Preview: Virgin Media’s Intelligent WiFi Plus Pods

by @edent | # # # # # | 1 comment | Read ~379 times.

Virgin Media have provided me with a test unit of their new Intelligent WiFi pods to review. They’re useful, but come with some annoying limitations.

A plug in unit with two ethernet ports.

If you have a big home, put a pod in every room and you’ll have fast WiFi broadcast everywhere. Well, that’s the theory.

Limitations

The big limitation is that both your 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi SSIDs need to have the same name and password. I usually split the names so that I always know which network I’m connected to. Virgin will remotely log in to your SuperHub and forcibly rename your 5GHz network to be the same as your 2.4GHz one. That means you will need to manually reconnect things which used the old name.

I kinda get why they do this – better to connect to a slow but stable 2.4GHz than a flaky but fast 5GHz – but it is annoying for those of us who rely on segregated names.
Some of my IoT kit gets really confused by this. You may find that some equipment roams onto the 2.4GHz network because it is marginally stronger and never connects to the faster 5GHz network.

It is a Mesh system. The way it works is simple – the VM supplied SuperHub broadcasts 5GHz and 2.4GHz WiFi. This pod plugs into a power socket and listens for WiFi signals from the hub. It then rebroadcasts them – using the same name and password. So your phone or laptop will seamlessly connect to one network without you having to fiddle around with anything. But, of course, if the pod doesn’t have a great connection back to the hub, it won’t be able to give you a decent connection.

There are double Ethernet sockets on the Pod. They connect back through the WiFi; there’s no PowerLine functionality. Additionally, there’s no plug pass-through, so this will take up a socket in your home. It’s also quite large – and might block the plug next to it.

The pod can get warm, there is a fan on the back of it which makes a light whirring noise. Nothing too loud, but you probably don’t want to place it near where you sit.

Despite being rebranded Plume devices (see below) you cannot use the Plume app to manage them.

Speed Test

If I plug an Ethernet cable directly into the SuperHub, my laptop gets these speeds.
Wired Connection 548Mbps.
I pay for 500Mbps and I get it. Nice!

If I’m next door to the Hub, and on 5GHz WiFi, I get these speeds:
530MBps.
Pretty good!

At the bottom of my garden, without the pod, this is what I get on 5GHz:
0.2Mbps Down and 5 up
And on 2.4GHz
2Mbps down and 7 up.

Pretty crappy! The 5GHz barely connects and the 2.4GHz is a bit wobbly.

So, the big test! When I plug the pod in halfway between the garden and the hub, this is the speed I get at the bottom of my garden:

Garden speeds of 129Mbps.

Finally, plugged into the pod’s Ethernet:
Wired into pod 189Mbps.

Initial thoughts

As a basic WiFi extender, they work. Naturally, the speed is limited to whatever the pod can negotiate with the hub. If you can get / afford multiple pods, they should form a mesh network to create a higher throughput backhaul.

But it does seem to come with a cost. Some of my gadgets get confused when there are multiple networks with the same name. They’ll stick to a stronger 2.4GHz network rather than the faster 5GHz one. A couple of devices kept losing connectivity completely. And, because the networks insists on putting all the SSIDs on the same frequency – I’ve noticed an overall slowdown in my WiFi speeds.

Whereas before my top speed was over 500Mbps on WiFi, it has now dropped to about 480Mbps.
Speed test results showing 485Mbps.

WiFi and Internet speeds are fickle beasts. I ran each test a few times at the same time of day. My maximum speed has dropped, but that’s a fair sacrifice for vastly improved speeds elsewhere.

Tech Specs

These are rebranded Plume SuperPods.

WiFi INTERFACES

  • 4×4 MIMO 802.11a/n/ac 5GHz
  • 2×2 MIMO 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz
  • Dual-band, dual-concurrent radio operation
  • 5GHz MU-MIMO with Beamforming

CHANNEL BANDWIDTH

  • 5GHz 20/40/80 MHz
  • 2.4GHz 20/40MHz

CHANNELS

  • 5GHz 36 to 48, 149 to 161
  • 2.4GHz 1 to 13

DFS CHANNELS

52 to 64, 100 to 144, Region Dependent

ETHERNET

Dual 100/1000Base-T Ethernet with autosense WAN or LAN configuration

IoT RADIOS

Bluetooth Low Energy

They’re also meant to come with ad-blocking and speed-testing. But those features are unavailable. Similarly, I couldn’t find a way to access the BLE functionality.

You can read about how the Plume adaptive WiFi works in their whitepaper.

Hackability

Basically none. They are paired with the Virgin SuperHub. They don’t seem to work with other ISPs, and there’s no management interface to factory reset them.

Virgin send the pods out preconfigured. Which means they log into your SuperHub, and copy your SSID and password to the pod. Hope you didn’t use the password for anything sensitive!

Port 53 is open on the device – but doesn’t seem to respond to anything.

Verdict

They work! But, I’ll be honest, I think Virgin are a bit cheeky to charge extra for these. If they sourced a decent hub with external antenna – rather than the crappy Arris product they use – their customers would have better WiFi without the need to pay for more gadgets.

They’re going to be £5 per month for up to 3 pods. That’s £60 per year. At which point, it may be more cost effective to buy a decent router or your own mesh system.

I’m also not sold on the mesh concept. The domestic airwaves are already saturated with WiFi signals from your neighbours. Is adding yet another broadcast to the mix such a great idea?

Powerline networking is great – but I get that it struggles to reach the speeds offered by cable modems.

The dual Ethernet means that they can be wired in directly to your cable modem. So run a patch cable down to your shed, plug it into the Pod and you have a WiFi extender.

But, yeah, if you need WiFi in your attic or shed, they’ll do. Obviously, if your walls block WiFi, there’s a limit to what the pods can do. But the basic tech works.

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One thought on “Preview: Virgin Media’s Intelligent WiFi Plus Pods

  1. “When I plug the pod in halfway between the garden and the hub” guess they’re okay as long as you have sockets in the middle of your lawn? 🤣


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