Switching From O2/Sky to Virgin Media

This article is going to detail my move from Sky Broadband (was O2) to Virgin Media.

From O2 Broadband to Sky Broadband

I can't get fibre (to the cabinet) where I live, despite the exchange being half a mile away (it is just down the road from me) and that if I lived 3 doors away I would be able to get it.

Anyway, I was a former O2 Broadband customer, before Sky bought their consumer home phone business (or O2 offloaded it, whichever way around they want to put it) and I was typically getting 15.5 Megabits per second downstream throughput, 1.1 Megabits per second upstream throughput.

Ignoring the fact Sky/O2 messed up my migration and left me without broadband at all for 3 days, and a later outage that caused line training to kick in despite the fact the problem had nothing to do with the line, my upload speed has never reached 1 Mb/s since, and is generally in the 0.85–0.88 Megabits per sec. range.

Although download throughput may be slightly faster with Sky than it was with O2, upload speed is vitally important these days, especially when it comes to bringing my telecommunications in-house. A 20% slower upload speed for a soon to be 60-odd-percent increase in price just is not good enough.

One major issue too many - extremely slow browsing at peak times - and enough was enough. Virgin might be a tad too expensive given their upload speeds compared to what BT Infinity can do, but then I'm not too sure where things currently stand when balancing cable congestion versus fibre cross-talk. Anyway, a moot point because BT fibre still is not available at my address, and I can't go another year.

Broadband Cease and Landline Disconnection

At the time of writing, I am less than a week away from my Virgin installation. My phone line is currently with Post Office Home Phone, and my broadband is currently Sky Unlimited Pro.

As Sky took over my O2 contract, I should be free to leave at any time. It does not appear that Sky pass on the broadband cease fee from Openreach, and I am hoping that is the case. I'm not sure how long I have to give for notice, but I think it is between 7 and 30 days. The price rise (end of the first 12 months) is near the end of April.

As for the landline, I have recently ended a 12 month line rental saver period, and the Post Office have raised the price dramatically (20% rise from £120/year to £144/year) despite the fact the wholesale cost has gone down by a couple of percent this year. As I went with the Post Office for the 30 day rolling contract, and the fact I paid for the line installation myself (I believe at the time the cost of disconnections were still included in the new line price), and the fact the price rise is so large, I shouldn't have to pay for a broadband cease charge.

I will have to come back to this, however, because I want to make sure Virgin actually turn up and install everything (and it works satisfactorily) before I look at disconnecting my landline/ADSL2+. On the plus side, I will have another fallback Internet access method this winter.

Virgin Broadband XXL 152 Mb

My main consideration when deciding between the Virgin Broadband packages (after discounting broadband plus phone because cashback is never guaranteed) is Virgin's Fair Usage Policy, because it is based on uploads and affects upload speeds.

The 50 Mb package has 3 Mb/s upload, but if you upload 1 Gigabyte in 60 minutes between 16:00 and 23:00 on weekdays or 11:00 and 23:00 weekends, the speed drops to 1.536 Mb/s for an hour. Upload 1.35 Gigabytes in 2 hours, and the speed drops to 1.152 Mb/s for 2 hours.

The 100 Mb package has 6 Mb/s upload, but if you upload 1.25 Gigabytes in an hour (same periods as above) the speed drops to 3.072 Mb/s for an hour. Upload 1.6 GB in 2 hours, and the speed drops to 2.176 Mb/s for 2 hours.

So, that leaves the 152 Mb package with 12 Mb/s upload speed. Upload 2.25 GB in an hour (same hours as above) and the upload speed drops to 6.144 Mb/s for an hour. Upload 3 GB in 2 hours, and the upload speed drops to 4.352 Mb/s for 2 hours.

As you can see, with the 152 Mb package the upload speed is still around 5 times what I'm getting now if I were to hit the 65% 2 hour threshold, and that threshold is treble the 50% threshold of the 50 Mb package (3 GB versus 1 GB).

Calculating/Justifying 152 Megabits Per Second

Now, the numbers above might be meaningless without context, so let me bring in some numbers for a typical use case for me: making a phone call from my mobile phone.

SIP2SIM uses G.711 alaw 64 kilobits per second. According to VOIP-info.org's Bandwidth consumption page, G.711 64 Kbps uses 87.2 Kbps per channel. With one phone call, that is a worse case scenario of 2 channels, but I'm only interested in upload so let's call it 87.2 Kb/s.

If I also assume that my SIP trunk (my Home Server will be relaying from SIP2SIM to a SIP trunk provider to the other person on the call) is using the same codec, then I will also need the same bandwidth to Localphone/Sipgate/Netsip.

Therefore, for one mobile phone call, I need a minimum of 87.2 * 2 = 174.4 Kilobits per second upload throughput. 4,352 / 174.4 = 24.95 (theoretical and subject to better maths) simultaneous proxied phone calls.

OK, I am highly unlikely to ever have more than 2 simultaenous phone calls, and for me to even hit the 3 GB in 2 hours threshold I would need to be proxying 19 simultaneous phone calls.

But phone calls are not the only thing my upload bandwidth will be used for.

If I were to upload a HD video, I would (unless I were to rate limit myself) hit the thresholds. If I were to do a 1080p 30 fps live stream (not a current plan, but a future possibility) I would need as much bandwidth as possible, and I'll probably hit the restrictions after an hour or two and likely start dropping a lot of frames or audio (I'm not sure on the specifics).

As for congestion, some form of QOS on the LAN should (given my on paper larger pipe than someone on a cheaper package) result in me being able to minimise latency and packet loss during peak times. That is to say, if there is congestion then prioritisation on both my local network and hopefully on Virgin's network should mean SIP and other real time traffic doesn't become impossible to use.

That is the theory anyway. I haven't looked that deeply into QOS yet, but it should be possible to, for example, set my own speed limits locally so that my 12 Mb/s pipe is nowhere near saturated. This is another thing I will have to investigate further, and I need to look at how the Super Hub 2ac functions first and how customisable it is.

Virgin Media Super Hub 2ac

According to the Residential Service Contract that Virgin sent me and has finally arrived in the post, I am going to be getting a Super Hub 2ac. Now I haven't looked deeply into what exactly that is yet, but 802.11ac is a Wi-Fi standard that none of my devices currently support (my M17x R3 can, I believe, be upgraded and given limited support), and it has Gigabit RJ45 ports.

Ideally, it will be possible to put the Super Hub 2ac in modem mode and retain the Wireless Access Point (AP) and DHCP server, so wireless clients can go through the Super Hub, through the LAN to my Home Server, and then go back through the LAN to the Super Hub and out.

That is an ideal scenario, however, and I doubt Virgin will allow that type of customisation. My server needs the public IP, so if it comes down to it I will quite happily opt to put the Super Hub in modem mode and stick with 2.4 Ghz b/g/n for the time being.

The reason I want everything to go through my home server is because that is where I will be doing all the firewall, port forwarding, QOS, and other stuff. If Wi-Fi clients can bypass my home server, it will make traffic prioritisation rather pointless.

Anyway, I shall remain hopeful that I can use modem mode and have the Wi-Fi AP enabled, with my home server's LAN IP being given to wireless clients as the gateway address through DHCP. I have some research to do.

Becoming a Virgin Customer

I had a rather heated exchange with Virgin through their online chat and then with their call centre. They were not accepting my iNum as a valid telephone number. When I finally spoke to someone that knew what they were doing, I was told I would get a call back after 48 hours - the property needed to be marked as having multiple households.

I didn't get the call back after 48 hours, so a few days later there was another issue with Sky Broadband so I tried again. At this point I had transferred my mobile number to Three, SIP2SIM was working, and my Digium D70 was working, so I gave in and gave my Sipgate 01923 number and my (formerly O2) Three number to the Virgin sign-up thing.

Now, I did go through topcashback, but I did get a phone call a day or so later from Virgin and they basically asked the same thing I had previously been through - this time they said they'd need to contact whoever is also a Virgin customer at the property or the landlord to confirm multiple occupancy before installation will go ahead.

I do now have an issue though, and that is that Virgin have very poor call reporting (at least, the 3 subsequent people I spoke to on that first phone call had zero call notes so I had to re-explain why I had called).

Why is that an issue? Because in that phone call I was told they couldn't match the Topcashback deal, but they could make my first month free. Because I placed a new order (due to lack of communication the previous attempt) after I got my mobile number ported accross and my Digium D70 working to my liking (so I had a landline and mobile number, per Virgin requirements) I just don't know what is going to happen. Knowing my luck I won't get the cashback nor the free first month.

One thing worth noting is that I have given up on my original way of attempting to get gammu-smsd to work - I now just use curl to send a GET request to a php page with a GET variable of the SMS ID, and the php script then just pulls that record from the database and sends it to my phone's Groundwire app via SIP SIMPLE messaging.

Too many text messages weren't getting forwarded, including multiple ones from Virgin that required a response to confirm installation date was still OK, that broadband was being installed, and that relevant permission has been granted from the owner of the property. I probably used another 20 of my introductory text messages trying to fix that bug before giving up and doing it another way.

Sign and Post the Contract

It is annoying that Virgin use snail mail, because the post system is rather bad at the moment, with letters from companies typically taking 5–7 days to arrive.

Read the Terms & Conditions, read the pamphlet about Virgin Media, read the letter, and then read and sign the hire purchase agreement, putting the correct copy in the envelope (after annoyingly noticing it isn't prefolded and needs refolding from A5 size to DL envelope size), and then post the envelope.

Second class? This close to Christmas? Well, I did pop it in the post box with a couple of minutes to spare last night, so it just might reach Virgin before Christmas Day (yesterday was recommended last second class posting day for Christmas).

System Requirements

OK, silly me. Of course a telecommunications company only supports Microsoft and Apple operating systems. I will not be connecting either OS to the Super Hub 2ac, so I need to ensure that things will be as smooth as possible for the engineer.

My O2 Sky ADSL2+ is connected to my home server using a gigabit ethernet USB 3.0 dongle. My LAN connection (that which is most important) uses the on-board gigabit ethernet port. The USB dongle has been coping well for the last few months, so a quick re-purchase on Amazon yesterday and it turned up today.

Based on my current usage patterns, the USB 3.0 hub in my monitor (which turns off data when energy saving leaving only a single fast charging port with power) is only ever used for charging devices. As I now have two hotswappable SATA 5.25" bays in my server, there isn't really anything I have that uses USB 3.0 that needs the throughput of 3.0. For the time being, I have moved my monitor's upstream USB connection to a USB 2.0 port on my home server's motherboard, making room for my second USB 3.0 ethernet dongle using my other on-board USB 3.0 port.

A bit of shifting things around in /etc/udev/rules.d/70-persistent-net.rules and my new dongle is on eth2 and my E220 dongle is on eth3. My LAN is still on eth0 (with a VOIP VLAN on eth0.1 and a Fon VLAN on eth0.2) and my ADSL2+ modem is on eth1.

A bit of modification of /etc/network/interfaces and eth2 is setup to get an IP address via DHCP. A bit of bash coding later and I have a very poorly optimised script that allows me to switch default gateway (just in case).

According to Configuring advanced settings on the Virgin Media Super Hub, the default IP address is and in modem mode it is

According to sudo ifconfig | grep 192 I am not using any IP addresses from 192.168.0.x or 192.168.100.x on my server, so there shouldn't be any issues with IP conflicts.

That is, I believe, everything necessary for the installation as far as my server goes. At least as far as software is concerned.

Preparing For The Installation

My room is small. If I had a bed, I would have even less space. When there was a lot of uncertainty over my benefit payments I started stocking up on groceries, and they are taking up a fair amount of space.

Over the next 2 days I'm going to need to make some space in the corner of my room, moving all the food away from the front of my wardrobe and printer, shifting my wardrobe (the space issue means I'm going to have to use my supermarket display stacking skills if I've any chance of doing that) so that that corner of my room is relatively clear.

The only positive thing is that I know where I want the Super Hub to go (on top of my unplugged subwoofer) and that if the engineer doesn't want to drill a new hole in that wall then he can use the existing hole on the other wall on that corner where someone previously had NTL installed in this room, and run the cable along the skirting board behind where the wardrobe currently is.

In fact I might have to look at the line coming up the outside wall in a moment and see just where it goes. I think the guy in the room beneath mine has Virgin installed, so if I can trace where the coax goes I'll be able to see if the line going up the wall is still in tact, or at least see if the guy downstairs has his line coming from somewhere near where I think the line going up to my room used to be...

OK, from the look of things, there are two lines going up to my room, but they have both been cut (although it looks like one of the lines was going from my room back down the wall in a sort of loop). Both lines are severed, and from what I can see the original cables coming from the street have been connected to my housemate's installation.

As new cable will likely need to be run down the alleyway and on top of the kitchen roof, less cable will actually be needed if the installer just drills a new hole in the wall as it faces the alleyway. In fact, if (s)he were to stand on the kitchen roof I expect my preferred location of the cable will actually be a lot easier to install.

Let's put it this way, if the engineer takes the existing route, new cable will need to come down the alleyway, up on to the kitchen roof, around a corner, over the kitchen/back door, and then up the wall where the existing (cut) cable is. Drilling a new hole will mean the cable comes down the alleyway, up on to the kitchen roof, and then through the wall into my room directly behind my subwoofer.

Super Hub 2ac Placement

Now, if I were planning on using the Wi-Fi in the Super Hub 2ac, I would probably be wondering where in my room the best place to put it would be. As I only have a two-gang socket, one of which my UPS is plugged into and the other occupied by an extension lead that my fridge and freezer are plugged into, I'd have the brilliant choice of placing it where it is currently planned (between my server, monitor, printer, speakers, and bug zapper), or on top of the freezer next to the air con.

As far as interference goes, neither spot would be ideal for Wi-Fi.

That is why I am not planning on using the Super Hub for Wi-Fi and will be using it in modem-only mode. My Fon 2.0n Wireless switch/router/AP shall be used for Wi-Fi for the time being, until I have decided which Ubiquiti AP I will be going for, which will be powered using 802.11af/802.11at PoE, and will (if possible) be positioned above my bedroom door which is as close to the centre of the property (and away from most interference) as it could be whilst being physically located inside my room.

With an AP located above my bedroom door, it should theoretically mean my Wi-Fi AP is in range from the back of the back garden, outside the front of the house, and potentially covering the whole of the Tesco Express a few doors away.

My Fon 2.0n router is currently plugged into my Digium D70 because it was the easiest way to stick it on a VLAN.

Installation Day

Two guys from Virgin turned up early on installation day. Although I'd made some space, a few things still needed moving. They decided to connect the old line up, and said the guy downstairs no longer has Virgin so they reconnected my lines.

Although I told them where I wanted the Super Hub to go, and they said they'd leave me "plenty" of cable to put it where I want, the length of cable is so short I can barely fit it around the wardrobe. The cable is coming from the old NTL box, and they didn't exactly leave the cables on the outside wall neat and tidy.

After they finally sorted out a couple of issues and called someone to activate it, they wanted a Wi-Fi device to test. I said I wanted it in modem mode and they didn't have a clue.

Luckily I had done some prior preparation, although DHCP on the Super Hub wasn't working so I quickly edited /etc/network/interfaces and set a static IP so I could access and change the Super Hub to modem mode.

After putting it in modem mode, and reconfiguring eth2 to acquire an IP through DHCP, I did hit a couple of issues. At that point, however, the Virgin guys had left because they had "never seen this before" (Linux terminal commands) and left me to it once they saw me access the Super Hub configuration page.

Those issues, in no particular order, are that my IPv6 tunnel had issues, and Virgin's nameservers were overwriting my own.

sudo nano /etc/dhcp/dhclient.conf
interface "eth2" {
	request subnet-mask, broadcast-address, time-offset, routers,
	interface-mtu, rfc3422-classless-static-routes;
sudo nano /etc/init.d/ipv6-tunnel

Replace ppp0 with eth2 and restart the service.

Cancelling Sky Broadband and Post Office Home Phone

With Sky the cancellation process was rather easy. I phoned them up, went through security, gave my reason for leaving as the upload speed is 20% slower than I got on O2 and that there is nothing they can do and BT aren't enabling fibre here any time soon, and it was sorted.

With Post Office Home Phone, however, cancellation was rather more difficult. They just wouldn't accept my reason for leaving being that a 20% hike in Line Rental Saver "because BT put up their prices" was a total rip-off.

The fact is that when I was making that call I had on my screen the actual price list for basic line rental for BT WLR products, showing that (because of Ofcom) the actual cost of WLR line rental has decreased.

When she started saying that it was in response to BT putting up their prices and that line rental was still cheaper than elsewhere, my reason for switching changed from "your 20% price rise" to "your business model". Apparently that is not something thought of when they created the scripts.

A 20% price rise in response to competitors putting up prices even though their actual wholesale costs have decreased? No thank you, landlines should be like everything else tech-related: the same old thing gets cheaper as the costs get cheaper and the technology improves.

Yes Virgin have put up prices. The difference, however, is that Virgin price rises have generally also included a speed increase when it comes to broadband. Unlike Sky or BT who say the increases are for infrastructure upgrades (yet I still can't get FTTC) and me seeing no improvements at all, Virgin do appear to be investing in their infrastructure. I do use the word appear looseley, however, because congestion and over-utilisation do look like issues Virgin have trouble keeping up with.

Anyway, I now have Virgin installed, and my Super Hub (henceforth referred to as my cable modem) is very snugly pressed against my wardrobe (there was zero extra length for it to even reach my subwoofer) and is plugged into my UPS. My new USB 3.0 ethernet dongle is performing perfectly.

Wi-Fi Access Point

Having had a look at the market, I am going to hold off buying a new access point until July 2015.

802.11ac "wave 2" products should start having unboxings and reviews by then, so I'm going to keep Wi-Fi to my Fon 2.0n for the time being.

Although there is one 802.11ac wave 2 router on the market, I don't really want to pay for functionality and hardware I won't be using.

The only downside is that my Wi-Fi now has a faster upstream throughput to the Internet than downstream throughput, and I can't work out why.

Well, I have half a year to work out how to get QOS to work. Until then it will be impossible for Wi-Fi to use 100% of my downstream bandwidth, although upload bandwidth (which Virgin's FUP is based on) could saturate my upstream bandwidth, and if a limit is reached and a slowdown applied it will be possible for Wi-Fi to negatively impact my home server's upload performance. I may have to look at QOS sooner rather than later.

At present, with my D70 using a wired connection and mobile calls being routed through my home server, the only time Wi-Fi's slowness will be an issue for me is when I'm watching a stream (e.g. YouTube) on my iPad or iPhone.

One current issue with my current Asterisk setup is that, unlike Groundwire on my mobile phone, calls are not automatically being recorded. In fact, although I have a record button on my D70 for recording the current call, I have not configured it. That shall be the next thing on my to do list.