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UK Virgin Media Business Static IP Users Suffer Unstable Broadband

Saturday, November 4th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 18,392

Customers of Virgin Media Business‘s “Voom Fibre” cable broadband products are suffering from a long running problem due to how the operator handles Static IP addresses on their Hitron router, which can result in VMB’s up to 350Mbps packages struggling to deliver a fast and stable service.

Some of the feedback that ISPreview.co.uk has received suggests that the problem has become so bad that VMB staff have even been known to discourage new customers from adopting a Static IP address, while others have moved back to a Dynamic one. The ability to take a static IP tends to be something that’s quite important for “business class” connections (useful for setting up hosting, servers or other advanced networking).

Earlier this year the operator launched a new range of Voom Fibre packages (here), which featured a top download speed of up to 350Mbps (Megabits per second) and variable upload speed options including 7Mbps, 15Mbps and 20Mbps (the latter two allow you to add blocks of static IP addresses). Each package included a wireless DOCSIS 3.0 router (Hitron CGNv4).

The router itself has been available since long before the new packages were introduced and it’s possible to find plenty of complaints about the device’s ability, or inability, to handle static IP addresses correctly (examples here and here), many of which date back to early 2016 and continue today.

As one of many customers explained in April 2016, “I’ve just had to let VM dump the Fixed IP and switch to Dynamic, just to get the line working. Before that it has been unusable, slow web page loads, timing out, router dropping the connection, literally no use at all. The switch to Dynamic IP cured all of the line issues, but has left me without the Fixed IP we need.

Now let’s fast forward, past over a year’s worth of firmware updates, and some of the initial stability problems have subsided, although customers continue to report connectivity and performance issues. Likewise the Hitron’s modem-only mode (i.e. for use with a second router) still doesn’t work properly with Static IP addresses (Dynamic IP is fine).

As another customer said in June 2017, “I can’t see any reason to keep paying for the Business 200Meg line. I ordered that with what was supposed to be a Fixed IP, but like most people, I also had to have that changed to Dynamic IP just to get stability.”

Why is this happening?

The problem itself appears to stem, at least in part, from how Virgin Media mixes the different residential and business sides of their network together. In order to give business customers a Static IP, the ISP has to first create a Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) tunnel using the Hitron router to their datacentre, where they can then allocate the address.

The above approach can be tedious. We can only speculate about exactly why the problem is happening, although it’s probably linked to flaky firmware on the Hitron and / or issues with the software that VMB use on their equipment (Benu Network kit) for terminating the GRE tunnels that help to provide VMB’s Static IPs (the Benu kit may suffer from issues with fragmentation and reassembly of packets).

According to one of VMB’s support agents, a lot of work is being done to resolve these problems (we understand that a fix exists but it has not yet been fully deployed) and curiously not all those with a Static IP appear to experience the issues. The agent said there was currently no solid ETA for the fix being deployed, although we know that some related maintenance work may take place towards the end of this month.

We’ve also been informed that a small number of customers with dynamic IPs can suffer slow broadband speeds (seemingly unrelated to the usual network capacity issues), although it’s unclear why but it also seems to happen with the Hitron routers.

A Spokesperson for VMB told ISPreview.co.uk:

“A small number of our Static IP customers have been experiencing a problem and the cause has been identified. We will be rolling out a patch to customers in the coming months but are firstly conducting trials with a small number of customers to ensure the patch is successful.”

As ever the reference to “small number” above could still, given Virgin Media’s size, reflect a lot of customers. In the meantime the best solution for VMB customers with a Static IP, assuming you’re suffering from these issues, is to drop the connection back to a Dynamic IP address that gets rid of their GRE tunnel.

One caveat with the downgrade from a Static to Dynamic IP is that the Hitron router may initially maintain the GRE tunnel information, which could result in customers losing their connection until it’s cleared via a full reset of the device (a soft reset isn’t always enough). However this doesn’t appear to impact everybody and others have been moved without any snags.

The fact that these problems have been going on for the best part of two years’ is perhaps not the perfect advert for VMB’s service, especially when it impacts something so critical. Similarly Virgin Media have been trying to fix an unrelated latency bug with their domestic Hub 3.0 routers for the best part of a year too, although a partial fix is now in testing for that too (no ETA for the rollout).

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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.
Leave a Comment
29 Responses
  1. PhilB says:

    It looks to me that these problems are caused by IP fragmention because of the overhead of the 24 bytes needed for the GRE tunnel.has anyone tried reducing the MTU to 1476 bytes onnthe devices behind the hilton?

    1. CarlT says:

      Yes. The GRE tunnel seems to produce an MTU of 1400,MSS 1360, however even lowering WAN router MTU to 1400 wasn’t a fix in my experience.

      Regardless, the Hitron CPE should clamp the MSS to ensure it fits in the tunnel.

      There seem to be some issues with the tunnel generally. Getting rid of it moved me from 20-30Mb to 360+.

    2. Steve Jones says:

      Often these sorts of problems are cause because the chipset can’t cope with something in hardware and the CPU has to compensate for that gap. That’s OK if it’s an exception, but if it happens all the time then it can easily swamp the relatively puny CPUs in the routers.

      Only two ways to fix that sort of thing. Either deal with whatever phenomenon is causing the problem to reduce the instances or use hardware which is capable of dealing with whatever is causing the issue without swamping the CPU.

      I assume if there was a firmware fix to this issue it would have been found by now.

    3. ChrisP says:

      Shoving a decent router capable of doing wire speed gre in front of the modem would sort it.

      Would cost VM more and might get some complaints from customers due to having 2 devices, 2 lots of power, the proper router will likely be noisy if installed in a small quiet office, 2 bits of kit to install and their engineers will need additional training etc.

    4. Poluvex Tripplex says:

      no they aren’t – I use VMB router as a gateway with a different router that handles WIFi and LAN. I tuned MTU sizes with proper mtu-path testing (best size comes at about 1462). OK it did fixed some web site loading stability issues – however my average bandwidth is still no better than 40mbps on 350mbps service I am paying for. Highest I was able to test ever was 100mbps and only managed to get it once. I can get 60mbps on a good day but it is hanging around 25-30 max most pf the time. Poor, very poor indeed.

    5. Poluvex Tripplex says:

      GRE overhead in terms of compute / router performance is negligible – it is not encrypted so it does not really tax CPU at all. In my case I have all the Wireless features of the VMB modem as well as firewall disabled (this is handled by another device) so that VMB box isn’t doing much other than GRE termination.

      Note: I was on 200mbps service with dynamic IP before the change – same router same line – was easily getting the maximum bandwidth 24/7, hence his excludes any local congestion issues.

  2. Jonny says:

    It’s baffling to me how this high-impact problem can still be around after two years, during which time the static IP business service has continued to be offered. What is it about Virgin Media that means it takes them forever to address things like this?

    1. dave says:

      Virgin media should just allow people to use their own netgear doscis 3.0/3.1 modem. This would solve the problems that the superhub3 has and this problem.

    2. Carl T says:

      So the equivalent Netgear cable modem would be the CM700 which has the same issues as the Arris Superhub 3 and Hitron gateway.

      There are a few Netgear products that use the same, broken, chipset as those guys.

    3. ChrisP says:

      Once upon a time we had to purchase our own Motorola modem for use on the uk cable network, ntl’s in my case. Once procured you could then schedule an engineers visit to get it setup.

      The Cable broadband networks by their nature must be implemented in a much more restrictive way than the xdsl networks. The customer router must be registered on the network before it can be used, which is why an engineers visit is required to get you up and running. Effectively the router must be trusted before it can work. In xdsl the individual line is trusted with perhaps some isp authentication from the router but permits self registration. I guess on cable it would be too unstable to let customers self register, prob cause too many complaints, support calls and negative publicity.

    4. Carl T says:

      It’s very doable but unless you have to do it as cable companies in the United States do really not worth the hassle.

      Plug modem in, either phone up or go into a walled garden online and register it against your account, operator provisions it accordingly.

      The modems are just MAC addresses to the cable company, MACs verified by cryptographic certificates, and it’s down to the manufacturers of the devices to ensure they are tamper-resistant and trustworthy.

      Once the devices are plugged into operator networks they then assume responsibility for firmware updates and the like. Far easier for VM or ANOther to keep their responsibility to just their own equipment. They struggle enough with that let alone registering a bunch of other devices.

  3. Alan says:

    “What is it about Virgin Media that means it takes them forever to address things like this?”

    It depends on if it is something they can solve (IE their end) or if it is a device flaw/bug/firmware issue. Reading around on google the same device seems to have issues oversea also with both Rogers and Shaw, so probably not much Virgin can do about it.

    Like the hub3 i suspect the problem will be unfixable or need a firmware upgrade. Virgin, Rogers, Shaw and most providers afaik do not write firmware for devices so they are at the mercy of the manufacturer. The situation is not unique to Virgin either, vodafones router, BTs hubs and Technicolor junk (which the budget ISPs typically supply) all have or have had issues through no fault of the ISP.

    1. Jonny says:

      If the ISP supply some equipment, mandate its use, and are worse than slow to respond to fault reports then it’s completely fair to lay the blame at their feet.

    2. Ultraspeedy says:

      You do not seem to understand the issue or how things work. Whether it is ISP supplied equipment or not is nothing to do with the problem or where fault lies. As CarlT has explained to you using other devices would not help as some problems are down to chipset. Blaming an ISP for issues with a chipset the manufacturer is failing to support is ridiculous.

      If you own a Tumble Dryer which came from Currys and it bursts into flames do you blame Hotpoint who made the thing or Currys?

      If you blame the store that supplied it rather than the manufacturer and a design flaw that would be stupid, using that logic you would have to ban every electrical chain on the highstreet from selling anything.

      The same goes for cars and faults in those, from years gone by, Toyotas with brake issues, Vauxhalls with potential fire issues, VW with Emission issues to name just a few. DO you blame the car maker or the car dealer for those issues?

      Blaming a dealer of an item which had a unknown at the time manufacturer issue is frankly bordering on idiotic.

    3. Jonny says:

      Using your white goods analogy, it’s more like people saying that Hotpoint are not at fault because they don’t manufacturer the flow switch that keeps failing on a specific range of washing machines.

      The Hitron CPE in question is inseparable from the service – the customer has no choice in what device they use, it’s supplied by and supported by Virgin Media. That means it’s their problem to sort out.

    4. Optimist says:

      I have no experience of VM’s business service but I am a domestic customer of theirs. The Superhub is not owned by me, it is owned by VM so should it be faulty it is their responsibility.

      Regarding the white goods analogy – if an item is not fit for use then that is breach of contract and the customer must seek redress from the reatailer or whoever sold them the goods. There is no contract between the customer and the manufacturer.

    5. Ultraspeedy says:

      “Using your white goods analogy, it’s more like people saying that Hotpoint are not at fault because they don’t manufacturer the flow switch that keeps failing on a specific range of washing machines.”

      If you want yes.

      “The Hitron CPE in question is inseparable from the service – the customer has no choice in what device they use, it’s supplied by and supported by Virgin Media. That means it’s their problem to sort out.”

      The customer has been provided with a solution for the service to work with said device.

    6. Ultraspeedy says:

      “I have no experience of VM’s business service but I am a domestic customer of theirs. The Superhub is not owned by me, it is owned by VM so should it be faulty it is their responsibility.”

      What do you define as faulty? Did you post here?

      “Regarding the white goods analogy – if an item is not fit for use then that is breach of contract and the customer must seek redress from the reatailer or whoever sold them the goods….”

      Fit for use and faulty are not the same thing. Read the warranty section about goods if you are going to quote the sale of goods act.

    7. Ultraspeedy says:

      It also looks like all this has been communicated to you before…

      And has now been communicated to you again. Which now makes 4 different people (Kelvin, alan, CarlT and myself). Trying to explain things to you, frankly im not shocked you still fail to comprehend.

    8. Alan says:

      “Fit for use and faulty are not the same thing. Read the warranty section about goods if you are going to quote the sale of goods act.”

      And to quote it fully and properly…
      ‘Fit for purpose – The goods should be fit for the purpose they are supplied for, as well as any specific purpose you made known to the retailer before you agreed to buy the goods.’

      Pity he did not “”buy”” the superhub and its only basically loaned to you, otherwise he may of had at least half a point.

      As for Jonny that appears to be the james cretin under a new moniker, he needed one for his persistent virgin comments to continue. All since Mark took exception to james reply accusing him of “shockingly writing” of things in another post. Dumb is dumb though and easy to spot.

    9. Ultraspeedy says:

      “As for Jonny that appears to be the james…”

      Ah would explain a lot.

      “All since Mark took exception to james reply accusing him of “shockingly writing” of things in another post.”

      Spotted, noted commented, and was enjoying not seeing him since…
      Did not last though, shame.

  4. GNewton says:

    The ZyXEL VMG1312 seems to be working just fine with static IP-addresses from what I have seen with customers. However, it’s a VDSL router/modem, not a DOSCIS 3.x device, so no good for VM lines.

    1. CarlT says:

      That has about as much in common with the VM static service as a dial-up modem.

  5. hmmm says:

    USE a proper ISP for Business

    1. Carl T says:

      Or do what the cool kids do and use 2 diverse ISPs for business so that even if one is taken down by an infrastructure failure the other will remain functioning.

  6. Nic Elliott says:

    For over a year now we’ve been overlaying these circuits with our network fabric to deliver a stable, fixed IP, with QoS.
    We had a rush of VM Business customers all trying to use VoIP and VPN and not being able to until they put our kit on the end.

    I must admit I thought they would have replaced this Hitron router by now – it appears to be a cause of many problems.

    Having said that, it looks like they are trying to tunnel over their own consumer network to provide the “business” service.

    Tunnelling has come a long way – it’s the basis for our Intelligent Network Fabric. There really is no reason why they can’t make it reliable, or in fact undetectable to the end user, while still providing static IP and support for VoIP and VPNs.

  7. Alex Lake says:

    I guess one thing one could do is get a router to stick in front of the Hitron box that knows how to use a VPN service – eg. PureVPN.
    The Virgin GRE thing seems broken in terms of ping times as well as download speed, adding an additional 10ms

  8. Corrado Mella says:

    The “Dynamic” IP addresses issued on the VM network are bound to the MAC address of the device that’s seen by the network.
    Set the Hitron in modem only mode, clone the modem MAC on your router firewall WAN port – e.g. a good ol’ pfSense – and away you go.
    If you never take your connection down for more than a few minutes, the DHCP address that is assigned to your CPE MAC will remain the same for years.
    You’re by all means stuck with it, it’s difficult to get rid of.
    In fact, if you want a new IP at all (say to get away from some stubborn DDOS) you MUST change the spoofed MAC address of your router/firewall.
    In 10 years of VMB service, I had only TWO public IP changes because of local loop resegmentation once and change of gateway the second.
    If you have a domain and use an A record to point to your connection, keep a TTL of 600 seconds and you can be back up after a public IP change in 10 minutes.
    And at your full speed 24/7/365.
    Leave GRE to those that know how to do it.

    1. James says:

      I switched to the business line to get a dynamic ip where when i restart my router i will load it back up to get away from being ddos’ed, is there a way to change the ip or did i just waste my time haha

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