Virgin Media deliver some of the whooshiest broadband speeds in the UK, but most of that whoosh only goes in one direction: down. The upload speeds – the rate at which data is transferred from your computer to the internet – are relatively sluggish. So why are Virgin Media upload speeds so slow?
Virgin Media’s technology
Unlike some other full fibre broadband products, where download and upload speeds are effectively the same (or symetric), Virgin Media’s network is based on a technology called DOCSIS, which is asymetric. This means the upload speeds are only a fraction of what you get on the downlink.
Virgin has recently completed an uprgade to DOCSIS 3.1, which delivers speeds at a 10:1 ratio. So for every 10Mbits/sec of download speed you should get 1Mbit/sec of upload speed.
Virgin details the download and upload speeds you can expect from its various packages in this table, which I’ve cheekily pinched off its website:
Virgin’s upload speeds are actually much worse than BT’s fibre-to-the-cabinet lines, on a pound-for-pound basis. An 80Mbits/sec BT connection will normally deliver 20Mbits/sec uploads, while you have to go for 200Mbits/sec downloads to reach such speeds with Virgin. Even on a gigabit connection – or 1,000Mbits/sec – the upload is capped at just over 50Mbits/sec. In Virgin’s defence, that’s still much faster uploads than BT’s fibre-to-the-cabinet, which is the technology the vast majority of the country will be connected to.
Note too that while Virgin guarantees download speeds (at half the headline rate), there is no such guarantee on uploads. It’s merely an “expected speed range”, which means you might struggle to get the attention of Virgin’s tech support squad if your upload speeds are below the stated figures.
Why are upload speeds important?
If forced to choose, most people would want faster downloads than uploads, especially in a domestic setting. When you’re watching 4K movies on Netflix or sucking down a 70GB Fortnite update, all that data is coming down.
However, a nippy upload rate is important for certain tasks. If you regularly upload high-resolution video or photos to the internet, or are working on big files that have to be sycnhronised with a server or cloud service (such as Dropbox), upload speeds are crucial.
Consequently, if you do a job that makes regular uploads, don’t be drawn in by Virgin’s headline speeds. As we stated at the top, most of that speed is only heading in one direction.
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This isn’t quite accurate although I noticed you did use the word “capped” so there is that. DOCSIS 3.1 allows any upload speed up to 2Gbps even if the download is capped to just 100Mbps, Virgin choose not offer 10Gbps downloads and 2Gbps uploads and thanks to way DOCSIS works it would mean relatively little extra overhead and expense on their part.
DOCSIS 3.1 itself is a very old technology which was replaced in by other DOCSIS providers outside of the UK as early as 2017, many nations have providers who have already finished moving on to DOCSIS 4.0. To show how bad of DOCSIS service Virgin Media offers UK customers… DOCSIS 3.0 handles upload speeds of 200Mbps. That is four times bigger than what Virgin Media allows it’s customers to use in it’s most expensive package.
The reason Virgin’s upload speeds are so sluggish is not the DOCSIS 3.1 technology, the reason is Virgin want to only offer marginally better upload speeds than it’s biggest competitors so that they can constantly offer “new” packages at ever increasing costs to the customer. The UK government will always behind other countries in the race for faster internet if it doesn’t start deregulating Openreach to allow it to push ahead and it needs to start regulating Virgin to force them to maximise the DOCSIS infrastructure.