Virgin Business Broadband - Corporate Incompetence
Let me start by saying that I have never talked to anyone at Virgin Broadband who is anything less than professional. Sure, the sales people don't know technical stuff and the technical people don't know the latest deals and offers, but whilst I am very angry with the company, I have no complaint about any of the actual individuals that I've talked to.
So... Broadband. My requirements are simple. I require IP connectivity. I require speed and reliability. I need a static IP address and prompt response when things go wrong.
I have been with virgin for many years. They are fast and reliable. When I needed to use it for business (and therefore needed the static IP), I switched from Virgin Domestic to Virgin Business. That meant paying top dollar for a 10Mb service, but so be it.
But the downside of the 10Mb service is that the upload speed is a pathetic 0.7Mb which is painfully slow. I rang up Virgin with the plan of switching to BE, who offer a better upload speed and the option of line bonding. Instead, Virgin offered to upgrade me to 50Mb down and "up to" 3Mb up. They would drop the phoneline that we didn't use anyway and the price would be much the same.
Perfect, eh? I had a chat with them about it and it turns out that they would replace the cable modem with a "SuperHub". Initial investigations suggested that this was a piece of junk. A cheap Netgear router in a shiny case with the sockets turned so that they emerge inconveniently at the side. Forums suggested that it was unreliable, with poor functionality.
I queried this with Virgin. I told them I didn't want their router:
- If you mean the Virgin Super Hub ( http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=virgin+hub ) then I think I would rather just have an ordinary, straightforward modem, please.
- You can use the hub simply as a modem and use your own router
Digging a little deeper, it turned out that in Release 27 of the firmware, Virgin enabled "Modem Mode", which would allow you to bypass the router entirely and simply use the device as the modem you wanted, bypassing the troublesome router and wifi, enabling you to use your own choice of router, firewall and wireless behind it.
They also suggested that I would need more than one static IP address but I had our network guy (Hi Jules!) have a chat with them to confirm this wasn't the case and ordered the upgrade.
I asked for an afternoon upgrade. the engineer phoned at 12:30 to say that he would be there at 1:00. They turned up, plugged it in, registered it, let it flash the firmware.
I tried speedtest.net. 30Mb download. Not 50, but a huge improvement. 4Mb upload. That's more than the 3Mb we were expecting. That's the number that really matters. Fantastic.
All we need to do now is to switch it into modem mode, plug our router in, update to the new IP address and we're golden.
So we go to the virgin site and follow the instructions for setting it to modem mode. We look for the "Modem Mode" option in the menu on the left and can't find it. We scratch out heads a bit, do some Googling and find some references to firmware versions. We look again at the Virgin site and compare it to our hardware. The example shown on Virgin's web site is running V5.5.2R27. Our hardware is running V5.5.2R04.
That's clearly the problem. for some reason our router is running ancient firmware. Rather than running an up to date version with all the bug fixes that have been released as everyone else has gone through the pain over the last year or so, we have all the bugs that were in from the beginning. All we need to do is to flash the newer firmware.
We reboot. We reset. We go back to factory defaults. It won't budge. The router stays firmly on the ancient version. We call support.
The outcome is astonishing. When the router is installed, the mac address is registered with the switch against the user's account. The firmware is checked every time it switches on and updated not to the latest version but to the version appropriate to the user's account. I guess this enables them to flash different firmwares that may for example limit the bandwidth for users on lower tariffs.
And for people on a business tariff? You get the oldest version.
Bizarrely, Virgin try to justify this. They claim that business users want the extra facilities of the cheap, buggy 4-port Netgear router. They claim that the only domestic users would want to use their own router, firewall and wifi and use only the modem functionality.
We were in a dead end. The folk at Virgin were clearly sympathetic but their hands are tied. They simply cannot enable us to flash the fixed firmware.
So, there is nothing else for it. I need to detain our expensive CCNA certified Network specialist to spend the afternoon configuring the Virgin Netgear router to provide the functionality that has already been configured into our own router. It won't be perfect because the Netgear simply can't provide all of the functionality we want but it will get us running again.
Some hours pass...
It doesn't work. I don't mean "some functionality is missing" but rather "it doesn't work at all". The Netgear is broken so badly that you can't even ping it's external IP address. Totaly and utterly unuseable.
We don't need all the rubbish. We just need a cable modem. But Virgin's corporate decision is to prohibit us from having this. they insist on providing extra, unwanted, unworking features that make their service unuseable.
I'll be back on the phone to them in the morning. We need to make a decision. There seem to be three choices:
- They fix it and give us a modem (or modem functionality). Maybe they can do that by telling their system that we are a domestic customer.
- They degrade us back to 10Mb. This takes time to order, process and install. I'll decline, thankyou
- We dump them, install a phone line and switch to BE
In the mean time, I'm posting this on a "Three" Wifi 3G dongle. Neat little thing. It does what it says on the tin - give you wifi wherever you can find a Three 3G connection. Right now it is giving me 7Mb down and 3Mb up. That would do the job. I might end up upgrading from Virgin cable the Three 3G.