BT Infinity vs Virgin Media broadband
Our guide pits two of the UK’s heavyweight fibre optic broadband providers against each other – BT Infinity and Virgin Media.
Both offer superfast downloads that are amongst the fastest the UK has ever seen, with high or unlimited usage limits, advanced wireless routers and the option to add other services.
By the end of this guide you should have all of the information you need to choose which of these broadband providers is the one for you.
BT Infinity vs Virgin Media broadband
BT Infinity or Virgin Media broadband? Both offer fibre optic broadband packages in the UK, but which one’s better? Let us guide you through everything there is to consider when trying to work out which is the right provider for you, including coverage, download speeds, usage limits and and bundles to take some of the guesswork out of deciding which one to choose.
Let’s begin with a breakdown of the two providers and their different fibre optic broadband services:
Provider BT Virgin Media Download Speeds Up to 160Mb Up to 120Mb Upload Speeds Up to 20Mb Up to 12Mb Usage Options Capped & unlimited Unlimited Fair Usage Policy No Yes Traffic Management Yes Yes Static IP Business only Business only Minimum Contract 18 months 18 months Router Home Hub 3 Super Hub Public Wi-Fi Unlimited London only Prices From £9 per month £4 per month
Both BT Infinity and Virgin Media use fibre optic technology to deliver superfast download speeds. Broadband speeds from both provider should be at least 4x faster than you could get over the standard telephone line. In some areas fibre optic broadband speeds can be more than 50x faster than conventional broadband via a telephone line.
It’s easy to get hung up on speeds when talking about broadband - but the fact is that most of us wouldn’t see much difference in performance between an up to 30Mbps and an up to 120Mbps service if all we do online is browse websites and watch Netflix.
BT Infinity speeds
BT offers three levels of Infinity service:
- Option 1 - up to 38Mbps with 40GB usage
- Option 2 - up to 76Mbps with unlimited usage
- BT Infinity 160 - up to 160Mbps with unlimited usage
BT uses traffic management at peak times to limit the speeds of certain activities, including P2P filesharing.
Infinity 160Mb uses fibre optic cabling all the way to your home, which gives it speeds closer to the advertised than either Option 1 or 2. Ofcom has shown this package to have the UK’s highest upload speed, so it’s a good choice if you want to share a lot of data.
Virgin Media speeds
Virgin Media also offers three different speeds:
- Up to 30Mbps
- Up to 60Mbps
- Up to 120Mbps
In some areas 100Mbps customers have had a speed boost to up to 120Mbps.
Virgin Media employs traffic management to restrict the speed of certain activities including filesharing at peak times. Any user that exceeds the fair usage figure off their package on any given day will have their connection speed throttled for the following five hours.
Winner – Virgin Media
Virgin Media is currently ahead on advertised speed in terms of providing the fastest broadband across the country. The main issue is the cable that connects your home to the cabinet, so Virgin Media customers and BT Infinity 160Mbps customers are most likely to get speeds closer to those advertised.
Some ‘unlimited’ home broadband packages do actually have download restrictions, although the details are often buried deep in the small print.
These restrictions often include a ‘fair usage policy’. This is a set amount of data that you can download each month, regardless of what the advertised limit might be. Fortunately monthly fair usage policies are becoming less common amongst broadband providers.
Much more common amongst the various providers are traffic management activities. Also known as ‘traffic shaping’, this is a process whereby the download rate of some activities are reduced at peak times to stop the activities of a small number of customers reducing the overall speed of the network.
The basic BT Infinity has a download limit of 40GB a month, and if you exceed this figure more than once you’ll be charged £5 per 5GB of additional usage. BT will email you when you’ve used 70% of your allowance to help you avoid this penalty.
The other Infinity packages are unlimited, and not restricted by a fair usage policy. Traffic management is used to reduce the amount of bandwidth allocated to P2P file sharing activities during peak hours, which are 4pm - midnight on weekdays and 9am - midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.
Virgin Media broadband
Virgin Media packages are described as being ‘uncapped’ rather than unlimited. There isn’t a fair usage policy that restricts your monthly activities, but each package has a daily peak time fair usage limit which operate from 10am - 3pm and 4pm - 9pm for downloads and 3pm – 8pm for uploads.
If you exceed the fair usage figure during any day’s peak periods your connection will be throttled for the following five hours, but as they’re set so high it’s unlikely that this would affect you, unless you download an usually large amount of data.
For example, if you have the up to 60Mb service your fair usage figure for the period 10am - 3pm will be 10GB – which is equivalent to downloading more than a dozen standard definition movies which it’s unlikely that you’d ever one to do in a single five hour period.
Virgin Media also emplys traffic management to slow down the speed of some applications including P2P file sharing from 5pm – midnight Monday to Friday and midday – midnight on Saturday and Sunday.
Winner - BT Infinity
While both providers limit certain activities at peak times BT Infinity 2 and 160Mb have fewer restrictions than any Virgin package. Bear in mind though that the basic BT Infinity option does have a strict 40GB limit and you’ll be charged at least £5 extra if your downloads exceed this figure more than once.
We’d normally look at the issue of availability at the end of a guide like this, but when you're talking about fibre optic broadband it’s a key factor, and may turn out to be the single factor that most influences your decision. You can use our free postcode checker below to find out which fibre optic networks are available in your area.
BT Infinity uses the BT Openreach network to deliver fibre optic broadband services to homes and businesses across the UK. This network can currently reach roughly 11 million UK homes, and that figure is set to increase significantly in the coming years.
The Virgin Media network is well established, and is also being upgraded. In all, over half of UK homes can receive Virgin Media cable TV and fibre optic broadband at up to 30Mbps or better, and in February 2012 Virgin Media announced that it had beaten its own target to offer 100Mbps broadband to more than 10 million homes.
Winner – Virgin Media
As it stands, Virgin Media has the largest reach in terms of the number of UK consumers that it can deliver services to. However, the race is on to see who can connect the most homes in the coming years - so Virgin’s lead is by no means unassailable.
Traditionally broadband was carried exclusively over the telephone network, and in the minds of most consumers and providers alike they will always be inextricably linked.
However, since the rise of fibre optic broadband and our increasing relince on mobile phones over our landlines the situation has changed dramatically – but it’s so far only Virgin Media who is passing the technological benefits on to consumers.
To get BT Infinity you’ll need an active phone line and to pay BT line rental at £15.45 a month, which includes evening and weekend calls to UK landlines.
With BT’s Line Rental Saver plan you can pay 12 months line rental in advance at a cost of £129, saving yourself £56.40 per year.
You can get Virgin Media broadband without paying line rental at all. If you do take one you’ll get weekend calls as standard. Virgin line rental costs £14.99 a month, or £120 a year in advance – which works out £46.80 cheaper per year.
Winner - Virgin Media
Virgin Media has the cheaper monthly line rental of the two providers, and the Virgin Line Rental Saver option is again cheaper than the BT equivalent. Best of all there is no requirement to take a Virgin Media landline to get broadband if you don’t want one.
Wireless routers & public Wi-Fii
These days we all expect more from our chosen broadband than just a basic internet access package that we can only connect a single computer to.
Fortunately providers realise this and, for the most part, they’ll all provide a suitable wireless router when you sign up plus some other useful perks.
To get BT Infinity you’ll need an Openreach modem and a BT Home Hub 3.0 wireless router. As a new customer you’ll be supplied with both, although you’ll be charged £6.95 for postage and packing. You’ll need two spare power sockets close to your master telephone socket to power your router and modem.
The Home Hub uses a combination of B/G/N technology, and can support up to four wired and up to 10 wireless connections at a time. It uses 'Smart Wireless' technology to detect interference and automatically select an alternate channel with a better signal.
Whichever BT Infinity package you choose you’ll get free and unlimited access to BT’s network of more than 4 million public Wi-Fi hotspots at hotels, restaurants and shopping centres.
Virgin Media broadband
Virgin Media supplies all broadband customers with a Super Hub, which uses ‘N’ wireless technology. The Super Hub is a combined fibre optic broadband modem and wireless router, so you’ll only need one power socket to run it.
It’s capable of handling broadband speeds above 120Mbps and can support up to four wired and up to 20 wireless connections at a time. There is no P&P charge for the Super Hub.
Unfortunately Virgin Media does not currently offer any public Wi-Fi usage with any broadband packages with the exception of at some London Underground stations. If this changes we will update this guide to let you know.
Winner – BT Infinity
If it was simply a case of comparing wireless routers the Virgin Media Super Hub is slightly more advanced than the BT Home Hub, as it can support a greater number of wireless devices and, as it’s a combined modem/router that only uses one power socket it’s also cheaper to run.
However, it’s hard to imagine many families that would ever need to connect more than 10 devices to their home broadband at any one time so the Super Hub’s superiority in this sense shouldn’t be considered the defining factor.
Perhaps more significantly Virgin Media has a limited public Wi-Fi programme, whereas BT gives you unlimited access to the UK’s largest – and given our increased reliance on our mobile devices this surely must give BT the edge.
Verdict - BT Infinity vs Virgin Media broadband
BT Infinity and Virgin Media fibre optic broadband packages offer incredibly fast download speeds, a range of pricing options and virtually unlimited monthly downloads.
If both are available in your area then the right provider for you will be determined by your needs and your budget, so you need to spend some time weighing up the pros and cons for yourself to work out which provider can deliver the service you need at the best possible price.
In our opinion, BT Infinity is a good choice if you want unlimited public Wi-Fi access and inclusive evening & weekend calls as standard, while Virgin Media is best if you want the UK’s fastest downloads and no landline.
What may turn out to be the deciding factor for you will be availability in your area, so you should check using our postcode checker which you will find below our comparison tool.
Use our handy comparison tool to compare BT Infinity and Virgin Media broadband packages.
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