Virgin broadband review - is it any good?
VIRGIN Media are, hands down, the UK's fastest mainstream broadband provider.
They now offer download speeds of up to 300Mb and their slowest package is still a respectable 50Mb, and with prices that compare to providers offering speeds less than half as fast.
But headline speed isn't everything when it comes to broadband, we also want to know about the quality of service, customer service, whether it's available to us and of course how much it will cost.
We've been covering Virgin Media since 2006, back when they were called NTL, and we've condensed all that superbly geeky knowledge into this review.
Virgin broadband deals for new customers
First though, let's have a quick look at what Virgin Media are offering new customers who take their broadband service.
The best Virgin Media deal
Virgin Media have become one of the UK's biggest providers by speeding up their service and bundling other competitively priced services like home phone, TV and mobile.
We get asked a lot what the "best" Virgin Media deal is - a reflection of the befuddlingly large range of bundle options, aimed at giving subscribers the exact combination of services they want.
Virgin Media seem to be aware of this problem.
While they offer customers the chance to build their own bundle, the best place to start looking for a good value deal is with the provider's own pre-made bundles:
After picking one of these, customers can tweak and tailor elements - like more inclusive calls, or faster broadband - to their own requirements.
Furthermore, note that while we've listed Virgin's Big Bundles as 12-month deals above, they've recently introduced 30-day rolling contracts as well.
That means customers can chop and change package on a monthly basis until they find they're getting the best out of Virgin - something we hope the rest of this guide will help with.
Those broadband speeds
Virgin recently increased it's fastest package from 200Mb to up to 300Mb, which is still the fastest widely available broadband in the UK.
And after recently upping its 50Mb service to 100Mb, Virgin has reaffirmed its hold on the top spot for the fastest entry-level superfast plan around too.
BT offer an entry-level fibre service at speeds up to 52Mb but it's only slightly cheaper than Virgin and almost half the speed, and their fastest service is up to 76Mb.
While Virgin's advertised speeds might not always accurately represent the speeds customers actually get, it's pretty close and still much faster than their nearest competitors.
Take a look for yourself. Here's Ofcom's latest average speed findings for BT and Virgin:
|Advertised Speed||Average over 24 hours||Average at peak times
|Up to 52Mb||47.7Mb - 48.6Mb||46.9Mb - 47.9Mb|
|Up to 100Mb||87.7Mb - 95.2Mb||72.6Mb - 86.1Mb|
|Up to 76Mb||57.9Mb - 60.7Mb||57Mb - 59.8Mb|
|Up to 200Mb||169Mb - 177.2Mb||143.7Mb - 155.4Mb|
The data used in this study was gathered during November 2016 by Ofcom.
When these figures were compiled, Virgin had not yet rolled out their new 300Mb service.
Using SamKnows, who help Ofcom compile those results, Virgin have been releasing figures regularly since the new package to show how it's performing. Here are the most recent SamKnows results, which include their Vivid 200 gamer version too:
|Average over 24 hours||Peak (8-10pm weekdays)|
|Vivid 200 Gamer||190.5Mb||172.58Mb|
SOURCE: SamKnows and Virgin Media, May 2017. Available here.
There's a more in depth comparison of Virgin Media and BT Infinity services here, but in terms of speeds, the figures above speak for themselves: Virgin Media are genuinely the fastest provider around.
That should give Virgin Media customers a far easier time streaming videos, using VoIP services like Skype, or downloading large files, as well as increasing the efficiency of everyday browsing.
Cable also gives Virgin Media other advantages - they can offer broadband without a phone line, for example - but speed is the most obvious benefit and, we think, a major reason for Virgin Media's surprisingly high customer satisfaction ratings.
About those speeds: traffic management and latency
Virgin no longer throttle heavy downloaders, but they do use traffic management to tackle high bandwidth uploaders at peak times - anyone who goes beyond certain limits will be throttled for at least an hour at a time.
Upload speeds are underwhelming at best: less than 10% of the download speed for any particular package - with people on the 100Mb and 200Mb packages getting just 6Mb and 12Mb.
Those taking Virgin's gamer-specific 200Mb package will get uploads of 20Mb.
Compare that to budget provider Plusnet, who, according to Ofcom, deliver average upload speeds approaching 17Mb for customers on their 76Mb service.
There's also the matter of latency - the time it takes for a signal to "ping" between destinations - which is sometimes high.
For most users, these problems aren't going to be an issue, but heavy users should take a look at our guide here on fair use policies for more information.
Price vs. closest competitors
Virgin Media also do well on price, at least compared with their closest competitors, Sky and BT.
For example, here are three lower cost bundles from the three providers.
It's clear that despite offering considerably more in terms of broadband, Virgin Media remain competitive on price.
Of course, it's hard to compare these providers as they all offer different services, with emphasis on different parts of their bundles. We look at the differences between the UK's biggest bundle providers in our full guide to Virgin versus Sky here.
Virgin Media Tivo TV
Finally, Virgin Media are the only place in the UK to get the Tivo TV service, with the boxes included with each TV package as standard.
Like the boxes provided by other pay TV services, Tivo allows subscribers to pause and rewind TV, and to record hundreds of hours of shows on the box.
Unlike the standard boxes from other providers, Tivo allows users to record up to three channels at once - and the new V6 box can record up to six channels simultaneously - but it's Tivo's intelligent suggestions that really make the boxes stand out.
Subscribers can rate any programme they like - both positively and negatively - which enables Tivo to record not only pre-selected and "wish list" shows, but also those it thinks they might like based on their other ratings.
Basically, there's no excuse for ever watching Most Haunted again, unless Tivo has clocked that someone in the house likes being mildly unsettled.
For more on Tivo see our guide here.
Beyond Tivo, Virgin Media's TV options break down like this:
|Package||Channels||Contract term||Upfront price||Monthly price|
|Mix TV||150+ (11 HD)||12 months||£20||£22|
|[package_only]||190+ (11 HD)||[contract]||[upfrontcost]||[price+offer]||[signup]|
|Full House TV||245+ (50 HD)||12 months||£20||£44|
Virgin Media Availability
The biggest problem anyone thinking about taking Virgin Media faces is availability.
Covering just under half of UK premises, they just aren't an option in as many homes as BT or Sky. Even where Virgin are available, not every household will be able to access their fastest deals.
Expansion plans aim to increase the network's coverage to about 60% of the UK by 2019. However, Virgin have still come under criticism for concentrating on merely plugging the gaps rather than bringing superfast broadband to a geographically wider audience.
In response to this criticism Virgin set out plans to open up their services to smaller communities where there is high demand.
Generally, however, it's still the case that Virgin Media is available in the more densely populated areas.
Have a look using our postcode checker below - but note that for slightly complicated reasons, about which there's more here, we don't have enough data to ensure that our coverage information is 100% accurate.
For best results, check on the Virgin Media site too.
Enter your postcode above to check availability in your area.