Virgin Media 200Mb broadband review
VIRGIN Media's 200Mb service is one of the fastest internet deals on the market.
Although recently pipped at the post by their new top tier, lightning fast 300Mb plan, Vivid 200 is still the UK's second fastest widely available broadband service in the UK. And most definitely the fastest mid tier package offered by any of the ISPs.
An impressive feat indeed but is that kind of speed always achievable and, most importantly, is it worth the extra cash? We hope to answer both of those questions in this review.
We'll also take a look at Virgin's Vivid 200 Gamer plan - the UK's first broadband tier designed specifically for gamers.
The price of superfast
People looking to move all their services should pay particular attention to the offers Virgin run on their pre-made Big Bundles of TV, broadband and phone:
And here's a rundown of some of the main Virgin Media packages available with their mid tier up to 200Mb "Vivid" broadband:
At first glance prices do look high but whilst it is possible to get broadband (with line rental included) for much cheaper elsewhere, this will be a much slower service than the superfast 200Mb Vivid 200 offers.
However, Virgin's 200Mb broadband with weekend calls is much cheaper than its closest competitor in terms of speed - BT's Infinity 2 service, which offers speeds of up to 76Mb along with evening and weekend calls. Although note this is BT's top tier broadband plan.
Still, if we compare Vivid 200 with weekend calls with BT's mid tier package, Infinity 1 plus evening and weekend calls, the latter is only slightly cheaper. Yet offers much slower speeds of up to 52Mb.
So all in all, although it is possible to get cheaper broadband elsewhere it is unlikely to find a mid tier service, which offers such high speeds at such competitive prices.
But before you rush to sign up you might want to check if you are in an area that can get the 200Mb service. Although it was introduced more than a year ago, it's still unavailable to many new and existing customers.
Virgin have been quite vocal about their desire to widen their availability to many more households, at the highest speeds possible. But even with their ambitious expansion plans, which include both urban and smaller communities it's going to be some time before it's near universal.
To check whether Virgin Media is available nearby use our postcode search below - although take note about this search.
Enter your postcode above to check availability in your area.
So for the lucky souls who already have access to Virgin Media, and can get up to 200Mb broadband, the next question is clearly "is it worth the money?"
Supersonic broadband: how fast?
Ok, so it's pushing it a bit to say that 200Mb broadband is supersonic, but it definitely fits in with Virgin's future-facing planes, trains, and space shuttles image: this should be really fast broadband.
The burning question, though: is that kind of speed achievable?
Short answer: the signs are promising. Virgin Media take speeds seriously and it shows.
Ofcom's last report into broadband speeds showed that, on average customers received:
|Average over 24 hours||Peak times (8-10pm weekdays)|
|Up to 100Mb||87.7Mb to 95.2Mb||72.6Mb to 86.1Mb|
|Up to 200Mb||169.0Mb to 177.2Mb||143.7Mb to 155.4Mb|
SOURCE: Ofcom, UK Home Broadband Performance, April 2017. Available here [pdf].
Meanwhile these are the most recent figures from SamKnows, the company who help Ofcom gather their speed test data:
|May 2017||Average over 24 hours||Peak (8-10pm weekdays)|
SOURCE: SamKnows and Virgin Media. Available here.
It's important to note that the actual speeds a household receives are affected by numerous factors including household wiring and interference.
Other fibre customers will find that the speed of their connection depends on how far from the exchange or on-street cabinet they are; because they're not reliant on the telephone exchange system, Virgin users don't have to worry about distance slowing their connections.
Virgin's fibre broadband also has the benefit of being much less affected by environmental factors than copper cables. And their superior cable technology shows in these results.
The ISP's 24-hour average speed for the 100Mb is just over the advertised speed, in keeping with their campaigns against other ISPs for failing to meet the claims in their "up to" adverts.
It's a bit different with Vivid 200, average speeds are a little further from the advertised maximum but still impressively fast.
Overall, it seems the 200Mb service achieves speeds that far outstrip anything possible from the other big fibre providers - and as we mentioned above, for a similar price.
As well as upping the speeds for their broadband services Virgin have also upgraded their upload speeds.
|Package||Old upload speed||New upload speed||Average at peak time*|
*SOURCE: SamKnows and Virgin Media. Available here.
BT and their resellers actually offer far better upload speeds than those of Vivid 200: Ofcom have shown average upload speeds for the up to 76Mb fibre from EE and Plusnet approaching 17.0Mb - which, for Plusnet, continues a pretty impressive tradition more here).
Albeit these are for their top tier packages, Virgin's top tier package, Vivid 300, and their Vivid 200 Gamer plan, which we look at further down, eclipse these speeds with averages of 20.4Mb and 19.77Mb respectively.
The brakes: Virgin end user experience and traffic management
It's worth being aware that a good throughput speed on a broadband connection doesn't always lead to a great end user experience.
People using, say, Netflix, will find the service's performance affected by their ISP's traffic prioritisation, how it manages the connection to Netflix's Content Delivery Network (CDN).
Users can get some idea of what this will mean in terms of their experience by looking at their ISP's fair use policy (FUP).
Virgin Media used this tool quite a bit up to February 2014. That was the point at which they revised their FUP, removing limits for downloads. Now users only face a slowdown for going over an upload limit, which few are likely to do.
Here's how Virgin's FUP applies to Vivid 200: users who upload more than a certain amount per hour during peak times see their upload speeds throttled by 50% for an hour.
If they reduce or stop uploading data at this point they'll be able to upload at full speed again after 60 minutes have passed.
If, however, they continue to upload material to the extent that they pass another data limit, they'll be slowed again, by up to 65%, for two hours.
There's more detail on the Virgin Media FUP, and how it compares to that of other providers, here.
Vivid 200 Gamer
With this service, Virgin are boldly going where no one has gone before, offering the UK's first broadband plan for gamers.
It was designed in collaboration with gaming organisations, such as the eSports group Gfinity, and like Vivid 200 offers superfast speeds up to 200Mb and comes with an uncapped data allowance.
But unlike Vivid 200 it gives upload speeds of up to 20Mb, making it perfect for gamers who live-stream content via sites like Twitch and Youtube.
The gamer package didn't arrive in time to be included in Ofcom's latest study. However, recent tests by Sam Knows reveal that whilst it falls short of meeting advertised download speeds, it's outperforming Vivid 200.
As already reported above, Vivid 200 Gamer provides average upload speeds very close to those advertised - beating those offered by rival ISPs and making it one of the fastest packages for uploads.
|May 2017||Average download speed over 24 hours||Average download speed over peak times (8pm-10pm, weekdays)||Average upload speed over 24 hours||Average upload speed over peak times (8pm-10pm, weekdays)|
|Vivid 200 Gamer||190.5Mb||172.58Mb||20.32Mb||19.77Mb|
*SOURCE: SamKnows and Virgin Media. Available here.
Increased speed means increased bandwidth, which in turn means less buffering and other annoying time lags. More bandwidth also means other members of the household will be free to use the internet at the same time, even for heavy usage activities like listening to music or watching films, without the quality being compromised.
But this package's biggest draw to gamers isn't necessarily speed; 200Mb is probably way more than what's required for most gaming habits. So what does the Vivid 200 Gamer package offer that the standard Vivid 200 doesn't?
Well, first off it's totally free of any traffic management, meaning users are saved from the frustrating upload caps and penalties outlined above, which apply to Vivid 200.
What's potentially even more attractive to gamers though is the reduced latency this plan promises. High latency means slower data transfers and is another factor that can adversely affect overall speeds; it's one of the biggest problems gamers are up against. Virgin say with this package online gamers can look forward to "lower pings and latency, giving them a competitive edge over laggy opponents."
The jury is still out whether Virgin have been able to keep their latency promises; online forums and blog spaces seem to report mixed reviews so far and official data is hard to come by just yet.
Ofcom do look at latency but we'll have to wait until next year's report to see Vivid 200 Gamer's inclusion.
Outcome: do we need it?
Putting price and speed together, is it worth paying out for Virgin's version of ultrafast broadband?
We say yes - for those who regularly use streaming services such as the BBC's iPlayer, Netflix, or online gaming - especially if they're sharing a connection.
Here's a table of the actual difference various speeds make to online activities:
|Time to...||download 250kB
|24Mb||0.1 sec||4 mins 22 sec||24 mins|
|2 mins||11 mins|
|1 mins||5 mins|
Note that this table is based on the top speed shown, not a real world connection.
Considering that the average up to 24Mb connection (sold as up to 17Mb) often delivers more like 8Mb, it's not difficult to imagine that the actual difference is much greater than that shown above.
However, there is some evidence that the need for speed has been overblown.
Despite Ofcom's assertion in late 2014 that the minimum speed necessary for "basic" broadband is at least 10Mb, a November 2013 report found that even households with the heaviest internet usage would be fine with a connection of just 35Mb.
The report concluded that it was really only households with many users simultaneously going online and using high bandwidth applications like video calling, certain types of gaming, and peer to peer services that need very fast broadband.
Finally, there are a couple of other things worth bearing in mind for those thinking about taking Virgin Media.
Virgin Media are the only widely available UK broadband provider to offer home broadband without the need for any kind of home phone line, as we note in further detail here.
As line rental pushes ever higher this sounds attractive, but it's actually not as frugal as all that: those who do take line rental as well pay a discounted monthly price for their broadband, and tend to get a more attractive introductory rate.
Virgin Media also offer pay TV, and bundling that with broadband may prove to be better value in the long run.
For more on how Virgin Media TV compares to other big providers see this full review looking at the differences and similarities between Sky, BT and Virgin Media TV.
For more information on 200Mb or to sign up, have a look at this page on Virgin Media's site.
And whether you're thinking about joining or waiting patiently for an upgrade, let us know what you think via the comments section below.