Virgin throttles broadband for high-speed customers

People on 30Mbps or higher broadband packages will see their downloads limited to 50 percent of the top speed if they go beyond a set usage allowance

Virgin Media customers on fast cable broadband packages could see their download speeds squeezed by up to 50 percent, under new traffic management policies introduced on Monday.

Virgin Media engineers

People on 30Mbps or higher broadband packages will see their downloads limited to 50 percent of the top speed if they go beyond a set usage allowance, Virgin Media has said. Image credit: Virgin Media

Under the new traffic-shaping policies, everyone on Virgin's 30Mbps or faster packages (PDF) can expect to see their top speed throttled by half for a five-hour period if they go beyond a set usage allowance.

"Broadband services are by their nature shared resources, so Virgin Media's traffic management policy is designed to ensure the vast majority of customers get the high quality of service they expect from Virgin Media's fibre-optic broadband without being negatively affected by extremely heavy users using more than their fair share at the busiest times," a company spokesman told ZDNet UK.

Traffic management of the network "poses a unique challenge, due to the speed of the services we offer", he added.

The download caps come in immediately across the packages, rather than waiting until Virgin has completed its upgrade that will see download rates doubled for most customers on fast broadband plans. After that rollout, expected to be finished in 18 months, those on the existing 30Mbps or 50Mbps package will have their speeds increased to 60Mbps and 100Mbps, respectively.

Traffic management policies 

Virgin has operated traffic management policies on some of its packages since 2007, and already had caps in place for peer-to-peer service (P2P) usage on some of its broadband plans at certain times of day.

Under the new policy, customers could have their upload or download speeds limited for a set time period if they exceed the usage allowance for the time of day. The size of the cap depends on the top rate promised by their plan.

For example, a 50Mbps subscriber will have their download speed cut in half between the hours of 10am and 3pm if they exceed 10GB of usage before the speed upgrade, or 20GB post-upgrade. In the afternoon, caps come in if they exceed 5GB or 10GB (depending on upgrade status) of bandwidth between 4pm and 9pm. Usage between 3pm and 4pm is not restricted, Virgin confirmed.

Some of the 30Mbps-plus packages also attract upload throttling of up to 75 percent, in addition to download speed restrictions.

If a subscriber has already had their package upgraded and is subject to a five-hour traffic cap, their maximum download speed will effectively be reduced to the level of their previous package, according to Virgin's spokesman. He added that only around three percent of Virgin Media subscribers have their connections throttled on a daily basis.

People on slower 20Mbps and below packages (PDF) will also see caps, which could result in their download and upload rates being reduced to just 25 percent of the maximum.

Super-fast broadband packages from other providers, such as BT's Infinity service, also use traffic throttling to control the bandwidth demanded by applications and services such as P2P file-sharing. BT itself is the process of rolling out speed upgrades for its Infinity packages.

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