UK ISP Virgin Media is expanding its public Wi-Fi network by co-opting customers’ home routers as hot spots.
Only the most recent router design (the SuperHub v3) will be recruited at first, and customers can opt-out from the program if they wish. Virgin says the change will have “no impact on customers” because affected homes will be allocated extra bandwidth.
The data available to the public is also kept separate to that running through the home connection, and the company states in an FAQ: “A Virgin Media WiFi user can’t see anything on the home broadband network they’re connected to. Likewise, someone using the home broadband network will not be able to see if anyone is connected to the separate connection in their Hub, or what they’re doing.”
The project is identical to what BT has done with its public Wi-Fi service, which also co-opted home routers. In both cases, the public hot spots are available at no extra charge to paying subscribers. Virgin Media’s hot spots aren’t available to non-subscribers at all, while BT’s can be accessed by customers from other ISPs for a small fee. If you’re a Virgin Media subscriber, you’ll be able to access the public hot spots (where available) by downloading the company’s app for iOS and Android.
How will this work?
Furthermore, while BT customers must share their ADSL or VDSL bandwidth with any public Wi-Fi users, Virgin Media promises that “your home network is completely separate from Virgin Media WiFi traffic, meaning the broadband connection you pay for is exclusively yours, and just as secure.”
Presumably, when a customer’s Super Hub is added to the public Wi-Fi service, it connects to the local DOCSIS network at a slightly higher rate. So, for example, if you pay for a 200Mbps Virgin Media package, your modem might actually connect at 220Mbps, with the extra 20Mbps reserved for public Wi-Fi users. We’ve asked Virgin for more details and will update this story if we get a response.
Security-wise, the Super Hub probably creates a separate VLAN for the public Wi-Fi network, just like BT Wi-Fi with FON. In theory, there will be no crosstalk between the two networks, ensuring all data that flows across either network stays private.
One remaining issue, though, is that there will be more local Wi-Fi congestion. Even if you have a dedicated 200Mbps connection to the Internet, if someone outside is hogging the Wi-Fi your laptop might not be able to connect to the router at 200Mbps. Modern 802.11ac MIMO devices should be fine, though.
For now only Virgin Media customers with the latest Super Hub 3 (Hub 3.0) are being opted into the new public Wi-Fi service. Virgin is trialing an update to the older Super Hub 2ac routers, too. The ISP says it will add “hundreds of thousands” of hubs by “later this year.”
Virgin Media customers can opt out of the service by logging into My Virgin Media and going to My Profile. When the service was first trialed in 2015, those who opted out of sharing their own router were then banned from using other Virgin customers’ hotspots.