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Virgin Media trials longer bandwidth throttling

And cutting weekend data allowances

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Virgin Media's heaviest cable broadband users will be hit with tighter bandwidth throttling at peak times, as the firm tries to cope with increasing demand across its network.

A trial has begun in the Preston area that sees the period when downstream and upstream speeds are cut extended by several hours. Once customers breach daily data limits in either direction, bandwidth will be throttled for seven* rather than the current five hours during the week. At the weekend the heavy use will be punished with ten hours of throttling - double the current five hour continuous slowdown. *See statement below.

During the week Virgin Media's definition of evening peak time (4pm until 9pm downstream, 3pm until 8pm upstream) remain unchanged for the trial. At weekends however the current daytime throttling period (10am until 3pm) will be rolled together with the evening period, so data downloaded between 11am and 9pm will all count towards the same limit.

Customers in Preston will also trigger the restrictions more quickly at the weekend. For example, "M" customers, subscribed to a 2Mbit/s service, will be throttled once they have downloaded 1250MB betweeen 11am and 9pm on Saturday and Sunday. Currently, between 10am and 3pm the throttle isn't applied until 1000MB is downloaded. Between 4pm and 9pm "M" subscribers can currently download 500MB before triggering a slow down, so triallists' total data ration is being cut from 1500MB to 1250MB.

Virgin Media maintains on the trial information page that as its current national policy, only the heaviest five per cent of users will hit the data limits on a given day. The up and downstream speeds for those being throttled on each package will be the same as at present.

"The aim of this trial is to enhance the way we do this, limit the number of people who have their speeds moderated and ultimately improve the service we deliver to all our customers," the company wrote.

Virgin Media added that the details of the trial could change at any time as it measures their impact on the network. It gave no indication of when the tighter restrictions will be rolled out to other trial areas or nationally. The trials will run "over the coming months".

A Virgin Media spokesperson said:

Virgin Media operates an open and transparent traffic management policy designed to ensure that the majority of customers enjoy a high quality online experience and remain unaffected by a small minority of extremely heavy users.

We do not cut off any customers for heavy use, however if their activity impacts the service affecting other customers we will temporarily reduce their speeds during peak usage periods. As we do this automatically, this ensures all our customers are able to enjoy their broadband service without the worry of hitting undisclosed 'fair use' download limits.

We are currently trialling new approaches to our traffic management policy to help ensure only the heaviest users are managed in this way, by reducing the number of hours that a user might be managed. We are also trialling a new fixed cut-off point which now means that many heavy users may only be traffic managed for as little as two hours in a day.

The new trial profile means that heavy users are likely to be traffic managed for less time:

Old

Weekdays Morning 5 hours + Evening 5 hours = 10 hours

Weekends Morning 5 hours + Evening 5 hours = 10 hours

New Trial

Weekdays Evening Up to 7 hours (cut off at 11pm) = 7 hours or less

Weekends Daytime Up to 10 hours (cut off at 11pm) = 10 hours or less

At the launch of Virgin Media's 50Mbit/s service in December, CEO Neil Berkett told The Register the firm plans to introduce application-specific restrictions this year to target BitTorrent users. Such a move would mark a significant departure from its current policy of application-agnostic throttling.

A company spokesman subsequently denied the plans to Wired, and then denied having denied it when The Register inquired what part of what his boss told us wasn't true. ®

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