Virgin Media Gig2 fibre broadband is here but is it worth it?

Dan Howdle | March 7th, 2024

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Just when you thought Virgin Media's 1130Mbps Gig1 service was the fastest game in town, news pops up of the provider doubling up and rolling out Gig2 – a service that's so far only been described as '2Gbps' in speed, with no finer detail. Great, we hear you cry, now I can go twice as fast! But the devil is in the detail, and the detail here means you likely can't get it, and even if you could, you certainly don't need it. Allow us to explain.

Virgin Media Gig2 – the lowdown

Gig2 has, according to Virgin Media's press department, officially launched. But you will struggle to find it on Virgin Media's website. Indeed, you'll even struggle to find a postcode checker that can tell you if you can get it (but ours does). Before we get into that fully through, let's look at a snapshot of what it offers on paper:

  • 2Gbps download speeds: This is 28 times the national average broadband speed. It's really really fast, but we have to ask ourselves: Who needs that?
  • Symmetrical upload speeds (are available): You can, if you so choose, have upload speeds that run at the same rate as your download speeds (symmetrically). However, this is not something Virgin Media is just giving away. It'll want an extra £6 per month for the privilege
  • Virgin Hub 5x router: A newer version of Virgin Media's excellent Hub5 will be provided with Gig2, this is for a variety of technical reasons we will get into later
  • XGS-PON network: Gig2 does not run on Virgin Media's existing network infrastructure, but an entirely different type known as XGS-PON. It's essentially a Full Fibre network with a maximum theoretical speed of 10Gbps, so with plenty of room for future upgrades

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Do I need Gig2?

No, you don't. We can say that unequivocally. We would readily make the argument that Virgin Media's 1130Mbps Gig1 is already multiple times too fast for almost any household and that most people who already subscribe to it do so because they're just the type that wants the fastest speed available no matter what.

To give you a good idea of how pointlessly fast 2Gbps actually is, take a look at what it could achieve and try to imagine that being in any way useful in your typical household:

Activity Speed required On Virgin Media Gig2
Browsing the internet 2-10mbps 200 people could be happily browsing the internet at the same time with room to spare
Watching Netflix or Disney+ in 4K 15-20Mbps 100 people could be watching a movie in 4K, on 100 TVs and at the same time
Playing a competitive online game 500Kbps-2Mbps 1000 people could theoretically be playing Call Of Duty at the same time
Downloading large videogames As fast as possible The faster the speed, the quicker you can download, but harnessing that speed is problematic

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2Gbps brings new problems to your home network

Despite Virgin Media providing a new, more capable router for Gig2 in the form of the Virgin Hub 5x, you're going to experience difficulties if the plan is to leverage that speed to a specific device. In other words, if you're thinking of using all that bandwidth to down load some enormous game like the latest Call Of Duty (240GB), your console or PC is almost certainly not up to the task. This is because:

Online games stores often throttle bandwidth

The maximum download speed you'll get from the PlayStation Store is around 400Mbps. It's throttled at Sony's end to keep the network fair and so players with ludicrously fast broadband speeds don't hog the network at a cost to others. Xbox maxes about at around 800-900Mbps, so quite a bit better, but still less than half the speed you would have available with Gig2.

You can, theoretically, use all of the speed you have available with a gaming PC, but you will need a very new and/or high-end motherboard, storage solution and CPU to do so. Which brings us onto:

Most LAN devices have 1Gbps ports

You may or may not be aware that when you plug a LAN cable into a device, the LAN adapter and its port have a maximum speed. In the vast majority of cases, consoles being one, most PCs another, these are 1Gbps ports, whose actual top speed is just shy of 950Mbps. They simply won't go any faster, even if your router can.

Broadband does more than just games, though?

Yes, it does. But downloading a large videogame is the single most intensive, bandwidth-dependent operation likely to take place in a typical household, which makes it the most important thing to think about in the context of a 2Gbps broadband connection. Here is what Virgin Media claims in its info about Gig2:

File type and size Gig2 (2Gbps) UK average (69.4Mbps)
Call of Duty Modern Warfare III (240GB – PS5) 16 minutes 7 hours 41 minutes
Oppenheimer (66GB – 4K/UHD) 4 minutes 25 seconds 2 hours 7 minutes
Traitors Season 2 (7.6GB – HD) 30 seconds 14 minutes 36 seconds

But our question to Virgin Media is 'Download to what?'. Only a bleeding-edge gaming PC could theoretically match the times stated by Virgin Media here, and only in a perfect scenario where the game store is experiencing low traffic. It's not quite dishonest, we wouldn't go that far, but it is at least forgetful to mention the limitations most of us have via online stores, on our devices, and the bits and bobs that make up our home networks.

Using Gig2 over wifi

The Virgin Hub 5x, a router specifically designed to work on Virgin Media's nexfibre XGS-PON network (which Gig 2 uses), can no doubt cope with many, many devices attached via wifi at any given time. And the argument 'could' be made that if you connect enough devices concurrently you might be able to make use of that 2Gbps. It's not an argument we would make though, since the number of devices and indeed the intensity of their bandwidth usage would have to be insanely high to accomplish that.

The Virgin Hub 5x is a Wi-Fi 6 router with extraordinary capabilities. Any router that can cope with a 2Gbps throughput is going to be comprised of the very latest tech, and that's certainly the case with the Virgin Hub 5x. Nevertheless the maximum real-world speed you'll get on Wi-Fi 6 is likely to be around 700-800Mbps.

Here are the tech specs of the Hub 5x, alongside those of Virgin Media's other routers for comparison:

Feature Hub 3 Hub 4 Hub 5 Hub 5x
Number of antennae 5 7 7 7
2.4GHz WiFi band 2x2 11/b/g/n 3x3 11b/g/n 3x3 11b/g/n/ax 3x3 11b/g/n/ax
5GHz WiFi band 3x3 11ac 4x4 11ac 4x4 11ax 4x4 11ax
WiFi spec 5 5 6 6
Dual band Concurrent Concurrent Concurrent Concurrent
Network connection DOCSIS 3.0 DOCSIS 3.1 DOCSIS 3.1 XGS-PON
Ethernet 4x 1Gbps 4x 1Gbps 1x 2.5Gbps, 3x 1Gbps 1x 10 Gbps, 3x 1Gbps
WPS push button Yes Yes Yes Yes
Removable password/QR card Yes Yes Yes Yes
Default SSID Single Single Single Single
Guest network Yes Yes Yes Yes
Intelligent WiFi Yes Yes Yes Yes
Phone line Yes Yes Yes Yes
WiFi Pod compatible Yes Yes Yes Yes

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Can I get Virgin Media Gig2?

If you've read through all of that and you still want it, that's fair enough. Perhaps you have one of those bleeding-edge gaming PCs and a capable 2.5Gbps or more LAN network, or you just have to have the fastest available whether you can make use of it or not. Either way, the chances of you being able to get it right now at the time of writing (March 2024), are very, very slim.

In fact, it's more likely that if you can get it, Virgin Media will have already made you aware, whether as an existing customer or via a leaflet through the door. The only route we can currently find to checking if you can get it is either as a Virgin Media customer logging on and seeing if it's available as an upgrade, or by contacting Virgin Media directly.

Virgin Media has stated that it's initial rollout makes Gig2 available to around a million households, which gives you about a one in 27 chance of being able to get it, provided that number is accurate and refers to homes, not a conflation of homes and businesses. If it's the latter, your chances will be even lower. Initial areas for the rollout have been stated as Belfast, Cardiff, London and Glasgow. If you're not in one of those locations, it's probably not even worth checking, especially since checking is currently not easy.

But everyone can get Gig1, and that's already too fast

If you're feeling disappointed because you likely can't get it, provided you can get Virgin Media where you live (around 60% of households can), you can get Gig1, which provides 1130Mbps. And that is already almost absurdly fast as well as being right around the limits of common equipment like games consoles and computers.

So what's the point of Gig2?

There are two answers to this question which should be taken into consideration to get the full picture. Answer one applies to right here, right now in March of 2024: It's a marketing exercise. EE has just launched 1.6Gbps Full Fibre for those who can get it, and in doing so labelled all of its advertising to claim itself as the fastest widely available broadband provider in the UK. And since Virgin Media has long held that title, it's not going to be keen to give it up so easily. Virgin is therefore going 'one louder'.

The second answer is that because Virgin Media has reached close to the limits of what its existing network can achieve speed-wise, it needs to begin investing in a whole new technology, or sometime in the next five to ten years it's going to get left behind. That starts here and now with Gig2. And while there are no realistic uses for speeds this fast right now, time and tide wait for no one, and that will not be the case a decade from now.

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