Broadband - the complexities


I need a bit of help please, have returned to England from Canada after 14 years. Just about to take possession of a house, hopefully next week.

However, there seems to be so many broadband deals out there with or without home phone and TV. I’m only interested in broadband and my main priority is getting it installed asap.

In Canada I was used to speeds of up to 300 mbps download and 15 mbps upload and I see here my local area (Daventry) only Virgin do a reasonable speed. However, my needs are the usual streaming music (Tidal), streaming TV (netflix and others), quite a few devices phones, iPads, computers and also want to run a server.

Can anyone give me a steer to a provider that could get me up and running quickly, I understand that my address does have fibre access. Or should I investigate a business broadband setup.

I do have a bit of technical knowledge, i.e. I can log on to a router and set reserved addresses etc and a few other bits and also might look at buying my own modem and router. Not too worried about cost for the first year whilst I refine what I think I need.



Welcome home… :slight_smile:

If you want those sort of speeds you need FTTP - fibre to the premises. The more usual method of connection is FTTC - …cabinet, the green boxes at the roadside. This is worse as the last hop from cabinet to home is copper cable which loses speed in proportion to distance. It also depends on who owns what kit in the local exchange although there’s a lot of overlap.

Whichever ISP you choose there will be customers who swear they’re satan’s own representatives on earth and others who have a great experience, so it’s a bit hit & miss. Talk to people nearby to see who they chose and what their experience is to get a feel of what’s what and who’s who. For me Plusnet have been brilliant for years, never an issue, but if you want higher speeds and only Virgin do that round your way that’s your choice made.

I’m not sure you need the 300Mb/s speeds, nice if it comes with the deal, but not to pay extra
I have BT, I expect some will say they’re the devils disciple, but for me they have been faultless. I have Superfast Fibre Plus, its a bit misleading as its not fibre to the house, but to the local cabinet (FTTC) & copper to the house. I get 71/19Mb/s. More than needed for audio streaming & TV. If you have fibre to the house they have a 145Mb/s service.

If you have Virgin Media there then forget about trying to get FTTP from BT, because in about 95% of the country they can’t provide it. Virgin can supply 300 Mbps down and 15 or so up in about half the country. It’s not the cheapest option and their customer service is not brilliant but the broadband will work fine.
Virgin is fibre to the cabinet and coax to the house which uses a totally different technical solution than BT. No doubt SiS will come along in a minute and fill in all the technical gaps, with his own assessment, but if Virgin is there, then that is the way to go imho.



1 Like

Customer service is a joke if I believe the horror stories, a nieghbour moved to Virgin a while back but kicked them out after about 2 years.
My son’s neighbourhood has just had Virgin install a whole area network with their fibre/coax system. He decided to hold off until his current contract runs out & the neighbours seem happy; best move ever he recons.
I expect however its (as usual) a case of YMMV

Yes YMMV as you say. I have had Virgin Media broadband from the first cable modem trials about ten years ago and for most of that time, apart from two periods of random failures that took them a month or so each to sort out, it has been fine. My current 200 Mbps broadband is giving me 213 Mbps download and 21 Mbps upload right now. BT’s best offering here on the edge of a big town in the wealthy south of England is ADSL and about 15 Mbps download.

1 Like

You could consider installing both Virgin and BT. Decide which one is better and after 12 months cancel the other one, or keep it as backup.

Installing more than one system is becoming common. The company I work for has recently had Virgin installed, even though we don’t have a problem with BT. The Virgin modem is sat next to the server, live, ready to be used as a back up if there is a problem with the BT broadband.

A couple of months ago I was the reading the specification of a 47 storey luxury apartment block in the centre of London. The consultant had specified both Virgin and BT broadband had to be insatalled in each apartment. Presumably to give the residents a choice and a backup system.

It makes sense.

To answer one of your questions, I very much doubt anything will happen quickly. But, I’ve no experience of Virgin’s service. Usually, there’s a two to four week wait for a new install.

The ThinkBroadband website is quite a useful resource on matters broadband see

Your regular choices for superfast will be FTTC (fibre to local cabinet), you will receive between 80 Mbps and 30 Mbps typically depending on distance from cabinet. This is usually called Superfast.
There is also Gfast Ultrafast service from BT and some other providers in typically more suburban areas that offer over 100 Mbps from a special mini cabinet over your twisted pair… All of these are provided by your twisted pair… like your Ethernet lead… into your house… this can currently also be shared with analogue telephony.

The common alternatives are coax broadband from the likes of Virgin that can offer often higher peak down loads but can suffer from backhaul congestion.

There is FTTP broadband - fibre into your house - which typically offers from 80 bps download irrespective of distance to cab. (Often called direct fibre) This is only available in relatively few areas currently but is quite common in new housing estates and gov subsidised rural areas.

If you have a BT phone number you can use
To see what FTTC, ADSL speeds you can get, whether you can get FTTP (direct fibre to premise) or whether you can use FibreOnDemand, which is customised but expensive to deploy fibre to the premise option offering typically 330mbps download.

The alternative Sam Knows can be used for genereal ISP availability

In the U.K. many go for Superfast via FTTC from BT, Sky or TalkTalk and most others.
Direct coax broadband is offered by Virgin in many urban and some suburban areas.
Speeds above 80 Mbps download are often referred to as Ultrafast.

Elsewhere there are other niche fibre type services, although can offer faster speeds tend to be restricted on locations.

Business grade dedicated un contended fibre (as opposed to small business / consumer contended fibre broadband services) are quite a bit more expensive… including deploying.

FTTC is a mixed bag, it is a service that is supplied by Openreach and then sold to the punters by the likes of BT, Plusnet, Sky etc etc
The connection from the street cabinet is by the ageing copper cable through ducting and over telegraph poles to the house. The signal will go through many joins (which are mechanical ie cable twisted together), and so liable to degrade the signal through movement and corrosion.
I was the first person in our local cabinet to go with FTTC, at first it was a good reliable service. Over time the quality of the service degraded and I ended up calling out Openreach on average about twice a year via my service provider as the internet had failed or went slower and slower. It would take about 3 to 5 days to get the Openreach chaps out to check the cables and joints and sometimes more - heaven help you if it failed on the days running up to Christmas - I was locked out for the duration of holiday season.

So eventually I said goodbye to Openreach’s 20Century technology and went Virgin, costs a lot more but I have a higher speed and availability.

Twisted pair is not ageing technology for data… you might have fallen for a recent marketing campaign… we use it for Ethernet… and twisted pair data feed and Ethernet lead pairs have many similarities … arguably coax is the older tech and on the whole data has moved from coax but does have benefits in distribution as we are talking about here. Copper is usually good… old aluminium infrastructure is less good and becomes brittle and susceptible to breaks… we don’t really use aluminium for data now. So overall it’s swings and roundabouts between copper twisted pair and coax for distribution and both can be equally effective and both can be effective 20th century based methods . The equivalent twisted pair service to many coax deployments is… but like coax is not universally available., often badged as Ultrafast, provides around 300 Mbps average over twisted pair.

But with twisted pair there is the issue of cross talk, and in many circumstances as the density into a cabinet increases the cross talk increases and so sync speeds drop. Vectoring technology was introduced to compensate, but is used in only certain cabinet types (Huawei) … and of course you need an appropriate modem… which your ISP will supply.

Now the ideal 21st century technology over coax and twisted pair is direct fibre, and is slowly being deployed by Openreach and a few others but will take time. The good thing is many suspended fibres are being deployed now in rural areas so ducts don’t need to be dug, and the PON technology has been modularised to allow more cost effective deployment. As I say for many new housing developments PON fibre is now deployed as is ultimately more flexible and capable.

But other than that go for coax or or FTTP if available… get which ever gives your best performance, if not use FTTC Superfast, and for a few if not available, fallback to ADSL broadband.

I note the word “slowly being deployed” that is the story of Broadband in the UK, we the users are supposed to be grateful for whatever service is grudginly supplied by Openreach.

1 Like

Is that actual, or nominal? In Britain in my and friends’ experience it seems rare to get more than 80% of nominal, while in some locations and.if times of day it can dip to more like 20%, though I believe there are moves to get prop users to quote real speeds.

I note your reference to running a server. For that the upload speed is most significant, though if 15 (or less if that was just nominal), was sufficient then maybe not an issue - however if more needed you will probably find that you need a business deal, not a consumer one, as the former tend to have much higher upload speeds.

Please excuse my tardiness in replying! Staying in an air bnb with up and down wifi.

The info has been extremely useful and I feel a lot better informed when making enquiries.

I think my preferred is Virgin broadband because of the speed, but they still haven’t replied to any of my enquiries. However I am led to believe that Curry’s may be able to sort out Virgin broadband so will find out more.

The only provider that I could get any sense out of was Plusnet who said they could get me up and running within 5 to 7 working days. So may go with them for the first part and then switch to Virgin as I get to know my new property.



FWIW, Plusnet are a actually subsidiary of BT, so if you are FTTC then probably the same speeds.

I am with MikeB on this one, I have BT FTTC and get pretty much the same speedtest reported speed although synctest is 79.32/20 which I understand is the true measure. I am c400 metres from the Cabinet. To be honest, you don’t need anything like 300mbps even for heavy duty 4k UHD streaming/downloads.

The only problems I have had have revolved around old internal telephone wiring but once I talked an Openreach Engineer into rewiring the BT master socket then reliability and speeds have been 100%.

1 Like

We’re still relishing FTTP here having put up with 1.5 mbps speeds for years and all because we live too far way from the cabinet for copper to do better than 7mbps. I thank my MP for really pushing things. All we need now is a mobile phone signal. And all that in the over-populated South East!

Careful - don’t confuse line speed with backhaul performance - very different. The line speed will stay constant over 24 hours once is has settled to an optimum setting - but depending on your ISP your actual performance may well vary due to congestion in the backhaul.
Some ISPs are a lot better in this regard than some others. If an ISP is relaxed about fair use policy then this is sometimes a sign of low chance of backhaul congestion.

Also some ISP use shaping to help optimise data flow - which will reduce the speed down from the line speed - but allows for greater overall throughput - its kind of like have variable speed limited on the motorways at busy periods for a given roadside and amount of traffic - its the similar principles.

If you use BT broadband you can see what the shaper values have been assigned to your access in the core to provide optimum traffic flow for your line conditions - usually between 10% and 15% below your downlink line speed (sync speed) if you use xDSL accesses

ISPs that don’t use shaping - ie they don’t have the core infrastructure might achieve a higher simplistic throughput - but will suffer more under load so overall less performant.
Network is one area where more is not always better… but consumer marketing tends to bling out the higher numbers rather than real performance.

Commercial high performance networks will use shaping and some very high performant networks use controlled packet dropping - what is called WRED. Ie data is deliberately discarded statistically to optimise busy throughput - usually within TCP flows

Just this minute ran Ookla on my Virgin 200 Mbps service on a Superhub2 and got the following results which are very similar to @davidhendon

D/L 220.94 Mbps
U/L 20.91 Mbps

The 300 Mbps service I used to have would download at 320+ Mbps all day but the Superhub 3 that was required for that speed caused Tidal dropouts so I reverted to the Superhub 2 which has a max connection speed of circa 200 Mbps.

I have no idea if Virgin have sorted the problem on the Superhub 3 but it’s worth keeping in mind if you do chose to go that way.

Its not your MP - its your council - typically at county.
The government programme that rural and semi rural locations use is BDUK -

Your council will deploy using that programme as government funded or partially funded access. You need to contact your parish council as they can often interface and lobby the council for you - but it does need some effort. The townies often get this stuff automatically.

I successfully followed that path for my village and parish over a 4 year period - and I went from 3mbps to 48mbps - and some of my neighbours went from 750kbps to 80 Mbps down line speed. Our parish has approx 100 houses and businesses/farms over quite a wide area, we got 3 new cabinets and a smattering of FTTP for the edge of the parish.