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Virgin Media UK Trial 8.46Gbps Home Broadband in Cambridgeshire UPDATE

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 (6:55 am) - Score 3,496
virgin media 8gbps fttp broadband test

Cable ISP Virgin Media has this morning announced the trial of a new 8Gbps+ (8000Mbps+) home broadband service via their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based network, which is a small scale test that will run for six months and take place with 50 homes in the large Cambridgeshire village of Papworth.

At present the provider says they have “no plans to roll this out” and the trial is largely just an opportunity to test and learn what their “full fibre” network is actually capable of. In other words it should be viewed in a similar way as last year’s 10Gbps FTTP trial by Hyperoptic (here) or Gigaclear’s 5Gbps trial (here) from three years ago (i.e. a useful test with some marketing benefit, but not yet a real product for homes).

Otherwise the trial itself appears to be using point-to-point Ethernet Passive Optical Network (EPON) technology. This has already been used to deliver full fibre speeds of up to 1Gbps in the UK (Virgin was doing this in Papworth until last year), but the operator says they’ve been working with long-time technology partner, ARRIS, to boost this by testing new hardware (e.g. new router) and software in their residential fibre network.

At this point we assume they’re still harnessing Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG) for the trial, which adapts to their cable DOCSIS signals (the communication standard for cable operators) in the home environment. This makes it easier for them to run a mixed hybrid fibre coax (HFC DOCSIS) and pure fibre FTTP network in different parts of the UK.

Meanwhile the peak download speed of 8.465Gbps (Gigabits per second) and upload of 8.14Gbps was tested and independently verified by Ofcom’s technical partner, SamKnows, who fast tracked the development of a new speed testing tool specifically designed to test multi-Gigabit connections. Other speed testing companies will face a similar challenge with the next generation of technologies.

Richard Sinclair, VM’s Executive Director of Connectivity, said:

“As the UK’s fastest widely available broadband provider, we’re committed to making Britain faster and this trial pushes the boundaries of what’s possible.

Whether it’s streaming UHD movies on Netflix, playing the latest games online or video conferencing, faster internet connections have changed our lives immeasurably over the past decade. As speed leaders, Virgin Media is not going to stand still; this trial is about looking ahead to the next decade and beyond.

With the volume of our customers’ internet usage almost doubling every year, trials like this will ensure we have the capability to meet the demand of data-hungry services in the future – be that over cable or full fibre.”

Sam Crawford, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at SamKnows, said:

“We measure broadband speeds around the world and this trial has been delivering speeds far in excess of what we typically see in customers’ homes. By using SamKnows certified measurements, Virgin Media was able to inexpensively troubleshoot issues quickly to consistently deliver innovative multi-gigabit speeds to real customers.”

Papworth, which is home to a population of around 3,000 people, has of course been used to test Virgin’s FTTP services before (since 2014) and this includes their narrow-trenching approach to civil engineering with the John Henry Group (here and here). Sadly trials of the 1Gbps service came to an abrupt end last year (here) and it now seems as if this may have been necessary for them to deploy the latest test kit.

All of this is important because Virgin’s £3bn Project Lightning network expansion expects to reach around half of its additional premises (3-4 million) via FTTP technology by the end of 2019 or 2020, although it obviously won’t have much benefit for the majority of their network on HFC DOCSIS technology. However the forthcoming DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade will be able to deliver Gigabit downstream speeds when required.

As usual it’s worth remarking that having a speed of 8Gbps in your home would have little benefit today since it goes well beyond the capabilities of most internet services (i.e. they can’t deliver content / data to you that fast). Furthermore it would be hampered by the limitations of other local hardware and WiFi speeds. At present it’s hard enough to make full use of 1Gbps, let alone anything faster.

Later this year, Virgin Media said they will also be making “some larger-scale network announcements” to further solidify their “speed leadership in the market.”

UPDATE 7:56am

We understand that VM are using the ARRIS E6000 CCAP CMTS edge router hardware on their side of the network (not to be confused with their customer CPE router / kit), which is also ready for future DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades. The ARRIS ONU also appears to be used as part of the customer premises (CPE) side setup.

UPDATE 10:07am

We’re still trying to find out exactly what broadband router (CPE) is being used for this inside the home environment, although it appears to be a device from Ruckus Networks (owned by ARRIS) and better yet it’s one equipped with the bleeding edge 802.11ax WiFi standard (aka – WiFi 6).

UPDATE 11:14am

The broadband router being used is a Ruckus R730, which is a dual-band, dual-concurrent 802.11ax AP that supports 12 spatial streams (8×8:8 in 5GHz, 4×4:4 in 2.4GHz), 1 x 5Gbps Ethernet port, 1 x 1Gbps Ethernet port and 1 x USB v2.0 port.

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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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64 Responses
  1. Pete

    So only dangling a carrot for those on FTTP – and never going to give them the carrot either – I assume those on coax will never see speeds like this?

    We know FTTP can do stupid speeds . didn’t that woman in Sweden get 40Gbps ?

    • davidj

      “I assume those on coax will never see speeds like this?”

      Docsis 3.1 is capable of 10 Gbit/s download and 1–2 Gbit/s upload.

      Docsis 3.1 Full Duplex is capable of 10 Gbit/s download and 10 Gbit/s upload.

      Or to answer you assumption YES it is quite possible when Virgin go to Docsis 3.1 speeds like that could be seen on coax.

    • You can probably count the Full Duplex variant of that out of this, since it would be quite a lot of expensive work to upgrade their network for that. Not happening in the UK, at least not for a fair few years.

    • davidj

      I agree Mark but “at least not for a fair few years” is much different to someone thinking “never” and that coax is not capable of those speeds.

    • Pete

      Docsis might be capable of infinity – but VM are never going to show that – but with FTTP they will

    • davidj

      “Docsis might be capable of infinity – but VM are never going to show that – but with FTTP they will”

      Even if i rearrange all those words into limitless random orders none of it makes any sense at all.

  2. Meadmodj

    As MJ says the reason announcement is mainly PR. Although supposedly for consumers internally within VM it is probably the technical side justifying core network investment decisions for both consumer and business including backwards compatibility, future capacity and power consumption.

    They could just put fibre in the ground and change out the kit when speeds need to increase but that would not maximise their investments so its about ensuring a sustainable investment encompassing both their legacy and new. The longer any investment lasts the more profitable and hopefully cheaper it will be.

    • Pete

      Fair point – although someone who is getting bad speeds due to congestion is not really going to care for this – so the PR could well backfire.

      I hope they gave customers all 10Gbps hardware upgrades to cope with this all – after all it’s 50 houses. I know my PC couldn’t go past 1Gbps right now.

      In any case – Papworth seems to be the place to live – it’s always being selected.

    • davidj

      What are you on about. This is a FTTP trial not the congested coax network.

      “I hope they gave customers all 10Gbps hardware upgrades to cope with this all – after all it’s 50 houses. I know my PC couldn’t go past 1Gbps right now.”

      The limitations of your PC and how fast it can write to a disk and how fast your wifi and/or Ethernet is has nothing to do with it. If your gear does not have wifi that can receive those speeds it is not Virgins fault, if your PC only has a 100Mb or 1Gb Ethernet port that is not their fault either. Why you would even think they should upgrade your gear to make use of the speed is beyond amusing.

    • A_Builder

      @Meadmodj

      There is more than a grain of truth in what you are saying.

      But it may also be a readiness exercise from when VM have to deal with the Alt Nets and even OR who all could boost their FTTP offerings to warp speed silly at the touch of a button.

      Community Fibre are offering 10Gb for £500 to some businesses so VM have got to be able to respond with something along those lines at some point otherwise their offering isn’t good enough to gain traction that discounting alone can solve.

    • Pete

      I wrote a load of stuff and then the website said I had no name and it wiped it – but basically this type of PR will annoy the customers who signed a contract for a certain expectation of service, and are not getting it – if they have money for this – they have money to sort their network out no?

      And anyway – who’s PC’s support 5Gbps let alone 8 – a 10Gbps Ethernet card is a lot of wonga.

    • davidj

      “a 10Gbps Ethernet card is a lot of wonga.”

      Erm you can get them well under £100, if that is too much wonga i sincerely doubt you could afford any retail 10Gbps fibre service anyway.

    • Chris

      So no one noticed that supplied modem hasn’t got an interface that goes upto 8 gig!

      No one can test if the vm service actually delivers on its promise with equipment they will supply.

    • jamiequinn

      The ax wifi which is dual concurrent is more than capable (I think you will find that is something like 2.4GHz: 1Gbps and 5GHz: 5Gbps Over 11ax per stream.

      The Ethernet ports which im guess you are referring to are multi link dual ports which you connect to appropriate switching gear. (Im not even going to bother explaining how multi gig networks work you can google if you actually care)

    • Chris

      @jamiequinn

      What you’ve failed to comprehend is that while the access circuit is stated to run at 8Gb/s the router supplied has just 1 wired interface upto 5Gb/s.

      As I originally wrote, it’s not possible to test the 8Gb/s circuit speed claim as the router can only utilise upto 5Gb/s from a single interface.
      I hope that’s sufficiently clear for you.

    • davidj

      “the router can only utilise upto 5Gb/s from a single interface.”

      No i believe he is right the spec sheet for the Ruckus R730 device does indeed state the Ethernet ports are multilink, the wifi on the thing could also probably achieve around 15Gbps real life and more in theory.

      You should of as suggested looked up how multilink works first, here is a simple diagram from Netgear…
      https://i.ibb.co/PTn5ZMW/multigig.jpg

    • jamiequinn

      “Meanwhile the peak download speed of 8.465Gbps (Gigabits per second) and upload of 8.14Gbps was tested and independently verified by Ofcom’s technical partner, SamKnows”

      Obviously is possible.

  3. SimonR

    Didn’t the customers in Papworth have their trial ended without warning last time? Whilst that’s fine on paper, I’d be wary of helping them again (unless I’ve misunderstood).

    Whilst I’m with Virgin, and haven’t had any issues at all, serious competition seems to be around the corner. I’d hoped the previous trials were to lay the groundwork for more symmetric services.

    • davidj

      “Didn’t the customers in Papworth have their trial ended without warning last time? Whilst that’s fine on paper, I’d be wary of helping them again (unless I’ve misunderstood).”

      The 1Gb trial they previously had was supplied for no additional charge to whatever their normal service cost. When it ended they were returned to their regular speed/package.

      There is no reason either before or now not to help, you would be a bit mental to refuse if you are going to see a massive improvement in speed for no increase in price.

    • SimonR

      Fair enough. Just seem to remember that VM were gearing up for improvements and then seemed to walk away.

      More than likely my interpretation of it.

      Of course, I’d love a synchronous service, but I’m not sure how I’d handle having it taken off me again once I’d got used to it 🙂

    • davidj

      Nah it was only ever a trial, one which probably lasted longer than they ever intended.

      More info here…
      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2018/03/surprise-as-isp-virgin-media-uk-halt-1gbps-papworth-ftth-trial.html

      and confirmation when it ended they just went back to their regular service and were never charge extra for the 1Gb trial when they had it
      quote
      “Luckily customers on the trial were also supplied with a traditional Hub 3.0 router, which meant that they could just go back to the old service (i.e. there was no charge for the 1Gbps service on top of their standard package).”

    • SimonR

      @davidj thank you – must’ve been pinning my hopes on more upload at the time

    • jamiequinn

      I would imagine the upload on that trial was also significantly more than their usual service.

  4. Phil

    This is using EPON, that 8Gbps will be the single fibre back to the source, at the street it will be split amongst all the customers. So with a single customer and some test gear they can shout on the PR they’ve achieved 8Gbps! In reality a typical street of say 30 houses would each get a guaranteed minimum of ~270Mbps, which doesn’t sound that good. Top speeds without congestion all depend on how far Virgin push splitting that 8Gbps.

    GPON that BT uses is the same sort of thing, typically a single fibre arrives at the street that supports 2.5Gbps (new advances means this can be upgraded to similar speeds as Virgin in the future), this is then split using prisms to around 10 or 20 premises, so if everyone is using their connection speeds can drop down considerably. This also means every person on that street is receiving everyone else’s data, it’s like a broadcast, and the modem in the home is responsible for ignoring all data except it’s own.

    So FTTP we are getting today from the likes of BT and Virgin, are not point-to-point, hence they struggle to offer the same sorts of higher speeds or guaranteed minimums that some other fibre optic companies can where they use true point-to-point, i.e. one property with their own fibre connecting into a proper switched network. The advantage of course is passive optical networks are cheaper and quicker to install.

    • SimonR

      Thanks for that – interesting

    • Meadmodj

      Broadband is and will remain a shared service. Whether it is at the street, node, data centre or internet gateway we are sharing capacity even if it less localised. Both OR and VM can ramp up speeds later as the OLTs are centralised. If they can buy kit that is easily upgradeable now then replacement can be avoided. It is also possible they can have overlay network for those requiring better ratios or point to point, particularly business.

      Some people are obsessed with symmetrical Giga but in reality many consumers are still not availing themselves of higher FTTC and in the future Ultrafast may be the same. Both BT and VM have their marketing data for future demand profiles by location and therefore will progress using this ensuring enough flexibility is there if things change. One advantage of asymmetrical is that it is self restricting and moderates expectation as injecting data to the internet costs the ISP money.

      BT is laying Fibre alongside copper and eventually the copper can be recovered providing more space for fibre and they can revisit the optical splitter ratios later.

      Just because an FTTP provider may offer symmetrical Giga does not mean that there will not be contention for capacity further up their network, especially if those using upload gobbling practices migrate to them.

    • Chris

      The supplied router has no interface that can go upto 8 gig.

    • jamiequinn

      Err yes it can. You just do not understand how things work as is evident by you excitedly posting the same thing twice.

    • A_Builder

      @Meadmodj

      I’m not sure why the fact the present ONT is limited to 8Gb (as you say) or the present backhaul has anything to do with the ultimate split ratio’s

      Even if the single fibre backhaul is rated at 10Gb today there is not much to stop it being uprated to 40Gb tomorrow or 100Gb the day after. That is the beauty of fibre. You change an ONT a few media converters and with very little time and investment more capacity is available.

      Data I have seen suggests that upload volumes are strongly increasing as things cloudy are progressively adopted. Almost all consumer devices backup to the cloud now so this is no longer a niche requirement. Video calling is by its nature symmetric although you don’t really need more than a decent VDSL to make that work well.

      You point about backhaul cost was historically very valid. But it just isn’t the issue it once was. And proportionaly is a lot cheaper than it was a few years ago.

      It would be interesting to have a slightly more open view of how the big content providers help to bypass all their traffic flow being fully ‘internet’ by both caching and providing direct feeds at or before peering points. So Amazon, Netflix, Apply type traffic typically don’t flow through the paid for by bandwidth element of the peering point but a hand off is provided at the content providers cost. The content providers want their traffic to flow freely so it is in their interests to make sure that is not throttles. Also the Apples and Amazons and Netflix’s of this world have their own private fibre networks to help the traffic seamlessly reach the handoff points.

    • Meadmodj

      @A_Builder ?

    • CarlT

      I’m not sure what you think peoples’ usage is at peak times, Phil, but if it helps you it’s really not 270Mb/s. It’s not even 10Mb/s so there’s loads of headroom there.

      As long as the splits are managed to never max out it doesn’t matter that they are contended. There’s contention further down either way.

      The ‘bog standard’ capacity planning now is to ensure there’s enough bandwidth for a single user to hit their maximum speed on top of the regular, constant usage on the split.

      @A_Builder the big networks are seeing a good 70-80% of their entire network’s traffic being delivered via on-net CDNs.

    • Chris

      @A_Builder

      Yes,

      Many organisations are now choosing to put in fast (DWDM) 10+
      gb/s circuits into peering centres or cloud providers (aws/gap/azure etc). The advantage is they get direct low latency access to their clouds directly from their WANs as if the cloud is a private DC. Dual diverse circuits to dual peering locations provides high availability. Security is enhanced by not traversing the net (ensure you take appropriate precautions though, IPS & FW’s a minimum for the path to and from home).

      All major ISP’s will already have direct peering with the major clouds anyway, no point buying a cloud solution if customers can’t access it as quickly as rivals cloud solutions.

    • CarlT

      Many organisations are buying dark fibre and lighting wavelengths on it? Can’t say I’ve seen all that much of it with the organisations of various sizes I’ve worked with, not least because they have branch offices.

      Backhauling everything via a data centre is yesterday’s technology. Both ISPs and enterprises want data off their network and onto the Internet ASAP.

    • davidj

      Is Phil and Chris actually MAX? They both seem to not comprehend things in the same manner as MAX.

    • Chris

      @David

      I’m not Max, but am working on my 4th project to do just as I wrote.
      @CarlT no point traversing the net to get to your cloud provider if you can just peer directly with them, doesn’t stop you also using that link for internet as your typically peering at an internet exchange anyway.

      https://cloud.google.com/interconnect/docs/how-to/direct-peering

      So DavidJ = JamieQuinn I wonder who else you are.

    • Pete

      Anyone who knows Max knows how he types – so no neither are him, and neither am I

    • davidj

      So yep its MAX.

    • CarlT

      Chris: Most companies don’t have every branch office connecting to their own AS which in turn has its own routing and peering infrastructure. I’m not sure who you work with but outside of service providers including even pretty large enterprises that aren’t delivering Internet-based services to their customers everyone else pays other people to provide their Internet, they don’t build their own ISPs, purchase their own AS, handle their own transit and peering.

      Your branch in Asia can use Internet access to get to a cloud provider or can be backhauled to a US datacentre via your MPLS/IPVPN bandwidth then use your DIA bandwidth to connect to the cloud provider via the transit and peering you purchased as part of forming your own AS and likely paying said provider for direct access as your traffic levels are unlikely to merit settlement free peering via either an IX or PI.

      Which seems the most likely, efficient and sensible course of events to you?

      The idea that most enterprises are building their own ISP to connect to cloud services is crazy.

  5. mike

    How is that ancient laptop (Windows 7!) equipped with anything that could get 8Gbps?

  6. Virgin

    Forget these 8Gbps. How about give home users 80Mbps down and 80Mbps up. That’s more than enough.

    • Pete

      And this proves my point – well played 🙂

    • SimonR

      @Pete What point?

      The only post I found from you here seemed to talk about getting promised speeds, which the above doesn’t cover – that’s more about better upload speeds (which I’m all for).

      Take a look at the updates on this article – the provided router appears to have a 5Gbps interface, which could spread the load, and from the other comments I’m guessing that the eventual reason for this is more for pooling across a street.

    • Pete

      Yes – but can the customer actually use it? Most PC’s are 1Gbps max no?

    • Pete

      Can the EU actually use that speed? Most PC’s are 1Gbps no?

    • davidj

      Most people wanting more than 1Gb download and/or upload if there were any retail offerings are not likely to have just a standard PC.

    • SimonR

      @pete – customers at the moment can’t really use it, no. Although a large family of heavy users could have a good go at it.

      But give it time, and they will.

      However, the original comment appears to allude more to more upload.

    • jamiequinn

      “Can the EU actually use that speed? Most PC’s are 1Gbps no?”

      What if you have say 2 PCs with 2x1Gbps ports? How about 3 PCs? Throw in some wifi also… How about a business with hundreds of PCs and people on wifi?

      Looking at one speed and one interface is not how you should be looking at this. If that is all you need or what people ever need there would be little point in anything beyond ADSL.

    • davidj

      I think its MAX and his fixated on HIS (as in one interface and one speed) as usual.

    • Pete

      Then you are wrong – I am not Max – I was simply asking a question – sorry about that

      Yes I get it that if 4 pc’s plug in and take up 1Gbps each and some wifi it will use it all – but how many people on the trial are 1 person or 2 people who can’t possibly use it all? If they can’t use it all it’s useless to the trial. so I hope they have enrolled households that are large.

    • davidj

      Id like to know of any modern household which only has one connected device nowadays.

      Perhaps you are right they choose only people that only have one computer, do not own a mobile phone, modern TV, games console or any device that uses wifi or the internet in any other way.

      Then again like the rest of you supposition in this thread that seems as likely as you actually knowing anything about what you comment on.

  7. Mark

    @MJ

    URL states 8mbps trial, must have brought back dial-up!

  8. Hmmmmm......

    I’m sure its just a coincidence they have announced this just before Cityfibre / Vodafone start their FTTH build in Cambridge…….

    • SimonR

      Given that CityFibre / Vodafone’s Gigafast has gone live in parts of Peterborough, I’m wondering whether it’s too little too late (although I don’t know whether CityFibre were making use of existing dark fibre).

      May be wrong, but if VM have dragged their heels in infrastructure investment too long there might be a new kid in town.

    • Mark

      @SimonR

      https://www.cityfibre.com/gigabit-cities/peterborough/
      They have had an existing 120km of cable since 2013 for business connections, and they plan to expand this to the home users in partnership with Vodafone.

    • SimonR

      @Mark

      Thanks for that – I’m currently on the other side of town from where they’re digging. I would love to stay with VM (have been since they initially offered a service), but they don’t seem to be doing much to develop. Whether that’s a cost or managerial decision, I don’t know, but OpenReach and CityFibre have made strides into a city that – until recently – was a no-brainer to go with VM.

    • Mark

      @SimonR

      Keep looking on Roadworks to see progress/future progress (up to a year ahead)

      Good luck on getting FTTP in the future, also waiting here in Huddersfield to see some decent action.

  9. Hmmmmmm......

    Cityfibre have dark fibre in Cambridge as well – as part of their Redstone deal. With narrow trenching and potentially PIA/DPA aiding their rollout, it won’t be too long before VM have a direct competitor for residential customers in Cambridge, and the pricing (at least initially) is likely to tempt some people away….

    • SimonR

      Yep. Whilst the average Joe maybe wouldn’t consider it, I know quite a few people in P’boro keeping an eye on Vodafone’s work.

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