Launched in 2006, Virgin Media broadband has grown into one of the UK’s biggest ISPs, giving BT and Sky a real run for their money. Looking at the results of the Expert Reviews Best Broadband Awards 2020 survey, it’s not hard to see why: Virgin Media placed second for overall customer satisfaction, with over 78% of users surveyed saying they’d recommend the service to a friend. It also scored well for customer service, reliability and speed, where it picked up an award. Virgin Media is expensive, but you get what you pay for.
In fact, the company’s best-value deals are the ones that combine broadband with phone and television services, but you can pick and choose which TV packages you want, or just get broadband on its own if your viewing needs are already sorted.
With Virgin, the emphasis is on speed. The company doesn’t even have an ADSL offering: its packages start with the M50 fibre service, with an advertised average speed of 54Mbits/sec then step up to the M100, M150 and M200 services, with 108Mbits/sec, 213Mbits/sec and 362Mbits/sec average speeds.
But, while other ISPs stop there, Virgin continues, going all the way up to Gig1, available in a few lucky areas with average speeds of 1,104Mbits/sec. That’s over three times faster than EE’s flagship 300Mbits/sec service and far beyond anything Sky or BT has to offer. There’s also the 516Mbits/sec M500 service, although only as part of a pricey £90 a month phone, TV and broadband bundle, Ultimate Oomph.
As you’d hope, these packages are all unlimited – otherwise it would be easy to run out of data very quickly – and you can have the lower-end options with or without a virgin phone line. The contract period is shorter than the 18 months that’s now the industry average and there’s also a 30-day rolling contract option, if you don’t want to commit for a full year in advance. Needless to say, this works out more expensive, with an £80 setup fee versus the £35 upfront cost of an annual contract.
Compare the best Virgin deals in your area
Virgin Media Broadband review: Prices and packages
|Price per month inc line rental||£37||£27||£32||£37||£89*||£62|
|Contract length||12 months||12 months||12 months||12 months||12 months||18 months|
* As part of Ultimate Oomph bundle
At £27 per month for the cheapest current package, Virgin Media’s prices start relatively high: for comparison, Sky’s basic fibre service is £25 a month. However, Virgin’s offering gives you more bandwidth, delivering 108Mbits/sec compared with Sky’s 59Mbits/sec and of the other ISPs only EE is in the same ballpark, with a 145Mbits/sec package at £36 per month for 18 months.
It’s tricky to make direct comparisons, since EE’s line speeds are different, but overall Virgin’s M350 package gives you more bits per buck, charging a little more than EE’s Fibre Max 2 package for quite a lot more bandwidth. Again, the contract term is shorter too.
What about those headline-grabbing M500 and Gig1 fibre services? These are by far the fastest domestic connection on the market but to get the first right now you’ll have to sign up for Virgin’s heavyweight V.VIP bundle, which also includes a full set of TV channels, unlimited landline calls to nominated numbers and a 4G SIM with unlimited data. If you actually want all those services then you might be all right with the cost of the £89 a month fee (though be warned it jumps up to £139 after the first year). If you want the latter, it’s only available in certain areas and, while the speeds are outstanding, also looks expensive in the long term.
If you need that level of performance, great, but have a good think before signing up. Even streaming 4K video from Netflix only requires around 25Mbits/sec, and it’s only game and movie downloads and Google Stadia streamers who push requirements much closer to the 100Mbits/sec mark. For more casual users, even Virgin’s cheapest package might be overkill.
Virgin Media Broadband review: Coverage
Virgin is able to offer faster speeds than most rivals because it operates its own fibre network. A few years ago, this was concentrated in major cities, but the company has been expanding aggressively and around 60% of the country can now get Virgin fibre services. To find out if you’re covered, use the availability checker on the Virgin Media website.
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Virgin Media Broadband review: Performance
Virgin came top of our Best Broadband Awards survey for performance, easily winning our speed award. An amazing 60% of Virgin users responding to the survey said they were very satisfied with their speeds, with a further 24% merely satisfied. Even its nearest competitors, Sky and Plusnet, couldn’t get close to those figures, with roughly one-third of customers very satisfied.
This backs up what we’ve seen in Ofcom’s research, where Virgin is simply on another level to the suppliers offering standard Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTP) services. While Ofcom hasn’t yet published test results for Virgin’s fastest services, users of its 108Mbits/sec option saw average download speeds of 106-108Mbits/sec, while users of its 362Mbits/sec package saw speeds of 361.8-368.2Mbits/sec. Only EE’s Fibre Max 2 and BT’s Full Fibre Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) services, both only available in specific areas, offer any serious competition.
We’ve just two caveats with regard to Virgin’s service. First, while downloads are screamingly fast, uploads are far slower. The M50 package claims average upload rates of only 5Mbits/sec, rising to 10Mbits/sec on the Vivid 100 package and 20Mbits/sec on Vivid 200. Vivid 350 and 500 customers get 36Mbits/sec – a big improvement on the lower tiers, but still a mere fraction of their download speeds.
READ NEXT: BT Broadband review
With its fastest services, Virgin is replacing its underwhelming Media Hub 3 router with the Super Hub 4, which features a faster Intel chipset and enhanced MIMO performance. If you get stuck with the Hub 3, we’d still recommend switching it into modem mode and using a third-party router instead.
Virgin also seems to be getting something right when it comes to reliability. In our survey, only Plusnet and Sky scored higher; more than three-quarters of Virgin’s users were satisfied or very satisfied with the reliability of their connection.
Virgin Media Broadband review: Customer satisfaction
Virgin didn’t come away with any awards for customer service but its results in our survey were still pretty respectable. More than 70% of users were either satisfied or very satisfied with their customer service, putting Virgin ahead of BT, TalkTalk and Vodafone but not Plusnet, EE or Sky. Only 6% described themselves as very dissatisfied with a further 10% dissatisfied. Virgin has some work to do there, but even Plusnet had more disgruntled users.
This chimes with Ofcom’s customer satisfaction research, which again puts Virgin ahead of BT and TalkTalk, though behind EE and Plusnet. Some 85% of Virgin users were satisfied with the overall service, although the ISP fell behind most competitors on response times and how well complaints were handled.
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Virgin Media Broadband review: Verdict
Virgin Media’s broadband offering is an impressive one. You get a good, reliable service at speeds its major rivals can’t match. All of that costs money, however, and the high-speed packages can get very expensive indeed.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that when questioned on value, users we surveyed put Virgin behind Plusnet, Vodafone, Sky and EE. If you’re not a heavy internet user, then, you’d probably be happy paying substantially less for an entry-level package from another ISP.
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