Hyperoptic vs Virgin Media: ultrafast vs superfast broadband
FOR most of us there's only one way to get anything approaching ultrafast broadband, and that's with Virgin Media.
Their superfast fibre broadband is available to about half the population, mostly in large towns and cities, with speeds of up to 200Mb available to an increasing number of those covered by the network.
But for some lucky souls, they're not the only faster than superfast option. Hyperoptic provide up to 1Gb fibre broadband, on a building by building basis, in the kind of densely populated areas that seem like prime Virgin Media territory.
And as we hope to show in this guide, where both are available, the difference in price between superfast and ultrafast isn't as great as might be expected.
Virgin Media are one of the UK's four biggest ISPs. While they may be the only one of the four to offer only fibre broadband, and at much faster speeds, the competition between them keeps the promotions and introductory offers flowing.
Here are some of their latest deals for new customers:
|What's on offer?||When you join online for:||Need to know:|
|TV, broadband and phone bundles from £32 a month||12-month contract. £20 activation fee.|
|Broadband and phone from £32 a month||12 month contract. £20 activation fee.|
Given that Hyperoptic sell what could be considered a premium product to a much more targeted audience, we'd be forgiven for thinking they wouldn't go in for introductory offers - but we'd be wrong.
In fact, they run introductory discounts on each of their 12-month packages; these are the main deals they're offering at present:
As we'll explain further below, they also have another trick up their sleeve to help convince those unsure of whether to sign up.
The packages compared
One of Virgin Media's big selling points is that because they don't use the copper phone network like the majority of the UK's other ISPs, their customers can get broadband without having to pay for a phone line.
Hyperoptic, being a pure fibre provider, can offer the same choice: just broadband, or broadband with a phone line.
In both cases it's cheaper to go without the landline, but not by as much as we might expect given the general cost of line rental these days: Virgin's standard broadband-only prices tend to be about £8 cheaper than getting both; Hyperoptic's fibre-only deals are around £3 less than getting fibre plus phone.
In the following comparisons, we'll show prices for broadband with phone, and without, for both providers.
Entry level deals
Hyperoptic seem to be aware that because they sell ultrafast FTTP, they're going to get a reputation for being horribly expensive and out of the reach of most.
It's possible that's why their entry level package offers what feels like very ordinary broadband - up to 20Mb for the standard price of £25 a month - it makes plain that they can offer something for everyone.
|Package||Usage||Contract term||Upfront price||Monthly price|
|20Mb Fibre Broadband||Unlimited||12 months||£40||£15
for 9 mths,
|20Mb Fibre Broadband + Evening and Weekend calls||Unlimited||12 months||Free||£21
for 9 mths,
Virgin Media, on the other hand, need to stand out from their rivals, so their entry level deal not only beats standard broadband but the standard fibre offered by most - and for not much more than those slower fibre to the cabinet packages:
|Package||Broadband||Contract term||Upfront price||Monthly price|
|Vivid 100Mb||Up to 100Mb
|Vivid 100Mb + Talk Weekends||Up to 100Mb
for 12 mths,
But for many people, the whole point of going for a fibre provider rather than one who uses the fibre-and-copper network, is those much higher connection speeds.
While everyone else tops out at up to 76Mb, both Virgin Media and Hyperoptic really only hit their stride in terms of what they can offer with their 100Mb packages - and this is where the comparisons get really interesting:
When it comes to what we could consider their "standard" package, Hyperoptic are cheaper than their nearest, most likely, rival - both during the promotional period and at full price.
And because Hyperoptic's fibre comes all the way into the building, there's practically no drop in speed, either because of degradation or contention - the latter of which seems to be a particular problem for Virgin Media customers.
Furthermore, Hyperoptic can offer their 100Mb customers symmetrical uploads and downloads - that is, uploads are as fast as downloads.
Virgin Media's upload speeds, however, are somewhat underwhelming: up to 10% of the download speed at best.
According to Ofcom, Virgin Media don't sell ultrafast broadband, as the regulator's definition states that "ultrafast" is a connection of at least 300Mb, far higher than the unofficial definition of 100Mb or more that's been used by many for a few years.
That means that Virgin's up to 200Mb fibre broadband is only considered superfast, despite being more than twice as fast as the best that the majority of their rivals can offer.
But there's an even wider gap between their top tier fibre and Hyperoptic's: up to 200Mb versus the fabled 1Gb (1,000Mb).
We'd expect a service that's up to five times as fast as the next fastest to be considerably more expensive - but as the table below shows, those ridiculously ramped up speeds don't cost all that much more:
Again, Hyperoptic can boast of symmetrical upload/download speeds, while even the Gamer version of Virgin's Vivid 200 broadband can only offer uploads of up to 20Mb.
For those who have the choice, the ultrafast ISP therefore seems to offer a lot more for not that much more.
Bear in mind...
But there are a couple of other factors to consider too.
Virgin may be best known for their superfast broadband, but they're also Sky TV's biggest UK rival, offering everything from the basic Freeview line-up via a supercharged set top box (Tivo, explored in detail here) to more than 245 channels with the Full House package - as well the option to add Sky Cinema and Sky Sports.
Hyperoptic, meanwhile, provide broadband fast enough to deal with any number of ultra HD Netflix streams, but anyone looking for more than broadband and phone is out of luck.
That said, they win points for selling every one of their various packages, from 20Mb up to 1Gb, on a flexible, no contract, basis.
It could be taken as a sign of supreme confidence on Hyperoptic's part - assuming that once we've experienced the kind of speed they can offer, we'll never go back.
Going contract-free does cost more: monthly prices are higher and there's a flat fee of £40 for setup - but it allows those who aren't sure if they're ready to commit for a year to dip their toes in for a month or two without fear.
Having shown just how competitive even ultrafast broadband providers can be, it's time to return to the initial issue for most of us: availability.
Since they connected their first building in London in 2011, the ISP have extended their network to cover more than 100,000 residential properties in over 1,000 buildings in 14 cities.
Like other ultrafast FTTP providers, they can only survive commercially by focusing on small pockets where they'll get plenty of custom, so of course they're limited in their availability.
But for all Virgin Media are widely available in towns and cities, they still only cover about 13 million homes and businesses across the UK - less than half the population - and even in fairly solid Virgin Media areas there are pockets of streets or buildings that miss out.
The good news
Both are in the process of expanding, however, and each can boast that those plans are ambitious given their relative sizes.
In May 2016 Hyperoptic announced that they planned to bring the number of cities on their network from 13 up to 20, and the number of residences passed to half a million by 2019; at the time we're writing this, their first building in Edinburgh has not long been switched on.
Virgin's Project Lightning, announced in February 2015, launched with the intention of filling some of those odd gaps as well as extending the network more widely.
They aim to cover another four million premises by 2019 - and since spring 2016 they've been considering extending the network to smaller communities that fit certain criteria.
Both ISPs make use of public demand to assess where they should go next: Hyperoptic assess locations building by building, while Virgin Media have shown themselves open to persuasion by a well organised community application to their Cable My Street service.
Because Hyperoptic are available in such a limited number of locations, they aren't covered at all by our postcode checker - and for reasons we explain further in this guide, it can only give a rough idea of whether Virgin Media are available in an area, rather than a definite answer as is usually the case:
Enter your phone number and / or postcode above to check availability in your area.
For most people this last issue means there can only be one winner - Virgin Media. But we hope we've shown that when ultrafast is an option, it doesn't have to be that much more expensive.
There are other examples of ultrafast providers pricing themselves to compete with their more widely available rivals - Gigler, who operate in Bournemouth, sell 1Gb packages for as little as £25 a month for 80GB of usage per month, and £35 for a 250GB cap.
Certainly it's expensive to build fibre to the premises on a wide scale - that's why its providers work on small projects where they know they're going to get plenty of interest.
But once it's there, FTTP is futureproof - and likely to become even more competitive in the coming years.