If it weren't for the unique situation we have in the UK with one provider on one network and everyone else on another, this would be a tough question to answer. Thankfully, that is the situation and it's not. There is a clear winner. In fact, it's barely even a contest.
Virgin Media is the best broadband provider in the UK. It offers the fastest speeds at up to 350Mbps (four times faster than its nearest rival, in fact), the best technology, the best reliability and future-proofing.
You're also more likely to get close to the speed advertised (89% on average according to Ofcom's most recent report) with Virgin Media than with any other fibre provider (85% on average). Virgin Media also offers arguably the best communication around faults and maintenance, which can be a lifesaver when things break as they inevitably do from time to time.
We'll add to that 'widely available'. There is faster broadband in a few locations spotted around the country. Some major providers are experimenting with what's called 'pure fibre' or 'FTTP' broadband in a small percentage of houses in York, for example. Then there are the so-called 'gigabit' providers, such as Hyperoptic, offering 1000Mbps (1Gb), but only to a tiny sliver of the population where they operate.
On a similar note, you'll need to bear in mind Virgin Media is only available to around 60% of UK households. Here's a tool you can use to check if you can get it where you live.
Virgin Media is the only provider offering what are quite frankly insane speeds across much of the country. The fact that it can comes down to the technology on which it was built. BT, Sky, TalkTalk, EE, Plusnet and all the others operate on the Openreach network, a major part of which (that running between the cabinet and your home) uses copper phone lines that could be eighty years old.
Hardly surprising then that there are limits on how fast that technology can go. It's why the fastest widely available speeds with any Openreach provider all average around 65Mbps. Meanwhile, Virgin Media inherited much of its network not from old phone lines, but from far more recent cable TV infrastructure. It's newer, and the cables themselves more capable.
At the moment, the fastest speed you'll get on Virgin Media is 350Mbps. That's already several times faster than even the most demanding household could possibly need, but the technology itself is capable of reaching around 800Mbps in the future. Plus, the average speed that customers can expect to receive with Virgin VIVID 350 is 362Mbps. But for now all you need to know is that Virgin Media's top speed is at least five times better than anyone else's.
We've alluded to this in the section above, but Virgin Media offers the best technology out there, both in terms of the cabling that makes up its network, and – arguably – the router that distributes the data around your home. The Virgin Hub (now on version 3.0 at the time of writing) is a superb bit of kit that, if not exceeds, certainly matches the best the competition has to offer, blow for blow.
Having said that, it's worth bearing in mind that the faster your broadband is, the further short of that speed you're going to get over wi-fi. That's no fault of the router, but rather most homes are within range of a lot of other people's wi-fi networks and that causes interference. If you sign up for Virgin Media's extraordinarily quick broadband, bear in mind you're only going to get that speed with a LAN cable (a cable hooked up between the device and the router).
You'll still get great speeds over wi-fi – just don't expect to get 350Mbps. The lower the speed you subscribe to, the closer to that you'll get over wi-fi, basically. If ever there were a sign the broadband you're getting is quick, it's that the wi-fi, a relatively new technology, cannot keep up.
How do you quantify value for money? Well, we look at all sorts of things, from the quality of the service and equipment to the speeds you get. And Virgin Media wins, hands-down, especially if you look at it on a cost-per-megabit basis.
Here's an example (these were prices extracted at the time of writing and may have changed some by the time you're reading this). Virgin Media's top-end 350Mbps service can be snagged for as little as £44 per month. Meanwhile, BT's fastest deal is £45.99 per month, but that's for only 67Mbps.
You'll probably have already done the maths in your head to some extent. The amount you pay per megabit of speed, per month, is roughly four times less for Virgin Media than it is for BT and other similar providers on the Openreach network. Of course, 'value' is only felt where the resource is used or useful. To get good value you have to get the speed best suited to your household, so that's what we'll talk about next.
We could go into immense detail here, but we've already done that in another guide concerning which speed is appropriate for your household more generally. Instead, then, let's talk about the speeds and what you can and can't do with them.
To start, we're going to shatter a premise you probably hold from the point you looked at the speeds on offer – that the lowest speed offered by Virgin Media (50Mbps) won't be enough. 50Mbps is considerably faster than entry-level fibre from all other providers in the UK bar BT (which also offers 50Mbps). Think about that for a second: Virgin's slowest is faster than that being advertised elsewhere as 'superfast'.
So you'd expect to be able to so a lot with that speed and you can. In fact, there's literally nothing you can't do with 50Mbps. Whether or not you opt to go for 100Mbps or even 350Mbps, then, really comes down to the type of tasks you are likely to set your internet connection to work on and whether those additional megabits will save you time.
In a nutshell: If you download movies and games a lot, the faster the speed you go for, the less time that's going to take. We personally have the fastest speed available (350Mbps) and as avid gamers and movie watchers, this saves us time. Plus, we're some of the most impatient people alive.
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