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BT broadband vs Virgin Media: Which is better?

BT broadband vs Virgin Media: Which is better?

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Last updated: 17 May 2021

BT and Virgin Media are two of the UK's most popular broadband providers. Both offer a range of speeds, both offer decent selections of TV channels, and both have pretty similar prices for equivalent packages.

So if both are available where you live, which should you go for? We've dug deep into what each provider actually offers, and what customers actually say about them, to help you make that decision.

Which is faster?

The line commonly trotted out about Virgin Media is that they offer 'the fastest widely available internet' in the UK. And that's basically true, if a bit vaguely defined. 

Virgin only offer fibre connections, delivered through their own proprietary network. They do not offer ADSL connections. This means that their speeds bottom out at 54Mbps (and go all the way up to 600Mbps+). 

The faster connections are less readily available but, if you can get Virgin at all, the chances are high that you'll get a perfectly serviceable line. 100Mbps+ Virgin connections are common.

BT, on the other hand, has genuinely one of the fastest connections of any provider in the country - its 910Mbps, close-to-gigabit, Full Fibre 900 plan beats anything Virgin can offer. But it's only available in a small handful of areas. 

BT does offer ADSL connections, and serves a lot of households who can't get fibre with them. But this means a lot of BT customers are sat on around 10Mbps. Which isn't great. If you live out in the sticks though, there's a much higher chance you'll be able to get BT ADSL than Virgin Fibre.

Winner:

On balance, Virgin probably just about edges BT for speed but at the end of the day it will come down to what's available in your area.

Which is cheaper?

Monthly costs

With both Virgin and BT, prices for their top packages (ultrafast fibre with every TV channel you can think of) go upwards of £75. You can get pretty comparable packages at that price point from both.

At the bottom end, the cheapest package from each provider costs about the same as well - Virgin's at £28, BT's at £27.99. From BT for that price you'll get 10-36Mbps, and from Virgin for that price you'll get 50-100Mbps. So there's no contest really there.

BT Broadband Virgin M50 Fibre broadband & phone
Price £27.99 £28
Download speed 10Mbps 54Mbps
Contract length 24 18
Installation/setup cost £19.99 £35
Usage Unlimited Unlimited

At the mid-range, Virgin wins out again. £37.99 a month will get you Virgin's Big Bundle + Documentaries and Sport, with a 108Mbps connection. £44.99 from BT will get you a 67Mbps connection with their Entertainment TV package.

Whichever plan you get from either BT or Virgin, you can modify it with extra TV channel selections or call packages as much as you want.

Set up costs

BT charge £19.99 as standard for set up, Virgin charge £35. BT is the clear winner here.

Winner:

Overall, Virgin beats BT for price at most levels in terms of bang for your buck.

BT TV vs Virgin Media TV: Which is better?

BT and Virgin both offer impressively large TV packages. Along with Sky, they're the largest and best known providers in the UK. 

They break up their packages differently: BT go for a modular approach, with themed channel bundles that you can add, remove, and swap in and out throughout your contract. Virgin operate a sliding scale with more and more channels in each package:

BT TV packages Virgin TV packages
Entertainment Big
Film Big + Drama & Docs
Kids Bigger
Drama Bigger + Sports
Documentary Ultimate Oomph
Comedy
Sport (& Big Sport)


BT's biggest sell is probably BT Sport, which means you can watch the Premier League. But BT Sport is available as an extra on Virgin anyway.

BT will also allow you to customise your package with extras like Amazon Prime, NOW TV, and Netflix, among others. Mostly you'll get an introductory free month on any of these with your BT subscription, but otherwise you'll pay a standard price so it's only slightly better value than if you got any of the subscriptions independently.

Winner:

Overall, BT and Virgin are about even when it comes to TV. The chances are you'll be able to watch whatever you want on either, especially combined with a streaming service.

Which is better for line rental?

One possible advantage of Virgin Media broadband deals is that you don’t need line rental in order to sign up. Not many of us use home phones these days, so it can feel a bit galling to have to pay for the line to just sit there.

Because BT runs off the Openreach Network, you need line rental in order to purchase a deal. Luckily, this is always factored into the advertised cost, and doesn't really make much of a difference to the overall price of the package. This does mean that BT offers more comprehensive phone-based deals, so if that’s something you need, then we’d suggest looking at BT instead of Virgin.

Winner:

If you want a homephone, BT is probably your better option, if you don't, Virgin wins here.

Which offers better customer service?

According to an extensive report in 2019 from market regulator Ofcom, Virgin Media boast 85% customer satisfaction, compared to 80% from BT.

BT has a relatively high rate of customers needing to raise issues to Ofcom about the service they receive; 79 per 100,000 subscribers lodged complaints, compared to 51 per 100,000 for Virgin Media. 

On Trustpilot, both score pretty badly for customer service. BT get 1.4/5, and Virgin sit just ahead on 1.6/5. It's worth noting that these kind of ratings tend to skew negative (more people with bad experiences are likely to go and leave a review), but it still doesn't look good for either.

Winner:

Based on this evidence, Virgin Media offer better customer service, but the difference is marginal.

For more help deciding, see our BT vs Sky broadband comparison.

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Routers and tech

Both BT and Virgin (like many other suppliers these days) make quite a big fuss about their router tech. The differences are marginal enough that they're unlikely to be the deciding factor if you're picking between tariffs from each.

Where they differ most substantially is in their booster packages. Both providers promise big about that strength of their WiFi. Too much of a fuss in some cases - BT were the subject of a complaint from the Advertising Standards Agency in 2019 over claims that their router provided the 'UK's most powerful WiFi'. Nevertheless, the stock routers both providers offer are pretty impressive. Both offer booster packages if your WiFi doesn't reach every room in your house. 

For a monthly fee on top of your bill, you'll get a set of extenders that create a mesh network so that your connection is unbroken throughout your house or flat. Virgin's is half the price of BT's. Although BT offer a £100 money-back guarantee if their extender service doesn't work, this is probably not much consolation if you're still tied into an 18 month contract and can't get WiFi in your bedroom.

Here's how the main routers stack up:

BT Smart Hub Virgin Hub 3
Max speed 1,773Mbps 1,300Mbps
WiFi 802.11ac 802.11ac
Ethernet Ports 4 4
Antennae 7 5
Booster cost £10 per month (with £100 money-back guarantee if it doesn't work) £5 per month (free for Ultimate Oomph or Gigabit customers)

Winner:

Virgin, just about. The routers themselves are pretty similar - BT's top speed is higher, but both are higher than what basically any household will ever need. Virgin's cheaper boost package clinches it.

Overall verdict

It's a close call but Virgin Media just about beats BT on balance for most customers. The most important criteria are price and speed here - you get more for your money, on average, from Virgin, and they have a wider range of fibre speeds on offer.

Winner
Speed Virgin
Price Virgin
Routers Virgin
TV Tie
Customer Service Virgin
Line Rental BT


If both BT and Virgin Media are available where you live, you're most likely better off going with Virgin. However, depending on where you live, there's a decent chance that you might not have fibre available at all, in which case BT (or one of the smaller suppliers that use its network like Plusnet) might be you're only option. In which case you'll still end up with a perfectly fine provider.

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Danny Lord

Author: Danny Lord

Danny is our Editor-in-Chief, and has been writing news and guides for comparison sites for the last five years.