Virgin Media broadband review 2018
| Dan Howdle | Friday, April 13th 2018
Virgin Media is all about speed. It’s miles ahead of the top speeds offered by the likes of BT and Sky with its top VIVID package advertising download speeds of up to 350Mb. According to Ofcom, Virgin Media offers the top speeds in the UK and no one’s arguing.
Even Virgin’s slowest product is faster than the entry-level fibre deals of almost all other UK providers. VIVID 50 fibre broadband offers speeds up to 50Mb while most other providers’ slowest deals average 10Mb for standard broadband or 35Mb for fibre.
Other VIVID broadband deals offer speeds up to 100Mb, 200Mb and 350Mb. These are lightning-quick speeds. On any of these packages you could have a busy household streaming multiple movies, gaming, updating the ‘gram and doing some good old-fashioned surfing, and you’d still have bandwidth left over to Spotify the Madonna classic ‘Like a Virgin’.
A big selling point with Virgin Media is that you’re more than likely to get the speed you're paying for than with other providers. Ofcom's 2017 figures show that those taking out basic broadband packages (previously advertised as up to 17Mbps) average, in fact, only 8.4Mbps (half the advertised speed) at peak times. But Virgin Media 50Mbps customers get an average of 90% of the speed promised, and in many cases, receive more than the speed advertised.
Ah… hold your horses. It’s not all good news. Upload speeds are one area where Virgin is less than impressive. The average upload speed on Virgin’s 50Mb deal is 3.04Mbps, and 5.99Mbps on the 100Mb package. Even on the 350Mb package you’ll only get upload speeds averaging 20.6Mbps (all speeds are for February 2018 and taken from Virgin Media Broadband Performance Panel powered by SamKnows).
As a comparison, Plusnet’s entry-level fibre deal has upload speeds averaging at 9.5Mbps, while you can get 19Mbps upload speeds on its top-end fibre package.
Do upload speeds matter? Well, yes, a bit. Hanging around waiting for photos to upload or big emails to send can be pretty frustrating (especially when you’ve told all your friends you’ve got the fastest broadband in town).
Virgin operates its own network
Virgin Media is unique in the UK in that it builds, runs and owns its own network. Pretty much every other fibre broadband provider uses the Openreach network. Doing its own thing helps Virgin broadband to achieve its market-leading speeds.
Virgin uses a different type of cable to Sky and BT and the rest. We don’t want to get too technical but Virgin’s DOCSIS® 3 cables have a thicker copper core combined with quality insulation and this cable runs right to your house rather than the cabinet or, heaven forbid, the telephone exchange.
Virgin Media contracts
Virgin Media’s broadband deals are refreshingly straightforward. Deals for up to 50Mbps, 100Mbps, 200Mbps and 350Mbps are available on 12-month or 30-day contracts.
The 30-day deals are fractionally more expensive than the 12-month ones and the set-up fees are higher if you pick the 30-day option as well. Not prohibitively so though, so Virgin’s 30-day deals are a solid choice for commitment-phobes, renters on insecure tenancies, students and the like.
Some broadband providers limit how much you can download each month – but not Virgin Media. There’s no caps and no catches so you can surf, browse, stream and game away to your heart’s content.
However, Virgin Media does implement some traffic management policies. But it reckons that on any given day, more than 95% of its customers won’t be affected at all by traffic management and that connections are only slowed for a small minority of customers during peak times.
You’ll need to pay an activation fee to get your Virgin Media broadband set up and, as we mentioned before, you’ll pay a higher activation fee on 30-day broadband deals than if you commit for a year.
If you’re switching from BT or another network that uses Openreach (pretty much all of them) you’ll need to cease that connection and have Virgin Media install a line at your property – you can’t just switch it over.
Virgin’s QuickStart should be available if your home has been connected to the Virgin network in the past three years. With QuickStart you install your equipment yourself.
In our opinion Virgin Media’s router is pretty impressive. All broadband customers get the same router: the Hub 3.0. Sky and BT, on the other hand, offer a lower-end router for their entry-level bundles, meaning if you want to upgrade or downgrade, you might need a different bit of kit.
The Hub 3.0 gives superfast wi-fi speeds that stay fast across loads of devices. You can also stay safe online with the latest wireless encryption technology, Web Safe, F-Secure SAFE™ and parental controls. For the technically-minded amongst you, the Hub 3.0 has DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem functionality, 24 bonded downstreams, 8 bonded upstreams, four ethernet 10/100/1000BaseT ports, and five internal antennas.
Virgin’s fast but it’s not everywhere. Virgin Media services are available in Virgin Media cabled streets only and subject to survey and capacity. You can enter your postcode on Virgin Media’s website to check availability. VIVID 350 – the fastest speed available in the UK – has the most limited availability.
As mentioned, Virgin Media uses a different type of cable to deliver your fibre broadband. Its cables run on DOCSIS 3 technology and they run right to your house. That means its speeds aren’t just faster, they’re more reliable too and you’re much more likely to get close to what you signed up for than you are with other providers.
In Ofcom’s latest customer service satisfaction survey, Virgin Media customers reported the highest levels of overall satisfaction with their broadband service at 91%. Customers also reported higher than average levels of satisfaction for both reliability (90%) and speed (91%).
However, Virgin Media had the highest proportion of broadband customers with a reason to complain in 2016 at 16% (the same as TalkTalk).
Virgin Media is the undisputed leader in the UK when it comes to broadband speeds. BT’s hot on its heels though and is working on delivering its Ultrafast fibre connections with speeds up to 314Mb – but when this will be widely available, we don’t know.
Virgin's broadband is not only fast, it's also reliable, so if you want the best there is in the UK broadband market, Virgin Media is for you.
Why choose Virgin Media broadband?
Virgin Media currently provide the fastest widely available broadband in the UK. Impressive, but what other stand-out features does Virgin Media broadband offer? Let's take a look.
- Fastest widely available broadband in the UK – up to 350Mbps
- You can add hundreds of channels of TV
- 14-day money-back guarantee
- No phone line required
- Exclusive customer-only Virgin Mobile SIMs offer unlimited data
- Award-winning customer service
Fastest widely available broadband in the UK – up to 350Mbps
Virgin Media has its own broadband cabling and infrastructure, making it master of its own destiny in terms speed. By contrast, most of Virgin Media's competitors are tied to BT's Openreach network, which currently restricts the speeds they can offer to a maximum of 100Mbps, but more commonly to around 65Mbps.
To give you an idea of how fast 350Mbps is, streaming an ultra high definition (4K) movie on Netflix requires a download speed of 25Mbps. With Virgin Media's VIVID 350 broadband everyone in your home can comfortably watch different 4K movies on different devices at the same time. Downloading an HD movie takes about two minutes at these speeds and an album just three seconds.
Virgin Media's top-end broadband package offers between three and four times the speed of its nearest rivals.
You can add hundreds of channels of TV
Apart from Sky Atlantic (we always begin talking about Virgin TV this way because so many people ask), you can get pretty much everything on Virgin TV you can get on Sky. In fact, you can pretty much get anything you could possibly want.
There are hundreds of channels, most of which you can watch for 30 days on catch-up, and you can add on Sky Sports, BT Sport, Sky Movies and a load of other stuff if you want it. Virgin’s V6 set-top box even delivers 4K UHD content (which you’ll definitely have the speed for if you’re with Virgin Media, but you’ll also need a 4K TV), and lets you record multiple channels at once.
14-day money-back guarantee
Virgin Media offers a 14-day money back guarantee. If you sign up and you’re not happy for some reason, Virgin will uninstall it and give you all your money back no quibbles. Technically, this is the same across all providers as you get a 14-day cooling off period (sometimes called a thinking period) by law.
However, Virgin Media does make a special point here, which leads us to believe such a move might be a little easier with Virgin Media than it is with anyone else.
No phone line is required with Virgin Media
Unlike its competitors on the Openreach network (everyone else), Virgin Media Broadband doesn't require a phone line. Of course, if lots of people have your number you’ll want to have one and you’ll want to port it over. If you’re starting out afresh, though, perhaps consider that you can get broadband and TV from Virgin Media without having to have a landline. Perhaps your mobile is enough?
Exclusive customer-only Virgin Mobile SIMs offer unlimited data
Virgin Media offers exclusive SIMs on the EE network (under the Virgin Mobile brand) to its broadband and TV customers. The latest and greatest offers unlimited 4G data – one of only two SIMs on the entire UK market to do so. If you’re signing up to Virgin Media broadband, TV or both, you will almost certainly save money by opting for a SIM too, provided you’re outside your existing contract.
Virgin’s cable technology is future-proof
DOCSIS 3 (D3) is the techy-sounding, faster cable broadband system employed by Virgin Media. Don’t be put off by the long acronym! It boils down to broadband being delivered over the old cable TV wires once used by Telewest and NTL and others instead of over your old BT landline as with other providers.
These thicker, more robust cables are not only more reliable than the copper biwires found on the Openreach network, but they’re also far more future-proof. The technology is capable of speeds up to 1.2 Gbps, allowing the possibility of speed increases in the not-too-distant future.
Virgin Media Hub3 router is best in class
There’s still some to and fro over which provider offers the best router, with BT, Sky and Virgin Media all claiming to own the top spot. Trouble is, you can’t really explore the battlefield on which this fight exists without getting into some very technical details, weighing up all sort of attributes that are universally denoted by impenetrable technobabble.
So we’ll just summarise anecdotally then and say that Virgin’s Hub3 is the best free router we’ve ever tested. Controversial maybe, but that’s what we think.
Award-winning customer service and fewer complaints than other providers
Virgin Media has won innumerable awards both for the services it offers and its outstanding customer service. Furthermore, in 2017, Ofcom reported 40 complaints per 100,000 customers for Virgin Media broadband compared with 127 complaints for BT broadband, showing far greater levels of satisfaction with Virgin Media.
Network of wifi hotspots
Virgin Media broadband and mobile customers can now use its network of wifi hotspots around the UK. These are located in London Underground and Overground stations, as well as the usual coffee shops, bars and restaurants.
Free wifi is provided via the network of Virgin Media broadband hubs in customer's homes and businesses, so in theory there should be a fairly wide network available. The service is completely separate from its customer's home broadband connections to prevent any privacy or security problems.
Web Safe parental controls allow safe surfing for kids
Websafe blocks access to any content it deems to be unsuitable for children, is fraudulent or contains viruses. Obviously, you, the parent, have to switch this on. Doing so is as easy as signing in and checking a box in your router settings. It comes with every Virgin Media broadband package, and it’s absolutely free.
F-Secure SAFE offers free virus protection for your devices
F-Secure SAFE is virus protection software that you’ll get for free with your Virgin Media broadband account, and which can be installed on up to five devices – including smartphones and tablets. F-Secure is a world leader in internet security.
Wifi on London Underground
It's decades since Rabbit phones worked on the underground (Rabbit only lasted 20 months in the early 1990s). So the ability to once again communicate with the outside world while standing in a tube station is most welcome.
Virgin Media Broadband customers get free access to its network of Wifi hotspots in London Underground stations. Customers can log on using their My Virgin Media login details. This is very handy for messaging, but does open the way for annoying Skype and Facetime calls in a previously undisturbed environment.
Free servicing or repair
If somebody spills a drink on your Virgin Media equipment, fear not! Servicing and repairs are included in your package and won't cost you a bean. In fact, even if the damage is caused by mistreatment, equipment will be serviced or repaired for free. That’s some peace of mind for party animals, students and people with children in the house.
Homeworks makes it great for people working from home
If you work from home, you probably know the situation. Your broadband breaks down when you have an urgent project to finish. You call customer service, only to find that as a domestic customer, you don't get the fast repair service offered to business customers.
A growing number of us fall into the gap between home broadband and business broadband. Relying on the internet for regular home-working or running a small business, but not yet ready for a dedicated business broadband service.
Virgin Media's solution to this problem is Homeworks. This paid, add-on provides Next Day Priority engineer call-out; 24/7 Gadget Rescue (IT support to you and me); a “TuneUp” from a Virgin Media engineer and a bunch of safety features to protect your business from viruses and malware.
Free photo prints from Snapfish
A bit of an odd one, but Virgin Media appears to be unique in offering its customers up to 100 free photo-prints from Snapfish. Of course this is all about turning you into a Snapfish customer, but free photos are free photos, and I bet we all have some photos languishing on our phones which we'd like printed.
Downsides to choosing Virgin Media broadband
- You can’t get it everywhere
- Cancellation fees can be incurred even if moving house
You can’t get it everywhere
Virgin Media, unlike all other widely available providers in the UK, has its own broadband network, which means two things: Firstly, it can go way, way faster than anyone else, secondly it’s not available as widely as other providers. In fact, Virgin Media serves only 60-65% of UK households meaning there’s a fair chance you won’t be able to get it.
You can use our postcode checker at the top of this page to be certain.
Cancellation fees can be incurred even if moving house
When you move house it generally won’t allow you to get out of your current broadband contract for free. That isn’t really a problem for providers other than Virgin Media since they’re available everywhere – you can just move your services along with yourselves and finish out your contract as normal.
However, with Virgin Media’s comparatively limited availability moving somewhere you can’t get it is far more common. As it stands Virgin Media will make you pay off your contract regardless. Just be sure you’re going to stick it out for the whole contract and if you are planning on moving during that time make sure you can get Virgin Media at your new home.
Virgin Media broadband – how to get the best deal
Virgin Media broadband offers a lot that other providers don’t. However, it also offers such a wide range of speeds and package options it can be hard to determine exactly which is the right one for you and your household. Here’s what you need to do, step-by-step.
1. Find out if you can get it
Though considered ‘widely available’ Virgin Media broadband isn’t available to anywhere near as many people as fibre from providers on the Openreach network (that’s everyone else). Openreach fibre is available to around 96% of UK households, whereas Virgin Media reaches somewhere under 60%.
So, first of all, you’re going to have to make sure you’re in that 60%. Put your postcode in at the top of this page and we will tell you if you can get it. Provided you can, move now onto step two.
2. Determine which speed is best for your household
Here’s the tricky bit. Under normal circumstances (if we were talking about any other provider, whose speeds are largely either 17, 38 or 76Mbps) we would be able to offer you good advice on what you can and can’t do on those speeds. Trouble is, Virgin Media’s ‘slowest’ offering of 50Mbps is so fast there’s literally nothing you can’t do with it. 50Mbps will happily allow you to do the most bandwidth (speed) intensive activity out there: Steam UHD 4K video. Twice over.
So why would you need 100, 200 or even 350Mbps? The truth is you don’t, but want and need are two different things. If you download stuff from the web – movies and games especially – to a computer or games console, the faster your speed the less time that will take.
The main thing to remember is if you go for the slowest speed Virgin Media offers, you likely won’t be disappointed, and you can upgrade in minutes if it isn’t meeting your requirements. If you go for the fastest, you’ll only be more impressed if you download a lot of stuff. General day-to-day activities like surfing and banking and streaming movies and TV will be the same on a 50Mbps connection as they are on a 350Mbps connection.
3. Do you need a phone line?
Well, do you? A lot of us rely on our mobiles these days – more on that in step five – so you should at least ask yourself if it’s actually worth having a landline anymore. If you’ve always had one and lots of friends and family have that number, then it no doubt is. If you’re starting afresh somehow, then maybe not.
Virgin Media is the only provider in the UK that offers true broadband-only deals (broadband without a phone line). However, going broadband only won’t save you any money. The line is the line and Virgin Media will make you pay for it whether you have a number and a phone attached to it or not.
4. Do you want to add Virgin TV?
In for a penny, in for a pound? Virgin TV is very, very good indeed, so while you’re about getting the broadband, why not get a TV package too? Up until a year or two ago, Virgin Media was way behind Sky in terms of the amount and variety of content on offer. Now, though, you can barely slip a razor between the two.
Virgin TV also offers the best free set-top box out there in the form of the Virgin V6. You can record, pause and playback live TV, watch Netflix and Amazon on it and even watch 4K UHD movies and TV. Think about it – it’s a decision you’re going to need to make.
5. Can you, and should you switch to Virgin Mobile?
Virgin Media also offers Virgin Mobile. If you’re out of your current contract you can get a Virgin SIM exclusively as a broadband and/or TV customer with truly unlimited 4G data. It isn’t widely available – only to existing customers.
And there are great savings to be made for getting SIMs for the whole family, not least of all considering that if you’re all on Virgin Mobile, you can all call each other for free.