O2 or Virgin Media: tortoise or hare?
O2 broadband have now been taken over by Sky.
We've kept this article up for reference so read on to find out more about the rivalry between O2 and Virgin Media.
The tortoise and the hare
You remember the story of the tortoise and the hare. And, if you don't, you'll remember this: slow and steady wins the race.
It was pushing it a bit to call O2 slow and steady - they were one of the faster ADSL2+ providers - but put them next to Virgin Media's speeds and, well, they went back into their shell.
The speed difference
How big was the speed difference between these two? It's not to be sniffed at.
The statistics below are daily averages from Ofcom's last large-scale speed test in May 2013, compared with the advertised 'up to' speeds for each deal.
|Slowest deal: up to 8Mb||Slowest deal: up to 30Mb|
|3.8 to 4.3Mb*||29.7 to 30.5Mb|
|Mid deal: up to 20Mb||Mid deal: up to 60Mb|
|9.1 to 10.9Mb||54.7 to 57Mb|
|n/a||Fastest deal: up to 100Mb|
|n/a||85.7 to 90.9Mb|
* data from November 2011 Ofcom research.
In short: Virgin Media were knocking O2 out of the park.
For those in a fibre area (check Virgin Media availability below, note on search) with a large household or a fondness for streaming video those speeds should make Virgin an easy winner.
The fact that Virgin Media's deals got the provider's super-fast superhub, much better than O2's bog standard wireless router, should also make a big difference to broadband speeds which can degrade by around 30% over a wireless connection and more with a poor quality modem.
Only O2 The Works offers one of the top wireless 'N' routers.
However, although Virgin Media beat O2 pretty definitively on broadband speeds, O2 won in the rest of our categories: price, flexibility and customer service.
O2 gave big discounts to their pay monthly and PAYG mobile phone customers: a big discount on their broadband every month plus free connection.
Even without an O2 mobile, they were cheaper than Virgin but, with an O2 mobile, they beat Virgin definitively (for simplicity, we've excluded set up fees and introductory discounts in this comparison).
That's true of the most basic deals but even when customers choose to go up a notch and take better broadband and more calls O2's comparative package prices were still beating Virgin's.
Note that the O2 prices are for their mobile customers, for non-O2 customers add £5.
Often, the cost of broadband was best compared by factoring in savings from introductory offers which are sometimes offered for as much as half and occasionally even the full length of the minimum term.
New customers can save considerably on O2 broadband - nabbing half price broadband for the first 12 months, and that's after the £5 monthly discount for O2 mobile customers has been applied.
But, Virgin Media are also cutting prices, saving £14.50 a month when you take a Virgin phone line for the first 6 months was actually a greater saving than getting O2's The All Rounder half price for 12 months - a saving of £6.25 a month (or a comparative £12.50) - for example.
Virgin Media also currently offer a half price or better deal for the first 6 months on their pre-made collections, which could save money but only for those that want TV too.
Line rental prices
As you can see above, part of the reason that O2 was cheaper than Virgin was that their line rental prices are lower as well, helping to reduce the overall cost of their deals.
Virgin Media's home phone deals are among the UK's most expensive; O2's among the UK's cheapest.
Finally, though, it's well worth noting that Virgin Media are the only provider who allow home broadband users to go completely phone line free, although ditching line rental altogether does mean an extra few pounds a month on the price of broadband.
Virgin Media contracts run for between 12 and 18 months, with the shorter contract being offered to those who don't take line rental.
The cheapest O2 contracts are also 12 months long but the provider did offer a 30-day rolling contract, albeit for an additional £30.63 setup fee.
As with all large broadband providers, both O2 and Virgin Media had their share of bad reviews.
Neither seriously under performed when it came to customer service but if pushed to choose Virgin or O2 we'd go for the latter.
O2 were proud of their UK call centres and, while that didn't necessarily equal better service, it seemed to have given them the incentive to actually deliver better, faster answers to customer problems.