BT Infinity vs Virgin Media

neil hawkins
By Neil Hawkins

virgin media vs bt infinity

BT and Virgin Media are the two biggest broadband providers offering superfast internet access in the UK - which naturally led us to wonder: who's doing it best?

BT Infinity offers a choice of up to 52Mb and 76Mb unlimited broadband to almost 90% of the UK - including more rural areas due to Government funding supporting some of their expansion.

Virgin Media on the other hand offer up to 50Mb, 100Mb, 200Mb and 300Mb unlimited broadband - but their network only covers about half of the population and tends to be focused in more urban towns and cities.

Before we get started then, it's worth first checking whether BT Infinity and/or Virgin Media are available in your area with a quick postcode search:

Postcode:
Enter your postcode above to check availability in your area.

BT Infinity or Virgin: Who's cheapest?

Hopefully, now you know you have the choice between BT Infinity and Virgin Media - we can start by asking: who does the fastest broadband cheapest?

The good news is that a little competition has done both BT and Virgin Media good: fibre is now not that much more expensive than standard "up to 17Mb" broadband, and there are options to suit most households in terms of price and download limits.

Here's a quick rundown of the broadband options for both providers, all with line rental and free weekend calls included in the monthly prices:

Package Broadband Contract length Upfront price Monthly price
bt infinity Unlimited Infinity 1 + Weekend calls Up to 52Mb
Unlimited
12 months £9.99 £31.99
for 12 mths,
then £47.49
bt infinity Unlimited Infinity 2 + Weekend calls Up to 76Mb
Unlimited
12 months £9.99 £44.99
for 12 mths,
then £53.99
virgin media Vivid 100 + Talk Weekends Up to 100Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £34
for 12 mths,
then £45
virgin media Vivid 200 + Talk Weekends Up to 200Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £39
for 12 mths,
then £50
virgin media Vivid 300 + Talk Weekends Up to 300Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £44
for 12 mths,
then £55

By this basic measure, Virgin Media offer faster deals for similar prices - and sometimes cheaper - than BT charge for their fibre offerings.

Most impressively Virgin Media's second slowest fibre deal, Vivid 100Mb, is almost twice as fast as BT's entry level fibre deal Unlimited Infinity 1, which only underwent a speed boost last year. Yet it's very similarly priced. It's also around 25Mb quicker than BT's fastest deal - Unlimited Infinity 2, but much cheaper.

However, just looking at the headline package costs isn't always the best guide to which provider offers the better deals overall.

Special offers

Special offers for new customers often range from money off vouchers to money off the package for the first few months.

These deals can make considerable savings, so they're worth looking into. Here's what Virgin Media and BT are offering at the moment:

BT Infinity special offers

What's on offer? When you join online for: Need to know:
bt BT Unlimited broadband for just £26.99/mth
Hurry! Offer ends in 3 days!
19 October 2017
BT Unlimited Broadband, with or without BT TV.£9.99 delivery fee and 12 month minimum term applies.
bt BT Unlimited Infinity for just £31.99/mth + no activation fee
Hurry! Offer ends in 3 days!
19 October 2017
BT Unlimited Infinity broadband, with or without BT TV.£9.99 delivery fee and 12 month minimum term applies.
bt BT Unlimited Infinity 2 for just £44.99/mth + no activation fee
Hurry! Offer ends in 3 days!
19 October 2017
BT Unlimited Infinity broadband with or without BT TV£9.99 delivery fee and 12 month minimum term applies.
bt Free phone line installation or reconnection worth £130With any BT Broadband packageMinimum term applies.

See more deals and prices, and check availability on our main BT table here.

Virgin Media special offers

What's on offer? When you join online for: Need to know:
virgin media TV, broadband and phone bundles from £35 a month Virgin's TV, broadband and phone bundles.12-month contract.
£20 activation fee.
virgin media Broadband and phone from £29 a month Virgin's broadband and phone bundles.12 month contract.
£20 activation fee.

See more deals and prices, and check availability on our main Virgin Media table here.

Cutting phone line costs

Virgin Media distinguish themselves from BT by allowing customers to sign up without a phone line, although the saving for doing so is somewhat lower than we might expect.

Let's look, for example, at the 200Mb fibre deals from Virgin Media:

Package Broadband Contract length Upfront price Monthly price
virgin media Vivid 200 + Talk Weekends Up to 200Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £39
for 12 mths,
then £50
virgin media Vivid 200 Up to 200Mb
Unlimited
12 months £20 £37
for 12 mths,
then £43

It's not that big a saving at all - and given that there's usually some kind of introductory offer available when taking both broadband and phone, the standalone deal can sometimes be more expensive over the course of the contract.

At the same time, depending on the circumstances, ditching the home phone line could mean potentially bigger savings further down the line - there's no need to worry about the cost of landline calls, and it's the only way to avoid increasingly steep line rental costs.

Ultimately it depends how important a home phone line is and how often calls are made to determine whether combining phone and broadband is worth it.

There's more information on broadband without a phone line here.

Virgin now set the bar for the UK's most expensive line rental, having recently raised theirs from £17.99 to £19 a month - but the difference between them and BT is tiny, as BT charge £18.99.

Both offer a discount when line rental is paid for 12 months in advance. Since July last year BT have charged £208.80 for 12 months upfront, equivalent to £17.40 a month.

By contrast, Virgin's upfront line rental is £196 a year, equivalent to £16.34 a month.

Bundle options

Both Virgin Media and BT are big on TV, broadband and phone bundles, offering big discounts for their triple play subscribers.

Each offers all the core Freeview channels and a range of on demand content - at least some of which is free to all customers. Plus Sky Cinema, Sky Sports and BT Sport channels can be added for additional monthly fees.

While Virgin Media TV can be taken as a standalone product, BT TV is only available to BT Broadband customers. The prices below are just for the TV element:

Package Basic channels Price for TV alone
bt Entertainment Starter Up to 80
(12 in HD)
£3.50
bt Entertainment Plus Up to 110
(12 in HD)
£8
for 12 mths,
then £10
bt Total Entertainment Up to 130
(28 in HD, 1 in UHD)
£15
for 12 mths,
then £20
virgin media Mix TV 150+
(11 in HD)
£22
virgin media Full House TV 245+
(50 in HD)
£44

BT TV is cheaper, however, because Virgin Media offer more channels and the Tivo box - the new version of which looks likely to restore Tivo's reputation for being one of the best set top boxes on the market.

For more on the providers' TV packages - and how they compare with Sky's - have a look at our main TV guide, as well as our in-depth guides to BT TV here and Virgin Media TV here.

Whilst it doesn't include BT, our guide to Sky vs Virgin is also worth a look for more about how Virgin perform against their closest competitor.

BT Infinity or Virgin: Who's fastest?

Virgin Media advertise much faster speeds, and their claims tend to stand up. Technical differences between the networks enable Virgin to deliver faster speeds, and independent testing confirms that customers do actually receive those higher speeds.

A cable apart

As mentioned above, however, last April BT raised their game slightly by regrading their Infinity 1 fibre to offer up to 52Mb.

BT Infinity uses superfast fibre optics to link together BT exchanges and green street cabinets, creating a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) network - but from there, they connect to homes via a normal copper phone line, referred to as "the last mile".

Virgin Media have a separate fibre optic network which runs underneath the pavements of the areas in which it is installed.

Then there's a short stretch of coaxial cable - which is more efficient than copper at transmitting data - to connect a customer's home to the fibre network outside.

The technical difference means that when Infinity was first launched, BT could only advertise speeds of up to 40Mb - when Virgin were already offering up to 50Mb.

The much greater speeds their network is capable of - now up to 300Mb in some places - are something Virgin have been keen to play up ever since BT Infinity first launched.

Headline speed versus reality

However, in 2014 Ofcom said there was strong evidence that Virgin Media's network slowed down more at peak times, saying, "[BT] FTTC connections were less affected by peak time contention than cable [Virgin Media] connections".

That means Virgin Media users experience slightly slower speeds during the busiest periods of the day.

Peak time speeds tend to be lower anyway because of the sheer amount of people sharing the network at those busy times.

But for what that means in terms of actual speeds, here are Ofcom's figures from November 2016 (published April 2017):

Advertised speed Average speeds
over 24 hours
Average speeds
at peak time
(8-10pm weekdays)
bt Up to 52Mb 47.7Mb - 48.6Mb 46.9Mb - 47.9Mb
bt Up to 76Mb 57.9Mb - 60.7Mb 57.0Mb - 59.8Mb
virgin media Up to 100Mb 87.7Mb - 95.2Mb 72.6Mb - 86.1Mb
virgin media Up to 200Mb 169.0Mb - 177.2Mb 143.7Mb - 155.4Mb

The Ofcom figures cited above and used in the graph below look at performance in November 2016, shortly before they introduced their 300Mb service.

Ofcom found that, among those on the faster packages, the proportion of users with a connection that had a minimum speed that was more than 90% of its maximum speed ranged from 15% for Virgin's 200Mb service and 70% for BT's up to 76Mb service.

ofcom peak time speed proportion

SOURCE: Ofcom, UK Home Broadband Performance, April 2017. Available here [pdf].

Virgin have been reporting on the performance of their 200Mb and 300Mb services every month since they rolled out, using SamKnows - who work with Ofcom to produce their figures - and the data is promising.

At the time of this update, for example, here's what the SamKnows results showed for August 2017:

Average over 24 hours Peak (8-10pm weekdays)
Up to 200Mb 197.26Mb 183.53Mb
Up to 300Mb 293.44Mb 282.9Mb

SOURCE: SamKnows and Virgin Media. Available here.

Ofcom have previously remarked on Virgin's traffic management for its part in the reduction of speed for Virgin Media customers at peak times, but until the introduction of the (now retired) Gamer package it wasn't clear by how much.

That's because the Gamer package was free from traffic management - which gave us an indication of the kind of difference in performance with and without it, for 200Mb customers at least.

Virgin may claim to have the 'Ferrari' of broadband services but this report clearly shows it gets stuck in rush hour traffic. BT fibre on the other hand is far more reliable ensuring customers enjoy an open road however fast they're travelling.
BT spokesperson, 2013

Prior to its introduction, the last time Virgin Media changed their traffic management policy was in 2014, when they removed restrictions for heavy downloaders.

That left in place the limits on uploads: customers who reach "soft" upload limits will see any additional uploads they make slowed down considerably.

For example: once customers on their 10Mb and 200Mb package can uploaded just over 1250MB and 2250Mb of data respectively, in the space of an hour between 4pm and 11pm weekdays, and between 11am and 11pm at weekends, their upload speeds will be throttled by up to 50% for 60 minutes.

If users continue to upload data and hit a second threshold, their uploads will be slowed even further by up to 65%, and for another two hours from that point.

However, those who are on Virgin's top tier package, Vivid 300, are exempt from any traffic management restrictions.

In addition Virgin estimate that on any given day more than 95% of customers are not affected by their traffic management policies.

Since February 2013, BT haven't applied any kind of limit, soft or otherwise, to their unlimited packages, in terms of both downloads and uploads, and in this respect are widely regarded for providing truly unlimited internet packages.

Usage limit differences

Much to the relief of Infinity customers who not so long ago saw their usage capped at a measly 25GB, all of BT's broadband packages now come with unlimited data allowances.

This move reflects the drastic increase in average household data usage we've seen over the past few years. In late 2014 Ofcom said the average household got through around 60GB of data per month; by the end of 2015 that had shot up to 82GB per month, and by the end of 2016 we were getting through an average of 132GB each month.

The new limit is just about enough for those who want superfast broadband in order to stream a few hours of SD video per night without interruption, as well as surfing and checking emails - or for those who have BT TV and can therefore access their on demand content through the set top box, which doesn't count towards data limits.

For gaming or streaming addicts, unlimited data allowances are also a welcomed move. However, it's important to remember that the extent of their unlimitedness differs.

As mentioned, BT say users on unlimited packages can download as much as they want without being slowed at any time.

This was a surprising move from BT, mainly because of the number of customers they have. Previously "truly unlimited" broadband was associated with ISPs with smaller customer bases, purporting quality over quantity.

Even Sky, despite having a glowing record for customer service, often run into difficulties because of the high demand for their truly unlimited broadband.

That said, BT's change of policy wasn't that big a jump for them, given that they previously only slowed peer-to-peer downloads during peak times. We can only assume BT know what they're doing.

See this article for more information on traffic management and fair use policies.

BT Infinity or Virgin: Who's best?

In conclusion, Virgin Media continue to beat BT Infinity in several key areas: on the whole they are cheaper; they offer the fastest speeds; they allow users to sign up for fibre without having to take a copper phone line too.

However, BT really aren't far behind.

They offer lower contention rates and fairer traffic management rules, and their special offers are extremely competitive.

Let us know which you prefer in the comments below.

Comments

1
4 September 2016
Steve Foster

does this apply to suppliers like Vodafone who also use the Infinity hardware? How do they manage to offer prices less than those quoted for BT themselves?

7 September 2016
Choose team

Hi Steve

The first part of your question is probably answered in our guide to fibre broadband, available <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=%2Fmedia%2Fguide%2Ffaqs%2Fbest-fibre-broadband.html%3AFIlleOzCYZCC5eWbOMaiTLMMIDc&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="/media/guide/faqs/best-fibre-broadband.html">here</a>.

As for why the ISPs who resell BT Infinity charge different (and often lower) prices than BT, there are a couple of reasons: firstly, the wholesale prices BT Openreach charge other providers for their fibre lines aren't as high as we might expect - we look into them a little <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=%2Fmedia%2Fguide%2Fnews%2Fplusnet-announce-price-rises.html%3Ao2hhCb4n6aey8PLXhDIvILz75Co&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="/media/guide/news/plusnet-announce-price-rises.html">here</a>. Then it depends which extras they provide - like free wi-fi when out and about and the like - as to how much more cheaply (or not) they can offer their fibre.

2
31 January 2016
sean

I have Virgin and it's a disgrace I have called them many of times to no joy, I ask for an engineer to come out to me but they will not send, so soon I am changing to bt infinity and hopefully my gaming problems will be resolved.

3
13 December 2015
Megan

Very close call. BT giftcard evens out small difference in price, which they are above Virgin. + my partner loves football and BT sports TV is included for only one off activation cost - so we went for BT this time.

4
23 November 2015
MrWeavile

I wouldn't recommend VM either way. Every Sunday afternoon/evening, the network is borderline unusable, with ping tests coming back with an average of 500ms, and some packets even being lost outright. Not sure if BT is as appalling as VM, but from my own experience, I would absolutely avoid at all costs.

5
15 March 2015
Charles5678

I have been with Virgin Media for many years now (my parents were with them before they were even NTL etc) about four years ago I was on copper 10Mb down and 1Mb up and that was horrible I couldn't stand it, in 2012 or before that we got an email saying our speeds were being doubled for free, so up to 20Mb down and 2Mb up we went. Still was terrible the whole time we'd be getting somewhere in the region of about 6Mb down 0.5Mb up at the most.

BUT...

September last year it all changed. Free upgrade to Virgin Fibre, brand spanking new hub and 50Mb down 3Mb up, ALL FOR FREE.

For four months everything was perfect I was loving it, never slowed down in peak times and the wireless was fantastic (until my dad broke the hub somehow) sent us out a new one (FOR FREE) took the old one and we were on our way again.

THEN....

I was so happy with the service that for an extra &pound;5 a month I tripled our speeds to 152Mb up, 12Mb down.

In the whole 7 months I have had Virgin Media Fibre there has been ONE line outage and that lasted 12 hours before it was fixed.

Highly recommend Virgin, fast speeds, great customer service, and I'm never slowed down in peak times!

#teamvirginmedia BT haven't got nothing on Virgin Media.

Also Virgin Media don't have a fair usage policy on your downloads so you will never be purposely slowed down because of your use. HURRAY.

And here is a peaktime SpeedTest.

Peace.

6
22 February 2015
Leigh

I have Virgin Media and I get 152Mb/12Mb Ethernet and 90Mb/13Mb via Wifi.

7
7 March 2014
Karl Leeming

And just to make this a little bit more interesting, I have BT fibre straight into my house I reach speeds of up to 300Mbs, my telephone is through my fibre box and no longer have copper line in the house for the last 9 months, as well as free wifi abroad and in the UK with open zone and fon.

29 September 2014
don atkinson

How did you get that?

3 March 2015
Joel

He doesn't he's lying.

2 April 2015
Clive Sanderson

BT do provide a Fibre To The Premises service, on new build estates. Up to 300Mb.

8
30 January 2014
Simon Fisher

After 2 years of consistently fantastic Infinity from BT (37 Mbps down, 8.5 Mbps up), I have upgraded to Infinity 2 (and getting 74 Mbps down / 18Mbps up). It never stops, never goes wrong. I am delighted it with it.
My broadband provider before that, same property, was Virgin - an advertised 30Mbps service. From 4pm - 11pm every weekday it stopped dead. My speeds ranged from 0.02Mbps to 0.3Mbps. It was put down to congestion. I complained and complained. Fair play to Virgin, they reimbursed me every month. But as the date to fix the congestion kept slipping, month to month, my patience was tested too severely and I asked to be set free.
Every area is different, but I am living proof that congestion on Virgin cable can be crippling.

27 March 2015
MadMarc

I had the same issue and it ended up being the early modem and router hub. I had them put just the modem and used my own router and the issue was solved after 3 separate engineers and data gathering from me. Congestion doesn't take your rates down THAT low.

9
1 December 2013
Tony

Good article but it makes out that Virgin's fibre optic network is right outside the house when in reality the node, the equivalent to the green cabinets BT use, is probably much further away. The reason why Virgin can theoretically offer higher speeds than BT is the use of coaxial cabling instead of BT's twisted pair cabling. Coaxial cabling has a higher throughput and signal propagation than twisted pairs so they can offer higher speeds than BT.

10
24 September 2013
LeeC22

The biggest problem with BT, is their refusal to allow static IPs on their residential services. For me, they remain on par with sub-standard providers like TalkTalk and Sky, until they up their level for more tech-savvy users. PlusNet, Zen and even John Lewis offer this facility.

The demands of the users are changing, so BT needs to up their game to stay with the competition. It's no good driving at Ferrari speeds, if you can only drive in straight lines.

11
11 September 2013
Iain

What BT do not tell you when you sign up for Infinity is that the broadband speed all depends on how far you are away from the "box".

I complained about the speed as I was only achieving between 9 and 13Mb. BT sent an engineer who told me the best I would get was 18 - 20Mb as I was too far from "the box".

Their "up to" in reality for me is now regularly just over 18Mb with an upload just over 2Mb wireless and best achieved with an Ethernet connection was a tad over 21Mb - this despite their emails suggesting and I quote:
"You can now get faster broadband speeds in your neighbourhood because we've improved our network. And they won't cost you a penny extra.
Your download speed could go from up to 38Mb to up to 76Mb, and your upload speed from up to 9Mb to up to 19Mb.
They have not contacted me at contract expiry and when I called them they were not prepared to reduce the price but kept re-iterating the service is "up to". The email I quoted was received 23rd May 2013.

12
3 July 2013
Christopher Mark Greenhalgh

Thinking of switching to BT also. Worth mentioning too that the 2 key points for me are:

1. BT upload speed on fibre is double that of Virgin, data received to pc x2
2. no fair usage soft cap (I do online gaming) which would be better all round.

Also as mentioned cheaper calls too, more so to those 0845 customer service people we all deal with.

13
2 July 2013
Ella

What about comparing customer services? I have had Virgin in the past and found not only did the broadband and TV regularly not work but that calling them up often took 20 minutes before we got through and then there were call out charges. This was 2 years ago but friends still with Virgin often complain about it. Is BT any good?

30 July 2015
lilcpl

I've had the same exact problems with BT...

2 July 2013
Choose team

We compare ISPs by customer service reports in <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.choose.net%2Fmedia%2Fguide%2Ffaqs%2Fbest-broadband-providers-customer-service.html%3ARaw87f2DC4zFhqSBqFvRYIQfnBs&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="http://www.choose.net/media/guide/faqs/best-broadband-providers-customer-service.html">this guide</a>, and we covered a recent Ofcom report on complaints figures <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.choose.net%2Fmedia%2Fguide%2Fnews%2Fofcom-complaints-fewest-virgin-sky.html%3AMVrf5y5zralklsTLaYXFjVN9HmE&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="http://www.choose.net/media/guide/news/ofcom-complaints-fewest-virgin-sky.html">here</a>.

14
9 April 2013
b

What's also worth noting, is that it costs around &pound;5-&pound;6 extra to get free evening calls with Virgin Media. I am with them at the moment and thinking of changing to BT, because BT include free evening calls.

9 April 2013
Choose team

That's right - BT do indeed include free evening and weekend calls when customers take BT Infinity broadband.

However it's worth noting that BT normally only include weekend calls within the price of their line rental, and evening and weekend calls are currently &pound;3.30 extra a month (at the time of writing).

15
9 February 2013
Neil

Virgin Media's actual speed in my area at peak times on their 60Mb package is 4Mb. Slowest broadband I have had. Do not believe the advertising, its awful.

19 April 2016
James

I think what you dont realise is it's 60mb's megabites, you are measuring it in Megabytes, there are 8 bites in a byte so divide 60 by 8 and that is your speed.

16
22 December 2012
Adam

What about upload speeds? Virgin are terribly stingy on uploads compared to BT. I'm with Virgin, and I think I have to move as I can't back up all the photos I take, the connection is just too slow.

17
2 January 2012
Brendan

I'm on BT Infinity option 1 with a 40GB monthly usage allowance. If you go over your allowance BT will charge you &pound;5 extra for every 5GB over, if you go under, the difference is not carried over to next month. I had about 17GB usage remaining as of 31/12/2011. That got wiped out on Jan 1 2012. Value for money? I don't think so.

2 January 2012
Choose team

That is unfortunately a BT policy (it's not restricted to Infinity), but they aren't alone in charging for exceeding usage limits. We've detailed the ISPs who charge (and how much) as well as those that don't at the end of this <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=%2Fmedia%2Fguide%2Ffaqs%2Fhow-much-broadband-usage-allowance.html%3AFzUPUzQgZiFmhLNlLQT5UcnKySk&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="/media/guide/faqs/how-much-broadband-usage-allowance.html">guide on broadband usage limits</a>.

18
28 November 2011
Alan

One thing worth mentioning with BT is the added bonus of free unlimited wifi hotspot usage. I've yet to try it, but it is certainly an attractive proposition as an alternative to 3G. This could save several pounds a month provided it's as good as it appears to be.

28 November 2011
Choose team

Hi Alan, yes, we have touched upon BT Openzone minutes in our full <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=%2Fmedia%2Fbroadband%2Freviews%2Fbt%2F%3AYw2fApDIJ2hQQPogaKn7FqZb_p0&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="/media/broadband/reviews/bt/">review of BT broadband</a> here, it is the UK's largest hotspot network.


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