Many customers of Virgin Media around the United Kingdom lost their cable television service for an extended period overnight. The outage began during peak viewing hours and lasted into the small hours of the morning when television channels were finally restored. Such extended outages are extremely rare and it is unusual for them to affect all channels.
Viewers first reported problems with their Virgin Media television service in peak time at 9.28pm on Thursday 12 October, saying that customer helplines were unavailable. Problems appeared to be intermittent in some areas, with unusual set-top box behaviour reported by viewers from around the country.
Virgin Media technical support reported at 10.26pm that customers in some areas were experiencing a total loss of their analogue or digital television service. They later reported that some channels were restored but advised customers not to reboot their set-top boxes as this would result in a total loss of service.
Four hours after first acknowledging the problem on their web site, Virgin Media reported that all television channels were working, but video-on-demand, interactive and electronic programme guide functions were still unavailable.
The problems were apparently caused by a loss of power to the Langley head-end, one of three that serves the Virgin Media cable television network. Around 220 channels went off air. The company declined to say how many customers, or revenue generating units as cable operators seem to prefer to think of them, were affected. In its subsequent short statement, Virgin Media did not take the opportunity to apologise to viewers or say what it was doing to reduce the risk of re-occurence.
A Virgin Media representative told informitv that engineers managed to restore a partial service within thirty minutes, including terrestrial, regional and general entertainment channels, with all channels restored within three hours. He said that video-on-demand services were restored by 7am the following day, with the electronic programme guide soon after that.
Nevertheless, some users were still reporting problems with their set-top boxes later that day. The availability of a digital television system not only requires channels to be transmitted by also for receivers to be capable of selecting, tuning and displaying them.
Problems with the Virgin Media network are apparently not uncommon, according to the status pages on the company web site, but tend to be geographically limited.
While terrestrial networks can experience occasional regional transmitter failures, and satellite suffers from atmospheric effects such as rain fade, cable should in theory be more reliable.
Insiders say that the Virgin Media network, which was formed by the consolidation of a number of different operators, with separate distribution and back office systems, remains beset by technical issues.