By Dan Howdle | Wednesday, February 12th 2020
Virgin Mobile was 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.
The Virgin Mobile service is pretty 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 in truth he's had nothing to do with it for a long time now. It's owned by Liberty Global, a vast multinational telecoms company.
Virgin Mobile offers pay monthly phones with the latest handset models from Apple, Samsung, Sony and Huawei, all available with 4G as standard. It also has SIM-only and pay-as-you-go deals. You have a decent choice of contracts with 24-month and 36-month deals for handsets, and SIM-only deals lasting 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 that are available to everyone – packages range from 1GB to 120GB. However, if you are an existing Virgin Media broadband and/or TV customer, you can get unlimited data, calls and texts (though this will still cost you more than any of the limited packages).
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, but not on its mobile plans.
There are some neat extras on all Virgin Mobile’s plans though. Users can roll over unused data, 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 use your phone as a router for other devices, 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.
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 ratingsfrom 2018 (Ofcom reports are always a year or two behind) show 91% of its customer were satisfied with the service, below the average of 93%.
Customers were pretty unsatisfied with how their complaints handled, with just 44% satisfied with how issues were resolved – well below the average of 56% for mobile providers as a whole. 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 45 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.
Virgin Mobile 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.
Virgin Mobile uses the EE network, which has the widest 4G coverage in the UK. This allows Virgin Media to say it can cover over 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 reportfrom 2018 shows 96% of customers were happy with their Virgin Mobile phone reception – the highest percentage in the industry.
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, 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, especially if you can reap the added benefits of also being a Virgin Media broadband customer.