Super Fast Home Broadband Comparison

Being the night owl that I am, I often find myself working late into the night. A few nights back I was working late applying fixes to a customer’s network using telnet/ssh amongst other tools, which are incredibly sensitive to packet loss and jitter. For those not familiar with the terms, packet loss is when you send pings and not all of them reply and jitter is the deviation from average time the pings take to reply. Now the last thing you need when you are applying fixes to a customer’s network in the middle of the night is to be logged off the connection every few minutes due to packet loss!

For this month’s blog I have decided to write about my recent experience and do a comparison between Virgin Media and Zen Fibre Broadband. It is very hard to write a blog about this topic without getting technical because under the hood, speed wise, it isn’t going to make a huge amount of difference which one you choose… The differences run deeper!

To give you a bit of history, I live in an area which isn’t very close to the BT exchange, so back in the day when I still had plain old ADSL this meant download speeds of under 2mb if I was lucky and upload of about 200k. This is nowhere near sufficient for the work I need to do on customer’s networks from time to time.

Back in 2008 I discovered that I was in a Virgin Media cabled area, so it made perfect sense for me to make the change, my current package is 30mb down and 3mb up. This really is a great level of bandwidth with which I am very happy, except for one thing… During busy periods (over night when people set off their GBs of downloads and then go to bed), I was noticing terrible performance. You don’t have to be a network engineer to know why! Basically, the area was oversubscribed and simply could not cope with the demand for bandwidth, hence packet loss and jitter at unacceptable levels. This is similar to trying to have a shower during the water rush hour and the low pressure light keeps coming on!

A month or so ago, I had a lovely letter from BT Openreach saying that Fibre to the Cabinet was now available in my road! Champagne was flowing (unlike the data!)…

When I was on ADSL, I used ZEN. I was always happy with their service and still, to this day, recommend them to my friends, family and customers if they can’t afford a high grade business service. When it came to look at FTTC, Zen was, to me, a no brainer.

After a bumpy start caused by Openreach patching me to the wrong port in the cabinet, I finally got connected! The change was immediately noticeable. Below are some results on PING and JITTER. The results speak for themselves:

VIRGIN Ping Tests

Broadband ping test

ZEN Ping Tests

Broadband ping test

Virgin vs ZEN Speed Test

Broadband speed test

Needless to say, the quality of the connection (regardless of speed) is superior on the Zen fibre line.

What does this mean in the real world? Well, to the vast majority of people, it probably doesn’t mean a huge amount! For people who just surf the web, do email and basic daily things, the Virgin line is perfectly good and I found it to be very reliable in as much as it was hardly ever down.

I am not much of a gamer, however if you are, then Jitter can be a bit of a pain and have an adverse effect on your experience. The same goes for VOIP or Skype for example. However, this would largely go unnoticed generally as people expect Skype and the like to be a bit jumpy.

When I look at my 60mb down and 16mb up, I realise that my connection is faster and better than probably 95% of my customers’ offices. This made me think what a game changer this really is. I would recommend any customer/company currently on ADSL/SDSL to consider the move to FTTC as soon as it is available in the area. ZEN offers a great low cost service. If you want to discuss Broadband Technology, please contact your Account Manager who will take you through the options we recommend!


Jitter – This is the deviation from average of the time the pings take to reply

Packet Loss – This is when you send pings and not all of them reply

Ping – The art of sending packets to a certain place and getting stats on the replies

Telnet/SSH – Applications used for system administration


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