Virgin Media broadband review: Lightning-fast speeds come at a price
Virgin Media is one of Britain’s biggest ISPs. That’s not bad when you consider it only launched in 2006.
It’s not just an internet provider, of course. Virgin Media also offers a wide range of internet-plus-TV packages, featuring both premium channels (such as Sky One and BT Sport) and a large TV-on-demand library. Naturally, there’s no obligation to sign up for any of this if all you need is a net connection.
Virgin is, uniquely in Britain, an all-fibre ISP – and that means it’s fast. The very slowest tier has an advertised average speed of 54Mbits/sec, and if you go all the way up to the fastest connection you can expect an insanely speedy 362Mbits/sec. As of early 2019, that’s convincingly the fastest home connection on the market, full stop.
Compare the best Virgin Media broadband deals in your area
There’s nothing nasty lurking in the small print, either. There are no data caps to worry about and you won’t experience cheaty throttling at any time. What’s more, while most ISP will nowadays try to lock you into a contract for 18 months, Virgin’s standard term is just a year. Unusually, there’s also the option of skipping the contract entirely and paying on a month-by-month basis, although you’ll pay a steepish £70 setup fee for that, rather than the normal £25.
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Virgin Media broadband review: Prices and packages
|Vivid 50 fibre broadband||Vivid 100 fibre broadband||Vivid 200 fibre broadband||Vivid 350 fibre broadband|
|Price per month (with line rental)||£35||£40||£45||£50|
|Contract length||12 months||12 months||12 months||12 months|
Virgin Media isn’t a budget ISP: its cheapest internet package (dubbed “Vivid 50”) will cost you £33 per month on a twelve-month contract, plus that £25 setup fee. However, it’s rated at 54Mbits/sec, which is far faster than most ISPs’ basic offerings, and for what you get it’s pretty competitive. The closest alternative is BT’s 50Mbits/sec service, which costs £36 a month for 18 months after which, if you stick with BT, it rises to £44.
If you demand even more speed, the Vivid 100 and Vivid 200 packages give you 108Mbits/sec and 213Mbits/sec respectively, for £40 and £45 – again, with the same setup fee and minimum contract terms.
At the top of the tree is Virgin’s exceptional Vivid 350 service, which costs £50 a month and promises an average download speed of 362Mbits/sec. EE is the only other ISP even attempting to offer bandwidth of this type, with its new G.fast-based Fibre Max 2 service. While EE is charging £3 less than Virgin, the service is a little slower, at “only” 300Mbits/sec, and you’ll need to commit to eighteen months rather than Virgin’s twelve.
There’s no doubt about it, then: if speed is your priority, Virgin Media needs to be on your shortlist. Our only caveat is that it’s easy to get carried away and end up paying for speeds you don’t really need. Streaming 4K video from Netflix only requires around 25Mbits/sec, so for casual users even Virgin’s cheapest package might well be overkill.
Virgin Media broadband review: Coverage
Uniquely among major British ISPs, Virgin Media doesn’t use the BT-owned Openreach network of cables and exchanges. Instead, it’s invested in its own fibre network, which means its services aren’t always available in locations where other ISPs operate.
The service is always expanding, however, and today around 60% of the country can now get Virgin fibre services. To find out if they’re available in your area, use the postcode checker on the Virgin Media website.
Virgin Media broadband review: Performance
According to the latest report from industry regulator Ofcom (based on surveys carried out in November 2017), Virgin Media’s internet services generally deliver the promised speeds. Customers on the 100Mbits/sec service saw average download speeds between 101Mbits/sec and 104Mbits/sec over the course of 24 hours, and even the slowest downloads came down the line at 83.8Mbits/sec – which is faster than the maximum speed you’ll get from most competing fibre packages.
The only real catch is that upload and download speeds are very, very asymmetrical. On the Vivid 50 package you’ll get 54Mbits/sec downstream, but just 3Mbits/sec upstream. That rises to 6Mbits/sec upstream on the Vivid 100 package, 12Mbits/sec on Vivid 200 and 21Mbits/sec for Vivid 350 customers.
Our other quibble with Virgin is that the supplied Media Hub 3 router has a slow, clunky interface and mediocre Wi-Fi performance. Happily, it can be switched into modem-only mode, leaving you free to use whichever router you want to manage your home network.
Virgin Media broadband review: Customer satisfaction
Virgin’s customer satisfaction ratings are reassuring. In 2017, when Ofcom asked a cross-section of UK broadband subscribers how they felt about the reliability and speed of their internet service, Virgin Media customers were the happiest and most likely to recommend its service to a friend.
Virgin also did very well in the customer service stakes, with 83% of users saying they were satisfied. That’s level pegging with Sky Broadband, and ahead of BT (79%), EE (79%) and TalkTalk (72%). The only ISP to get a better overall score here was Plusnet, with 86%.
As you’d expect, this translates to a fairly low volume of customer complaints. Ofcom recorded just 54 complaints about Virgin Media per 100,000 customers, which is less than half the rate of BT and TalkTalk. Here, only Sky Broadband outperformed Virgin, with a mere 29 complaints to Ofcom per 100,000 subscribers.
Virgin Media broadband review: Verdict
We’ve said it above, but it bears repeating: Virgin isn’t a budget ISP. Plenty of people could happily get by with something slower and cheaper from a different provider.
However, if you need an internet connection that’s fast enough to keep up with high-definition streaming, console gaming and a side-order of simultaneous downloads, Virgin Media is a great choice. It’s speedy and reliable, with strong customer satisfaction scores, short contract terms and a potentially tempting choice of TV add-ons.