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.