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Virgin Media Bring Symmetric 100Mbps to 2,000 Birmingham Businesses

Friday, February 26th, 2016 (12:55 pm) - Score 2,040
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Cable operator Virgin Media Business (Liberty Global) has announced that 2,000 businesses in 250 buildings in the city of Birmingham (England) will soon be able to receive “equal upload download speeds of 100Mbps” thanks to their on-going network expansion.

The provider has already launched similar services in London’s Tech City and Manchester’s Northern Quarter, but this will now be extended to businesses that have setup in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, Colmore Business District, Hagley Road and Broad Street. In this instance Virgin’s primary focus is on catering for small businesses that exist in multi-tenanted buildings.

Mike Smith, Director of SME at VMB, said:

“Birmingham is fast becoming one of the UK’s leading digital tech clusters and as such needs reliable, secure, high speed internet access. Better connectivity can transform the way small businesses operate and the services they provide, allowing them to seize the chance to become digital leaders.”

It’s important to recognise that this service is a bit different from the asymmetric solutions that tend to be supplied over their hybrid-fibre coax cable network. Apparently an ultrafast fibre optic cable will be “installed directly into the premises” (1Gbps capacity) and after that each business can order a dedicated Internet connection running at either 50Mbps or 100Mbps (£199 or £249 monthly fee respectively).

More expensive Leased Line options will also be available.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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49 Responses
  1. Avatar DTMark

    Sounds like the perfect product for small businesses, who could also have true redundancy with, for example, a VDSL link on an entirely separate network, redundancy which no one provider alone can offer. It’s exactly what I’d be looking for, the idea of leasing premises which only have access to one or other network fills me with dread.

    It still seems just a little expensive even taking into account the guaranteed bandwidth (if I’m reading it right) but then this is the UK after all. The ability to move into an office and rapidly get connected to a high speed service like this is still rather in its infancy.

    When the government carries out its review of business broadband requirements (other recent article) I’d say that this is precisely the sort of minimum symmetric speed product (which isn’t really all that fast) that we should be aiming for with near 100% nationwide coverage.

    Well done Virgin. That’s 2000 premises done. Only several million more to go 🙂

  2. Avatar JamesM

    The day after BT are forced to open up too. Good timing 🙂

    • Avatar FibreFred

      They were already open since 2011 when PIA was launched and nothing has been forced unless you have seen some agreed plans we haven’t?

    • Avatar fastman

      James m those 2000 are captive virgin customers — so basically all they have provided as ability to buy a leased line from virgin in an area that wasn’t available to virgin previously — Openreach has offer PIA been available since around 2012 i think

  3. Avatar MikeW

    Any word on what the in-building distribution mechanism is?

    This kind of FTTB setup could get 50/50 and 100/100 speeds with either cat5 or twisted pair (VDSL2) distribution.

    • Avatar Jono

      My office in the Norther Quarter of Manchester has a 150mbit Virgin package for business which uses coax. We were contacted about upgrading to this and told instead of Coax they would bring a fibre cable directly into our office for this.

      Problem is the 150mbit package is solid, always get top speeds and never goes down so couldn’t really justify it. The extra upload speed would be nice but not worth extra £200.

    • Surprising. According to some of the comments here, on Think Broadband and other places your business needs 100Mb in both directions as a bare minimum, if not a gigabit.

      You should be falling over yourselves to pay the extra £200 per month, too.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      The bandwidth “needs” do make me smile when I know of some companies that more than happily run there 3000+ users including voice and video on 300Mbps yet sme’s need a gig?

    • Avatar MikeW

      Much lower needs than domestic:

      “SMEs to See Median Broadband Speed Demand of Just 8.1Mbps by 2025”
      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2015/09/uk-smes-to-see-median-broadband-speed-demand-of-just-8-1mbps-by-2025.html

    • Avatar GNewton

      MikeW: You are not telling the whole story here. If you really meant it, why aren’t you using a simple ADSL line for your business?

      Anyway, to clarify what the article also said: “somebody working underground in a coal mine, gardening or collecting rubbish won’t have particularly high data demands, if any at all, and all of this weights into the assumptions. For example, one person food manufacturers were found to require just 6Mbps downstream by 2025, but a 49 person software business will need 193Mbps by the same date.”

      The BSG suggests that the diversity of small business requirements perhaps “argues against a one-size-fits-all for broadband provision”.

      For many small businesses, a leased line is not an option, due to costs, or simply lack of availability.

      Perhaps a nationwide Fibre-on-demand would be a reasonable approach for many business parks and even residential areas.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Availability? Tell me where you can’t get a leased line?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Any organisation that can come up with a number as specific as 193M should have its ability questioned.

      See @BBCMoreorLess

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts: Well, MikeW is happy with a broadband speed of just 8.1Mbps for his business by 2025 🙂

    • Avatar MikeW

      Am I happy with 8.1Mbps? Will I be happy up to 2025?

      The research said the median business – which means 50% need less than 8.1Mbps, while 50% need more. So some will not be happy with such speeds. You have to read the rest of the report to find out the percentiles other than the 50th.

      My particular business is software development … which worked absolutely fine on a 2Mbps ADSL connection in 2000-2005. Uploads, every now and again, were the most frustrating part. With ADSLmax, I continued working just fine on 8/0.5 until we changed to fibre in 2011 – and that change was not triggered because we felt 8Mbps downstream was too slow. Frankly, that speed would remain pretty reasonable for most of my *business* needs these days. But if you read the report, you will see that software development isn’t close to a median business – especially once you add more people.

      Having more speed makes life easier for things such as watching catchup TV, taking in HD sports, and for an unplanned download of a Linux DVD. But these are rare events *in business* and much closer to private, personal life. The *most useful* effect of FTTC is the extra upstream speed – but only as much as is needed to make VoIP absolutely uneventful.

      If I had to estimate the speed that I would be comfortable with 99% of the time, *for business*, I’d reckon 8/2. Ever so slightly more than ADSL2+ can deliver.

      My private needs far exceed my business ones. The biggest usage, at home, comes from the kids, their iPads, their entertainment and their homework. *by far*.

      If I had to pick a speed that combined our domestic needs with our business use, I’d pick something around 20-25/3-5. We actually have 80/20, but we absolutely don’t need it.

      Oh. Did I mention that those business speeds cater for my wife’s business too? A totally separate endeavour.

      If our only option today was an 8/0.5Mbps ADSLmax connection, we could work with it. We’d have a separate phone line, rather than VoIP, to cope with potential upstream limitations – that’s all.

    • Avatar MikeW

      The important thing about the BSG study results for business is that they come out a long way below the BSG study results for residential use.

      And a long way below the BT results for residential lines too (50Mbps on many lines at peak periods, 500Mbps on a few lines, occasionally).

      Watching TV is a big differentiator between work and play.

      Note that I am telling the whole story there – that is why you got the link to the story, which included the link to the BSG report. If I didn’t want to tell you the whole story, I’d just make a vague reference to the headline.

      @TheFacts
      The report, of course, includes variation as part of the statistics – just like their residential report. The lazy headlines turn to specific numbers, and ignore proper statistical consequences such as standard deviations, etc.

    • Avatar MikeW

      If I needed to provision for more than 8/2 for business, I could get a 10/10 leased line for about £150pm. I reckon it could support 5-10 people quite easily, all for less than the rental price for the space for 1 desk.

      Or, If I were in the northern quarter of Manchester, or the jewellery quarter in Birmingham, I could contemplate VM’s 50/50 for the same kind of price.

      As it would be a core essential to the business, either would seem a reasonable price. I’m not daft enough to believe you should run a business without planning for spending on essential components. But there’s no need to plan to spend on unessential things, like gigabit, because broadband campaigners don’t understand the first thing about business.

    • Avatar Jonny

      A 100Mbps Openreach bearer costs £2400 annually, so you aren’t getting a 10/10 leased line for £150 a month. Entry level tends to be around £350-£400 a month assuming you’re having your own fibre and it’s not part of a multi-tenant connection.

    • Avatar DTMark

      What do they have at 81 Newgate Street – is it ADSL “up to 24Mbps”? Is it very near the exchange 😉

      I don’t know how any single individual in business could get by with 5Mbps upload let alone multiple people.

      The 45Mbps to 50Mbps upstream we have here (4G, BT’s super-fast fibre optic broadband is only estimated at 3Mbps to 7Mbps) is fairly good, but could do with being faster on occasions, like when I need to, er, upload large files.

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      “I don’t know how…”
      “…when I need to, er, upload large files”

      You have just answered your own question. Comparatively few businesses will need to do that.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      You don’t know and don’t understand DTMark because in general you only look and talk about your own case , you don’t take into account the rest of the country, how close they are to the cab and what there business does

    • Avatar FibreFred

      DTMark your situation is quite straightforward you have a requirement to upload large files

      There are products ideally suited to that but you don’t want to pay those prices.

      You believe because you choose to situate your business where you did providers should come to you at mostly there expense and provide a fast upload service at a low cost per month

      Most people would rightly see that as a little unreasonable

      You are even sniffing at the prices in this virgin article which in comparison to leased lines are very reasonable and should be fine for a business

    • I deal with businesses and branch offices that manage on less than 5Mb on a daily basis.

      I can happily think of a tech company’s head office, home to perhaps 100 employees concurrently in the office at any one time, managing fine on a symmetrical 50Mb connection for everything – Internet access, access to data centre applications, access to cloud services. This for a company that hosts nothing on-site, all cloud and data centre, with applications including video conferencing and VoIP, and whose technology can only be described as state of the art.

      Indeed I’m aware of plenty of larger companies still whose HQ and data centres run on 100Mb and below.

      Massive tech companies with hundreds of seats in core locations run on way less than a megabit per second per seat with worldwide application hosting data centres running on a couple of hundred megabits.

      The idea that anything more than a handful of businesses need 5Mb/s in either direction per seat is absurd. It’s an extreme usage case that applies to a tiny fraction of businesses.

      That or these tech leaders aren’t using the WAN properly.

      More bandwidth is of course a bonus but people really need to spend more time working with enterprises before trying to claim knowledge of what your standard enterprise needs.

      Yours, with love, a guy who has been working in optimising enterprise application performance across the WAN, hub and spoke, full mesh and public and private cloud, for the past 8 years.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @Jonny: “A 100Mbps Openreach bearer costs £2400 annually, so you aren’t getting a 10/10 leased line for £150 a month. Entry level tends to be around £350-£400 a month assuming you’re having your own fibre and it’s not part of a multi-tenant connection.”

      I guess that also depends a bit on the location. In some places you can’t order a BT leased line at all, as we had to learn from BT Business. In other places you might be lucky to get a leased line from other providers. It never hurts to shop around for the best deal.

      @MikeW: I guess yours is somewhat unusual for a software business. I assume you don’t have heavy upload requirements, nor do you make heavy use of cloud-based services, nor do your own hosting?

    • ‘@MikeW: I guess yours is somewhat unusual for a software business. I assume you don’t have heavy upload requirements, nor do you make heavy use of cloud-based services, nor do your own hosting?’

      Most applications aren’t many hundreds of megabytes in size. With that in mind most software companies aren’t going to be storing that much in cloud services.

      I’m unsure how often you think a single site software company will be needing to upload data. There will probably be a nightly build compiled automatically and uploaded somewhere but beyond that no real drive to upload content.

      Running hosting from the office is a bad idea. No-one does so unless there’s a really strong need or reason not to use a far cheaper data centre based service. Or because they’re chump changers who don’t want to pay a few quid a month for hosting, which obviously can’t be excluded.

      Regarding DT Mark’s business: as I remember it totals less than 100GB/month of traffic for upstream and downstream combined. Given those volumes I question the need for 40-50Mb/s of upload. It sounds a lot more like something good to have rather than something absolutely essential.

      That may even be the total for both business and home traffic combined.

      My idea of essential would be a media company downloading and, especially uploading, raw uncompressed images alongside barely compressed digital video. Those require enormous amounts of bandwidth and that bandwidth is a genuine requirement to running the business.

    • Avatar DTMark

      With people asserting that single digit upload speeds may suffice I wonder what decade this is and just how much patience people have.

      It’s like asserting that we never need to widen roads, or build new ones, because everyone will get where they’re going: eventually, so the end is the same and there is no benefit.

      It’s not so much about making sure everyone has these speeds.

      It’s about making sure that people *can* have these speeds if they need them.

      Which is what Virgin have done. A straightforward product you can sign up to when you move in, with the wiring in place at least as far as the building, which can be connected rapidly and easily without waiting for weeks or months while BT puts in a private circuit from infra that could be miles away.

      And so here we are in 2016 with barely a handful (relatively speaking) of business properties which can have that at any reasonable cost.

      I always wondered why Virgin never pursued something like this before in areas held captive by BT’s monopoly, extending the network into nearby business parks which it sometimes runs right past.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @DTMark: “It’s about making sure that people *can* have these speeds if they need them.”

      Agreed. That’s why I think a nationwide fibre-on-demand product should be re-introduced, where the customer pays for realistic average deployment costs, but with a monthly line cost similar to FTTP. There is a big gap between the leased line market and copper-based xDSL market for which there are hardly any suitable telecom products.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      DTMark this is a very focused deployment by Virgin I don’t expect this will be widely available on there network

    • Avatar DTMark

      A couple of “quick quotes” online both for a fairly modest 50/100:

      Here – rural, 800m from BDUK-enabled VDSL cabinet
      £503 per month

      Mill Lane, Alton – industrial park
      £323 per month

      Not including installation, and probably with lengthy contracts, subject to survey etc. Neither can have EFM at any usable speeds, has to be a leased line.

      Is it really not still 1996? 😉

      “realistic average deployment costs”

      This is the issue, though, isn’t it. The connection or distribution point is too far from the premises even though “fibre” is deeper into the network now than it once was, and these circuits are considered “luxury” items rather than bread-and-butter mainstream connections.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      I wouldn’t consider a leased line a luxury item for a business more like an essential item for a lot of businesses. Businesses factor in these costs just like any other cost of doing business

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @DT – £320/month = £8/hour. If fast internet saves one person…

    • Avatar Jonny

      It’s even cheaper if you divided it by hours in a month and not a week 😉

      Business who insist they can’t afford decent connectivity while still renting central London offices and having a fully stocked snack bar do not have connectivity issues, they have problems with priorities.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts: ” £320/month = £8/hour.”

      So why isn’t your business using a leased line then?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Oops! £2/hour.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts: How about sticking to some facts here?

      £320/month = £10.66/day = £1.33 (assuming 30 days in a month, and an 8 hour working day)

      So why don’t you a leased line for your office?

    • Avatar DTMark

      “Businesses factor in these costs just like any other cost of doing business”

      This sort of ‘justification’ does make me giggle as does breaking it down by hour to make it ‘look cheaper’.

      The pensions of ex BT staff are not more important than the wider economy to anyone other that ex BT staff.

      Without giving a full lecture on the basics of how capitalism works, the word “competitiveness” in a global context matters.

      We’re only talking about a 50 Meg symmetric connection, not something extraordinary or that ought to be bespoke.

      Three (or five) hundred pounds per month.

      It is only that expensive because of the lack of competition enabling BT to milk business customers for extortionate amounts of money for very little by rationing availability.

      Which the PIA thing is supposedly going to rectify. Probably not here, but potentially in the business parks.

    • To be honest in urban areas in a bunch of cases if you go beyond the online quick quote machine you can happily get 100Mb on a 1Gb bearer for a few hundred pounds a month.

      Infrastructure competition is a good thing.

      Of course where there is no competition as the competition didn’t consider it worth their while to invest things are somewhat different.

    • Without doubting the quality of the full lecture on how the basics of capitalism work if there were money to be made building the infrastructure then delivering these services at these price points others would you’d have thought be doing it.

      Virgin Media are doing it because they are building network passing these areas to reach other properties anyway and it’s a relatively minor expense to extend it.

      It’s available in a number of central urban areas as there are already competitive networks in the area and it’s a relatively minor expense to deliver fibre to the buildings in at least some cases. That alongside landlords who are supportive and allow the alternative networks access to their buildings and cable risers.

      The VMB product this discusses isn’t built with something like the Mill Lane Industrial Park in mind, it’s built for office buildings.

      BT can’t offer services like this. They are obliged to offer services that can be resold and are part of their standardised product set which would leave the only solution some bespoke build of GEA-FTTP.

      Very expensive to build, having to negotiate wayleave and cover the needed distances across non-standard plant, then in at least some cases losing out on the income from the low bandwidth private lines some of these units will have and replacing that income with £7.40 a month for FTTP and complaints if the GEA-FTTP isn’t as reliable as the low capacity private line.

      I’m sure this kind of scenario would’ve been covered in the lecture on the basics of capitalism.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if there were fibre nearby, though, maybe serving Exclusive Networks in Alresford House. If this were such a no-brainer, serving industrial estates with large distances between units due to size rather than multi-occupant office buildings, why aren’t there a bunch of people queuing up to take advantage?

      While I’m at it why are some of the largest tech manufacturers in the world using single or low-double digit megabit per second connectivity for their production plants rather than 50-100Mb broadband?

      Another case of the companies I work with being stuck in the past I guess. They evidently don’t understand how the basics of capitalism work either.

    • Avatar MikeW

      @GNewton
      “I guess yours is somewhat unusual for a software business. I assume you don’t have heavy upload requirements, nor do you make heavy use of cloud-based services, nor do your own hosting?”

      Perhaps it is unusual … who knows, every application has different demands. But it is professional. Most things were covered by @Ignitionnet’s answer.

      The source code is, of course, within a source code control system (such as Subversion or Github), sat (essentially) on the cloud (though behind a VPN).

      Downloading whole source trees is uncommon – perhaps once at the start of a project. It doesn’t take long, anyway.

      The main day-to-day work is thinking (no internet needed), writing code (plain text), writing tests (plain text), running tests, failing tests, rewriting code. The main need for the internet comes from committing updated code, tests and documents into the SCM. And for synchronising updates done by other developers and testers from the SCM. This has little more demand on the internet than browsing a few pages.

      That’s the advantage of the cloud-based systems. When we need to download or upload, it is only ever an insignificant fraction of the whole codebase, or of the documentation. A 2Mbps connection was always fine for this level of interaction. It still would be.

      To me, the idea of the cloud is that it turns most interactions into micro-download/upload cycles. There is no need for large-scale dataflow in either direction. Use of the cloud is critical, but not in a way that demands high bandwidth.

      Software development is a tech-intensive activity locally – going through the code, build, test cycle requires lots of CPU cycles, lots of memory. But it doesn’t need the internet at this time – except perhaps as a diversion for the human while the test suite is run by the machine.

      Overnight building, and any ongoing automatic testing, doesn’t happen on my end of the internet – but is located near the SCM. No impact on the internet.

      Releasing code into something deployable does take a little more effort, and a little more time – but the results go into the cloud too. Here, upload speed would be nicer … but this is not close to being a day-to-day activity – and even then, is focussed on one member of the team, not everyone.

      Deploying further into client systems is from the stuff stored in the cloud, and has virtually no impact on your internet connection – but you would want decent command-line access, and hence decent latency. Switchover would normally be an overnight activity, but all the preparation (including upload) would be done in the day beforehand. No problems.

      Anything we host ourselves is done on hosted servers, off across the country or across the world. Why on earth would we dream of hosting that in someone’s house? or someone’s garage? Or even worse, in the office? (Why is the office worse? Because we’d be inviting client-accessible stuff inside the company’s veil; far too much hassle worrying about the security impacts).

      The time that upload speed is annoying are those times surrounding an emergency callout. You need to figure out what is going wrong – which might entail the addition of extra logging into a running system, and you need to build something quickly locally, then upload and deploy. That kind of thing is a once-or-twice per year event.

      For me, properly thought-through hosting and use of “the cloud” (or the VPN) turns the use of the internet, for work, into both a critical and trivial thing. It is critical that it is there, and works reliably. But trivial in bandwidth terms.

      The other half isn’t involved in this sphere of work at all; her stuff is closer to a kind of project management – but even there, her internet usage is nowadays a series of small managed interactions with document control systems, email, VoIP and IM.

    • @MikeW

      Makes perfect sense. My bread and butter is hybrid SD-WANs, path conditioned WANs using a hybrid of private line, MPLS and/or broadband, and WAN optimization, so deduplication, loss mitigation, packet order correction, transport optimzation, etc.

      Cloud optimization and SD-WAN integration is done by activating an AWS or similar instance or spinning up a VM hosted near the cloud provider, or by using hub and spoke via own datacentre.

      Even without optimization, so just using SD-WAN functionality, the bandwidth required for most businesses is surprisingly low.

      Residential usage, per head, is massively higher than business in my experience.

      With a combination of VoIP, WebEx, downloading core files, uploading files to cloud servers, etc, my work laptop has been responsible for just 6.7% of bidirectional WAN traffic on the connection in the past month.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      So DTMark in a nutshell you are saying that BT are pricing leased lines artificially high due to lack of competition?

      My questions to you are

      1) Do you have any evidence of that
      2) Don’t Ofcom also regulate this area, if so what do they think about your theory

      I’ve got to ask because all I’m hearing is someone that expects a business line at near residential line costs so maybe your expectations are clouding reality, you don’t even like the price that a totally separate supplier will charge.

  4. Avatar Jonny

    Pretty much identical to their Tech City offering aimed at multi-tenant buildings:

    http://www.virginmediabusiness.co.uk/techcity

    Presumably the distribution within the building is copper.

  5. Avatar RobertRM

    I’ve got to work from home and run a HDMI Thin Client 24/7. I have FTTC for domestic stuff but for the business side it’s a dedicated ADSL line 12/1 onm a business tariff with Enchanced care on BB and critical care on landline. If it went down I could use my domestic line until it was fixed. But I don’t need more than that. It’s not expensive either.

  6. Avatar fastman

    DT Mark what is this obsession with Mill Lane, Alton – industrial park

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Cabinets in Mill Lane – Superfast Hampshire says – Upgrade planned between July 2017 and June 2018.

    • Avatar DTMark

      So by the middle of 2018, years after the inception of the BDUK project, tenants at the primary business district in our local town will be able to get some kind of useful broadband service..

      As long as they’re really near to the cabinet, and the ancient old line plant is up to it.

      And only because the taxpayer funded it.

      Forgive me if I don’t think that’s any great cause for celebration.

    • Wonder why no-one else saw fit to invest in delivering services to this industrial park?

      There’s apparently demand, companies willing to pay, the business case must be there else no frustration over taxpayer subsidies, so I am surprised that the market has failed to this extent.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Maybe they don’t want to pay the market rates ignition so no-one bothered to deliver

    • Avatar MikeW

      @DTMark: So now it’s just about the timing. In a nationwide rollout, someone has to be first, and someone has to be last.

      “As long as they’re really near to the cabinet, and the ancient old line plant is up to it.”

      They mostly are, and it mostly is.

      Having looked at the industrial area on streetview, it looks like a typical industrial area: full of places *doing* stuff. People getting hands dirty. Things being lifted. Not a huge amount of demand for heavy duty internet access.

  7. Avatar MikeW

    @Jonny
    I certainly wasn’t specifying that it would have to be fibre all the way.

    Leased line pricing from here:
    http://www.spitfire.co.uk/products/business-internet-and-data/ethernet-circuits-leased-line-replacement-circuits/

    If I were in an FTTC-covered area, within ~600m of the cabinet, a GEA-based ethernet solution would do – which they quote at £150pm for “up to 20Mbps”. (600m being my estimate for 10Mbps coverage, upstream).

    Otherwise an EFM-based solution would do, at £200pm.

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