Review: Virgin 1Gbps Fibre


Exactly a year ago, I asked "What's the point of Gigabit broadband?"

Well… I'm about to find out! Despite my well-publicised annoyance with Virgin Media, they are the only fibre provider in my area. They've also recently merged with O2 - my old employer1 - and are offering a free speed boost to any joint customers.

I had an old pre-pay O2 SIM, so spoke to Virgin and cheekily asked for a free speed boost. They said yes! Wye, shy bairns get nowt!

A few days later, Virgin sent me an upgraded VM SuperHub 4 (my current "3" can't go up to 1Gbps, and I didn't get on to the trial for the "5").

I'd already been sent some of their Plume Mesh Network pods, and they didn't need any extra configuration - more on that later.

Let's dive into the important stuff!

Speed Tests

Virgin's offer is 1130Mbps average download speed and 52Mbps average upload speed. What's that in the real world?

Speed test results.

With a direct Ethernet connection: 942Mbps down, 52Mbps up, 10ms ping.

For contrast, my old system got 550Mbps down, 37Mbps up, and 9ms ping on a wired connection.

5GHz WiFi sat next to the router: 591Mbps down, 52Mbps up, 11ms ping.

And, of course, that's part of the problem with "Gigabit speed"! Great if you're wired in with some CAT6. But you're never going to hit the limits on a single WiFi device. My PS4 - wired in - can only get about 350Mbps from Sony's servers.

Of course, if you have multiple devices all streaming at once, that's when you'll notice the difference.

Thoughts on upload speed

I'm annoyed that the upload speed is still so low. The Internet is an inherently "sucky" medium; people download far more than they upload. But with competitors like Hyperoptic offering symmetrical speeds, it's a little disappointing. Frankly, I would rather have doubled my upload speed than download speed. The Virgin gigabit network is DOCSIS 3.1 which is theoretically capable of gigabit upload speeds.

But it looks like it doesn't use DOCSIS 3.1 for upload, which is weird.
Cable Status screen.
For general use, 50Mbps is fine. But when uploading a video to YouTube or sending large files to friends, it is a bit of a barrier.

Installation & specs

It was a self installation. Literally just unscrew the coax cable from the old unit and screw it into this one. Then wait a few minutes as it booted up and connected to the network. It uses a different power connector to the old version, which is slightly annoying - and the power cable is slightly shorter. But the overall design is much nicer - it's smaller and has a thermal vent at the top.

One irritating thing is the light on the device. The old 3 model had a small LED which could easily be covered. The 4 has a light bar which stretches around the the top and requires a long bit of tape if you don't want to dazzle yourself. Thankfully, there's a manual control so you can dim it, or turn it off:
Screenshot of a slider to control light brightness.
The SuperHub 4 is an 802.11ac device. If you want WiFi 6 (802.11ax) you'll need the SuperHub 5. I don't have any AX devices, so it doesn't bother me.

There are 4 Gbps Ethernet ports. If you choose to use your own router and place the hub in "Modem Mode", then only one of them will work.

Weirdly, there are 2 telephone ports. That's for a landline VoIP service. Frankly, I think they're useless. Would have been better to replace them with USB ports for printer / file sharing.

There's a WPS button for "easy" WiFi sharing. And a plastic card containing the default username and password.

Configuration

I'm really not sure how I feel about this... Virgin know my SSID and the passwords. They used them to preconfigure my Intelligent WiFi Plus Pods. So why isn't it the same here? Once the hub was plugged in, I expected it to start broadcasting my old WiFi name so all my old devices could connect to it automatically.

I manually set everything up, and my old devices connected just fine.

It's pleasing to note that the software has been updated to allow Emoji SSIDs! That means you can follow my tutorial: "HOWTO: Make a Doctor Who "Bells of St John" Style WiFi Name".

UI

It's well known that ISP supplied kit is a bit crap. It's usually mass market junk with a UI that barely works and few scheduled security updates. The SuperHub 4 is has the same poor interface as the older model.
Settings Screen.

There are a few welcome improvements. It doesn't need to reboot when you change the SSID, and the whole interface is a lot faster. Hopefully you won't need to spend too much time with it. Setting up port forwarding and fixed IPs is a bit of a chore. And there's no local domain name resolution. You can set up some rudimentary MAC filters, to keep devices on a specific SSID if you need.

But, in general, it's a bit of a horror-show.

IPv6?

LOL Nope! Customers have been asking for this for 11 years. Although there are signs that IPv6 is being worked on.

Final Thoughts

There's no need for Gigabit speeds… yet! Even on my "slow" 500Mbps connection I was able to stream 4K HDR Surround Sound Netflix. Downloading gigabytes of games is limited by the console providers' infrastructure. My wife and I could make simultaneous video calls with a tenth of the speed we have now.

But tomorrow… Will VR/Metaverse require stupid-fast speeds? Will hundreds of IoT gadgets want to burn through my bandwidth? Probably not, no. But I'm a geek and I crave the newest, shiniest, fastest tech that I can get my hands on.

If you live in a Virgin area, and can live with the slower upload speeds, and you don't mind the SuperHub's half-baked interface - this is a cracking service. Especially given the free speed upgrades available if you're also an O2 customer.

Promotion

We both get £50 if you sign up to Virgin media using this link. Enjoy!


  1. I still own a few shares in Telefónica. Adjust your bias filters accordingly. 
Verdict

13 thoughts on “Review: Virgin 1Gbps Fibre

  1. says:

    Maybe a little OPNSense or pFsense box w/an 802.11ax Wifi transceiver card, then wire it to your SuperHub 4 and little Gigabit switch for those items you wish to realize the extra 500Mbps you can't achieve over your current Wifi?

    If you don't have an old beater box lying around in your garage already, you could even do this on an rPi 😉

    You could also completely shutdown the wifi on the Virgin modem/router after that for added security.

    Just a thought, and it will sure keep Virgin out of your private property 😉

  2. While I'm now on ~70down, I am being genuine when I say since having ~20down a decade ago I have never run out of real time bandwidth in a two person home of people of near constantly stream video


  3. says:

    "Frankly, I would rather have doubled my upload speed than download speed"

    Yes!

    That said, I have a 500/500 connection and only very rarely tip over 100 in either direction. Very rarely. Would I like 1Gbit? Sure. Do I need it? No.

    (I also get IPv6 :))

  4. Shame about the 50 upload. BT 900 is a slightly better 110/120 upload — really useful when you’re travelling/abroad and you want to access things from home via VPN


  5. It's sad that providers aren't offering higher upload bandwidth, particularly given the shift in use from business to home over the last couple of years. I was also incredibly shocked to see I got a full IPv6 implementation on our BT connection... though their router is just as "meh" as Virgin's by the looks of it. We ended up going down the OPNsense route - it gets very regular updates and just sits there happily humming along.

    I vowed to never use Virgin Media again around eight or nine years ago when they were proxying and caching certain bits of traffic to (I assume) hide their upstream bandwidth problems. It really screwed with things and in my opinion ISPs should be restricted to providing connectivity out to the Internet without messing with my traffic in the process. Does anyone still notice if they do that?

  6. I did not know about the VM/O2 thing - I’ve recently moved to VM fibre and have been with O2 for phone for years. Will have to give them a call!


  7. Just wait for the life size HD video 3d VR metaverse adverts waiting to clog your connection as it’s been happening for the past 20 years



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