It’s the battle of the billionaires as Rupert Murdoch’s Sky goes head-to-head with Richard Branson’s Virgin Media in the quest for broadband customers.
Virgin Media can’t be beaten for speeds but Sky has award-winning customer service. So how can you choose between the two? We run through some of the key differences between Sky and Virgin broadband below.
When it comes to speed, Sky advertises a maximum average of 59Mbps for its only fibre package, and for standard broadband you'll get 11Mbps. These speeds are, by and large, on a par with other providers operating over the Openreach network, athough Sky does fall down slightly on its premium package - BT and EE offer an average of 67Mbps, in comparison.
Virgin’s lowest advertised speed averages 54Mbps. Virgin uses its own cabling network, rather than the Openreach network, so it can offer speeds faster than most other providers. On average, Virgin customers receive speeds very close to those advertised, and in many cases, faster than those advertised.
Virgin Media offers average speeds of 54Mbps, 108Mbps, 213Mbps and 362Mbps. This puts it way ahead of the other providers, although occasionally in areas where there is a large number of Virgin customers, the top speed may not be available.
Another important factor to consider is upload speeds. This gives an indication of how long it takes to upload a photo or send any other information to the web. Sky offers upload speeds of 0.8Mbps on its standard broadband, 9Mbps on its entry-level fibre package and 18Mbps on its top-end fibre deal. These are roughly the same speeds you can expect with any provider on the Openreach network.
Virgin's upload speeds differ slightly and while you may be getting faster download speeds, its uploads aren’t equally good. Its VIVID 50 service has upload speeds of 3Mbps, you get 6Mbps with VIVID 100, 12Mbps with VIVID 200 and to get the maximum of 20Mbps, you have to sign up to VIVID 350.
A big tick goes to Virgin on this one as you can get the fastest speeds possible for broadband on this network, although check first exactly what speeds you can get at your postcode, otherwise it may be worth looking at Sky.
Sky has two packages. You can get unlimited usage and download speeds averaging 11Mbps on an 18-month contract with Sky Broadband Essential. Alternatively, there is Sky Broadband Superfast, which gives you speeds averaging 59Mbps.
Contract lengths are pretty rigid at 18 months for all Sky broadband deals. Sky also throws in line rental and you can choose to pay extra for one of three Sky Talk phone packages that give you either evening and weekend calls or anytime.
In comparison, all Virgin’s deals come with fibre broadband, starting at VIVID 50, offering speeds averaging 54Mbps. That can be doubled to VIVID 100 (averaging 108Mbps) or doubled again with VIVID 200 (averaging 213Mbps) fibre broadband. Its fastest speed is up to an average of 362Mbps on VIVID 300 fibre broadband, and even this is soon to be raised to over 500Mbps.
All Virgin Media packages come with unlimited downloads. You can choose to take out a 12-month contract or be more flexible with a 30-day rolling agreement, although the latter is considerably more expensive.
If you do go with a package with the phone line included you will get inclusive weekend calls to UK landlines, Virgin Mobile numbers, plus inclusive weekend minutes to 0870 numbers. Alternatively you can choose to go broadband-only wth Virgin and not have a phone line at all. Just don't do this to save money – strangely, broadband-only is more expensive than broadband and phone.
No-one likes restrictions and unfortunately Sky seems to lack the flexibility you get with Virgin contracts coupled with the fast speeds and unlimited downloads available with all its packages.
Both providers do pretty well when it comes to how they treat their customers. Virgin Media has the highest customer satisfaction score, with 91%, based on the latest Ofcom figures.
However Sky still gets a respectable 88% which is above the industry average of 87%.
Both also have a high percentage of customers with reason to complain. 16% of customers had reason to complain about Virgin Media in 2016, the highest in the industry, while Sky’s corresponding figure was 12%. The industry average for customers with reasons to complain is 13%. Sky has the highest level of satisfaction with how complaints are handled, at 61%, compared with 54% for Virgin, which is below the industry average of 56%.
Virgin Media offers live chat online between 8am and 8pm Monday to Saturday, or you can phone customer services seven days a week between 8am and 10pm. Sky customer service is available for more hours. Customers get seven-days-a-week service – live chat online is available between 7am and 11pm and you can ring the telephone contact centre between 8am and 9pm.
Customers of both providers face similar waiting times when calling customer services. Virgin Media broadband users wait 1 minute and 39 seconds on average to get through, while Sky customers wait 1 minute and 42 seconds on average.
Both beat the industry average of 2 minutes and 51 seconds.
Sky also operates a Switch Squad service that will tell your old provider you are leaving and will manage your whole move. This works with all suppliers except Virgin Media.
When you are a big broadband provider you are always likely to have higher levels of complaints than others purely because you have a bigger customer base. The important thing is how you deal with those issues, and Sky seems to handle complaints better and can be reached at more hours of the day than Virgin, so gets the tick for this one.
Whichever one of these you choose, you will be getting some top-notch kit. Unlike other providers, both Sky and Virgin offer everyone the same hub router regardless of the type of broadband package they choose. This makes it easier to upgrade and move to different deals, and may help avoid new activation fees.
All Sky customers get a Sky Q Hub with their broadband package. It comes with two ethernet ports, a 2.4GHz and 5GHz antenna, and will let you connect up to 64 devices at the same time. Sky Hubs are also designed to save energy and will automatically switch to low power mode when not in use.
Virgin supplies the Virgin Media Hub 3.0 to all its users. It has four ethernet cables and 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless channels. The hub also has five internal antennas that should help to boost your speeds
Sky and Virgin are neck-and-neck for this one. Virgin Media deserves the plaudits though as its hub supports faster speeds.
Sky customers receive a McAfee Internet Security Suite trial for 12 months as well as the Sky Broadband Shield that lets you filter websites and customise your privacy settings into age categories. There is also a neat watershed feature that lets you set age rating restrictions depending on the time of day.
You can also use your internet on the move with the Sky WiFi app. This gives users free and unlimited wi-fi in thousands of popular places across the UK such as cafes and restaurants. It can be used on six registered devices. Many public places will already offer wi-fi by using Cloud hotspots but this gives you an added option where there is less availability.
Virgin Media is pretty similar when it comes to extras. Users get virus protection with F-Secure on up to five devices and parental controls using Web Safe. There is also Virgin Media WiFi for use at available hotspots on the move, and you can even use it inside London Underground stations.
There is barely anything to differentiate these two on extras. Sky nudges in front by allowing six devices to be registered for use at its free wi-fi hotspots.
Sky and Virgin are very closely matched as broadband providers, with both offering top-quality routers and good extras such as free WiFi and online security packages.
In terms of the broadband packages on offer from each, Sky offers standard and fibre broadband and you have to pay extra for any calls you want to make. Virgin only offers its uniquely fast fibre speeds and includes weekend calls as standard.
Sky just pips Virgin when it comes to the full customer service experience, but when it comes to speed, Virgin cannot be beaten. Its speeds are so far ahead of those offered by almost all other providers that noone else can come close. If it's ridiculously fast speeds you want, then Virgin is the one to go for.