Virgin Mobile launched to the world in 1999 as the first mobile virtual network operator, tagging onto what is now the EE network. Several Virgin brands have come and gone since then, (anyone remember Virgin Cola?) but Virgin Mobile continues to grow and thrive. So is it actually any good?
Virgin is pretty much everywhere. You can go on holiday on a Virgin plane or train, watch TV with a Virgin set-top box, order your vino from Virgin wines and even exercise at Virgin Active.
Its Virgin Mobile service is equally popular, with a decent range of tariffs, handsets and customer perks. You may wonder whether Richard Branson really needs any more of your hard-earned bucks, but the billionaire’s mobile brand regularly comes up with some of the market’s best deals.
Virgin Mobile offers pay monthly, SIM-only and pay-as-you-go deals. You have a decent choice of contracts with 24-month and 36-month deals on a monthly tariff, known as Freestyle plans, but its SIM-only deals are only for 12 months.
All its contract and SIM-only tariffs come with no limits on texts, but if you want unlimited calls as well you will need to pay for its more expensive contracts. There aren’t any packages with unlimited data – packages range from 1GB to 40GB. However, if you are an existing Virgin Media customer, you can get unlimited data, calls and texts.
You won’t have to pay anything upfront for Virgin’s handsets on its monthly tariffs, but there is the option to buy a phone outright. There are also no delivery charges. So the set-up costs can be pretty low compared to other providers.
Strangely, there are no 30-day rolling contract options, which have become common with other networks. It is also odd as Virgin will let you take out 30-day contracts on its TV or broadband services, so it is perfectly aware of the flexible concept.
There are some neat extras on all Virgin Mobile’s plans though. Users can roll over unused data, get data free messaging on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter, and can upgrade or downgrade their plan to expand or reduce their minutes or data at the end of each month. This provides some added flexibility. Virgin also allows tethering with no limits on all its plans, so you can share your data as and when you want to, subject to your data limit.
Virgin Mobile customers also get access to 22,000 public wi-fi hotspots in the UK for free. These hotspots are located in bars, restaurants and highstreet shops and even on the London Underground. Having wi-fi on public transport is pretty nifty, but it only actually only works at Tube stations rather than in the tunnels, which is less useful.
Virgin Media offers deals from the standard brands. You can get the latest, and also some of the oldest handsets from Apple, Nokia, Samsung and Sony. If you are desperate to get your hands on the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy and it's not out yet, you can pre-order it.
However, there is a whole world of decent handsets beyond these four brands - there are equally popular phones from brands such as OnePlus, Huawei and LG on offer.
It is also worth keeping an eye on Virgin Mobile's handset offers as it has been known to be generous with free gifts such as tablets to accompany handsets.
Virgin Mobile has high customer satisfaction ratings, at least according to industry body Ofcom. The latest Ofcom ratings from 2016 show 94% of its customer were satisfied with the service, above the average of 92%.
Customers also seem pretty satisfied with how complaints handled, with 60% satisfied with how issues were resolved – above the average of 57% for mobile providers. If there are issues or questions about your phone, it shouldn’t take too long to get through. Virgin Mobile’s call waiting times are among the lowest at just 38 seconds.
Ofcom data is based on surveys of a few hundred customers, so it is also worth checking other sources. It has a rating of just one star out of five on reviews website Trustpilot based on feedback from more than 400 customers. Complaints range from billing errors to incorrect charges. (It is worth remembering though that more people are likely to leave reviews if they have had a bad service than if they had a positive experience.)
If issues do arise, you can call Virgin Mobile at most times of day. Its customer service is open between 8am and 10pm, seven days a week. It also has live chat and you can check the service by logging into your account online.
Virgin Mobile's tariffs rank well in the market and there are plenty of extras that help save money. There are no upfront costs on its handsets, which can immediately reduce the overall cost of a contract. Plus, its data rollover means you can still make use of unused data from previous months, and you also have data-free access to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter, which means you can save your data purely for streaming, browsing and gaming.
Virgin users can get cashback for referring a friend, and can also trade in their old handset as cash towards a new one under the Freestyle Trade Up offer. The Trade Up scheme lets monthly contract customers upgrade to a new phone and contract before the end of their current deal by trading in the value of their current phone.
The value of your old phone is put towards paying off however much is remaining on your contract. If your old phone is worth more than your remaining contract, you’ll get the extra value back. If it’s worth less, you can still upgrade early – all you need to do is pay the difference. Virgin will provide a quote for your old device, based on its condition, that is guaranteed for 14 days and you will then receive a pack in the post in which to return your device within 14 days.
Virgin Mobile uses the EE network, which has the widest 4G coverage in the UK. This allows Virgin Media to say it can cover 99% of the population with 4G. Essentially, Virgin Mobile is saying its signal will reach all parts of the UK, but there may also be local factors such as buildings, trees or weather that could affect the actual coverage you receive.
Your best bet is to look at Virgin’s mobile coverage checker. This lets you enter your postcode and it will tell you if your area has low, moderate, good, very good or excellent coverage. It will also tell you how good your area is for both the standard 3G and superfast 4G coverage.
Virgin customers seem pretty happy with the signal they get. Ofcom’s latest service quality report from 2016 shows 87% of customers were happy with their Virgin Mobile phone reception – above the average of 86%.
Virgin Mobile customers get off to a good start as there are no upfront costs, and you can upsize or downsize your data and minutes each month, and if you like to do regularly upgrade to the latest device, you can trade in your old phone whilst in contract.
When it comes to customer service, value for money and coverage, Virgin does well. Ofcom regularly rates Virgin highly when it comes to customer service, and tagging onto the EE network gives Virgin the benefit of the widest 4G coverage in the UK.
On the downside, there are no 30-day options and tethering is not permitted, which could cause problems for some. However, its prices for contract and SIM-only deals put it regularly among the best buys, and you can get cash for referring a friend or take advantage of special deals offering freebies such as tablets.
Overall we'd say Virgin Mobile is definitely a provider worth considering.
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