VirginMedia Superhub Problems July 2015
(DRAFT: Liable to change)

Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham

Installed: 31 Jul 2015
Last updated:
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A partial index of discussion notes is in

July 2015:
Virgin Media Letting Down Broadband Customers Again
Superhub2 (SH2) firmware update breaks modem-only mode

Despite the quality of the broadband service when things work well, VM sometimes let customers down badly when something goes wrong and the fault has been reported by many users, e.g. on the forum pages and possibly also by phoning the service number.

They fail to announce the fault on their service status pages, or forum pages, and fail to inform call centre staff, so that disgruntled users with a broken service have to waste time trying to convince someone at the end of a phone line that they are affected by a fault about which the VM staff seem to know nothing, even though other VM staff have acknowledged the fault, e.g. buried in replies to user postings on the forum.
So VM can waste customer time because call-centre staff perform irrelevant tests, and in some cases (in my experience) arranging a call by a service engineer when the problem being reported is not at the user site but somewhere more central in VM's network and has already been reported by other users, and discussed on forum pages.

Background: use of Superhub in 'modem mode'

I have been a VirginMedia broadband user for many years (initially using the Cable and Wireless "blueyonder" service, which was then bought by Telewest and later by VirginMedia).

When the system works the broadband download service is very good -- but upload speeds are much slower, and for many years I was stuck with 3Mbps upload even though I was paying for double that speed. (I also have serious complaints about the design of the Tivo system used for VirginMedia Cable TV -- among the worst user interfaces I have met. I'll post descriptions of some of the design-flaws later.)

Using superhub in modem mode

When the so-called 'Superhub' was provided to VM cable broadband users (in 2011) there were many complaints. I found its wireless functionality very poor. Later (in 2013) they announced the 'Superhub 2' (SH2) after trials that identified many design flaws some of which were fixed. I was part of the trial. Some of us got round the flaws by switching the SH2 into 'modem' mode, so that the device did not perform any router functions: it merely provided a connection to the broadband network. An attached router could then provide the required functionality, e.g. a wifi service suitable for a medium to large house. For more information on that episode see:

Since then I have had a mostly satisfactory broadband service from Virgin Media. There was a considerable improvement when my download speed was changed from 60Mbps to 100 Mbps, and upload from 3Mbps to 6Mbps. It was the latter that I noticed most, since download speeds are often limited by the source, or the state of the internet between the source and a user. Having 100Mbps download looks good when running tests (especially the test provided on the VirginMedia network!), but the results need not be reflected in actual download speeds from a variety of internet sites.

Superhub firmware upgrade disaster July 2015

A few nights ago I suddenly found that I had lost my broadband connection (while working beyond midnight). I found that the SH2 kept rebooting, apparently getting an IP address then losing it and either freezing or rebooting again. I tried reporting this via the service centre, and first wasted about 20 minutes getting no answer, then later wasted time doing tests that repeated what I had already done and descriped to the operator. Eventually he told me that my router (Dlink DIR-615, originally supplied by VirginMedia) was not supported and I should disconnect it and connect my PC directly. To my surprise that worked, but was a useless solution because the SH2 was in modem mode and only one device could be connected to it. There was no wireless functionality.

I then explored the VM user forum and discovered that many users had found that a firmware upgrade to SH2 had stopped it working properly in modem mode with a variety of different attached routers (with some it worked). E.g. the problem had been summarised here, in Message #81

SH2 Firmware upgrade to v2.01.03 broke modem only mode
The Superusers have been updated by Virgin Media. This issue has been reproduced under their control and they are working with Netgear to produce a fix.
There are now many messages from many users complaining about the problem, some joining existing threads and others starting new threads, possibly because they had not found the old threads reporting the same problem. (Evidence of very poor forum design.)

In a situation like this

This whole episode is evidence of seriously incompetent project management at Virgin Media, not for the first time. I would have left VM long ago, but for the fact that no other currently available broadband service seems to achieve the speeds and reliability of VM's service -- it can run well for months at a time.

The problem is how VM deals with faults when they do occur, including lying to customers on their status pages, and failing to inform call centre staff about known problems, wasting everyone's time, and probably increasing VMs support costs, which ultimately have to be passed on to customers.


Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham