I have been known to have the odd mutter about those Virgin Media people, particularly in the long-running and remarkably silly dispute they’re having with Sky, but also for some of their spinning tendencies. So it’s only fair that I should also comment when they get things right, which is what I’m going to do now.

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing some random web browsing on a Sunday afternoon, when I decided to check something on the Virgin Media site. I can’t quite recall what it was, because I was slightly distracted by the information that the 10Mb cable internet service was being upgraded to 20Mb, which is quite zoomy. A further look indicated that the upgrade had already been completed in the Gateshead area. Ooooooh.

But there was a problem. I’d had my cable modem since the 512k service[1] became available in this area, which must have been six or seven years ago. It was a big old Motorola beastie, which had a 10Mb Ethernet port, which was quite adequate at the time, and was still fine when I upgraded to the 1Mb service when that came out a year or two later, and even did the job when the 1Mb service was progressively upgraded to 4Mb. But when the service was upgraded to 10Mb some time ago, it was no longer adequate. Due to Technical Stuff, if you have a 10Mb connection to the modem, you’ll never get the full 10Mb of internet connection. I had vague intentions of getting it replaced, but at the time this seemed to involve arranging for an engineer to come and fit it, which they’d probably charge for, so it didn’t seem all that important.

However, 20Mb was a different matter[2]. I started reading the stuff. And what an improvement! Clear information stating that it might be necessary to get a new modem to get the benefit of the new service, followed by pictures of every modem they’ve ever issued to customers. Once I’d ticked the box for the old modem, the site confirmed that I should get a new one. Then came the good bit. They now offer a choice – you can pay £25 for an engineer to come and fit it, or have one sent to you free of charge. Cool. So I took the free option.

A few days later, I had a card through the door telling me ParcelForce had tried to deliver a package. There was some fun and games with their website, which seemed determined to ignore my request to take it to a local Post Office where I could pick it up, so on Thursday I left the house early and took a walk to the Team Valley, where I picked up my parcel.

In the box was a dinky little cable modem with an external power supply, a dinky little plastic spanner for connecting the cable (which I didn’t need, but hey…), and the all-important instructions. The instructions were:

  1. Unpug old modem from mains
  2. Remove all cables from old modem
  3. Connect cables to new modem
  4. Call us to get it activated

Did all that. The activation process involved a free phone call to an actual UK-based technical person, who asked for the MAC address of the modem (clearly marked on stickers) and authorised it so it could get an IP address and actually work. Which it did.

And is it faster? Well, it depends. There are numerous broadband speed tests around, but they all depend on the response of various servers. Depending on the tests, the time of day, and random wossnames, my download speed comes up as anything between 2Mb/s and, errr 18Mb/s. A more practical test of downloading a large file from Microsoft gave a speed of 12Mb/s, which is quite acceptable.

[1] Which seemed incredibly fast at the time…
[2] Not that there are many sites you can connect to at that speed, of course…