same time. and Virgin dont give a damn. Has anyone got any other ideas , and does anyone know why some people can use it with no problems, and a lot of people are having problems?? Any help will be greatly appreciated!!!!!!!
  • Virgin Broadband

    Have had the same problems. I had Virgin send me a new modem, as they stated that there were faults with some modems. I still am experiencing problems of not being able to connect to the net, although not as frequently. I have transfered my phone service back to Telstra. My advise to to contact the ACC, the Telecommunications Ombudsman or your local member of Federal Parliment. There are too many of us experiencing major problems with Virgin and Virgin not giving a dam to rectify their current state of a non-existent service!!!!!
  • Virgin is Optus

    Signal is not the issue. Virgin sub leases Optus G3 and they look after thier clients first in peak hour. Surprise. I save money with Virgin, and download outside the 5-6pm public transport travel time phone peak. Not a real issue.
  • Virgin poor connection dropping out

    You would have to be nuts sticking with Virgin. I recently gave them a try with one of the latest nokia phones out, therefore its not the hardware thats the problem. My reception was shocking and the customer service well i wil not say on this blog but 1/2 hour waiting to get assistance and i seemed to understand more than most operaters, i even had to wait up to 1 hour being transferred from here to there. I've downloaded games and been charged for them and have not received the game. Phone always drops out especially fri sat and sun nights. For those who wish to waste there time with Virgins great offers, don't be fooled. My suggestion is to move on to voda or telstra package. I'm not representing either. Last thing i've moved on to optus which is combined with virgin they seem to give optus customers first priority, Reception great, no probs so far. Best of luck.pete
  • Geez

    Maybe consider people without much money. It is value for money. Yoou will not get anything like that so stop whinging and start living