Cookies on the SIM Sherpa website

We use cookies to track which pages on our website readers visit most. This helps us understand which topics people find interesting, to write more articles about them.

You can accept these tracking cookies or choose to block them. You can change these settings at any time.

X close

✖ Tracking cookies deleted and blocked

Ok, we will not track your page views as you move around any part of the SIM Sherpa website. But we will use that one cookie to remember you don't want to be tracked.

Click here to unblock tracking cookies

X close

✔ Cookies accepted

Thank you for accepting cookies for the SIM Sherpa website. This will help us constantly improve our content.

If you ever want to change your cookie settings for our website, go to our Cookies page here.

Virgin Mobile vs O2: are the networks the same or different?

Virgin Mobile vs O2

The retailers featured on this page may compensate us when our readers follow links to their websites and make a purchase. More

As O2 are now owned by Virgin Media, we look at whether you're better off joining Virgin Mobile or O2 for coverage, speeds and benefits. Last updated: 5th January 2022

In our Virgin Mobile vs O2 guide

Special offer news

Their mobile networks compared

UK coverage on O2 vs Virgin Mobile

Do Virgin or O2 have better reception?

O2 and Virgin Mobile logo with signal bars

They operate on different networks - signal will vary

Best network for coverage

See latest awards

at o2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

O2 operate their own network, where Virgin currently use Vodafone’s. However, Virgin Media have just bought O2, so Virgin Mobile might end up using the O2 network in the future. We’ll update this page if they do.

They’re both joint-best choices for calls and texts. The O2 and Vodafone networks have similar amounts of the UK’s landmass covered. Both have good indoor call signal too, as their frequencies are great for getting through walls.

The only major difference is in 4G data. Virgin Mobile can generally get you slightly better 4G reception out in rural areas than O2 can. But in more populated areas you’ll notice little difference between them.

We always recommend using their coverage checkers to see which network has better signal in your area. Look at all the areas you’ll expect to use your phone, not just at home.

Useful links: Our full O2 network review | Our full Virgin Mobile review

Both have rapidly expanding 5G networks

Virgin Mobile 5G banner

Read Virgin’s 5G guide

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

You now get 5G as standard on all Virgin Mobile and all O2 pay monthly plans (SIM only and phone deals). Be sure to choose it in the checkout when buying from O2 to get the right SIM.

The major networks are in a fast-moving race to offer 5G in more areas than the others, and networks will claim a location covered even if they only cover a small area of it (except EE). So comparing coverage is tricky.

Virgin currently cover the same 120+ locations as Vodafone, where O2 claim to cover 190+ locations. We’ve generally found O2’s coverage within those locations more consistent than Virgin’s, so we give O2 the edge for 5G coverage.

Useful link: O2’s guide to their 5G rollout

Official network maps on O2 and Virgin

Use these to check everywhere you take your phone

Virgin Mobile checker

Virgin Mobile coverage map

Check Virgin signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

O2 coverage checker

O2 coverage map

Check O2 signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:

Draw

“For reception in urban areas there’s little to split the two. In the end it’s a case of whether you want Virgin Mobile’s slightly better 4G coverage or O2’s better 5G coverage”

Compare pricing and deals

Data speeds on O2 vs Virgin

Do Virgin Mobile or O2 have faster 5G/4G?

O2 and Virgin Mobile logos with speedometer

Virgin Mobile’s 4G downloads are generally faster

Virgin Mobile 4G speeds banner

Read benefits page

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

To see which network has better 4G download speeds we use the results of independent network tester Opensignal, who take readings from volunteers’ phones up and down the country.

Their most recent report puts O2’s average 4G download speeds at 17.1 Mbps and Virgin’s at 21.6 Mbps. That’s a fairly significant difference, but you shouldn’t notice it too much when browsing the internet or social media.

If you need to download big files, play games on the go or watch HD videos comfortably, we’d say Virgin are the better choice. Still, O2’s speeds are enough to stream HD video, you just might get a bit more lag.

There’s now more information on 5G speeds available. Both Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla (another independent network tester) record very different results from each other:

O2’s 5G speeds were reported to be between 110.9 Mbps and 141.3 Mbps, where Virgin’s were between a disappointing 73.3 Mbps and a speedy 149.9 Mbps. We can’t say why there’s such a big difference.

Useful link: O2’s guide to their 5G

Our verdict on data speeds

Win for Virgin Mobile

“You’re more likely to be on 4G most of the time, so having better 4G speeds puts Virgin ahead of O2. We’d say O2 and Virgin are about the same for 5G speeds, even if there’s more variation in Virgin’s results.”

Compare pricing and deals

Extra network features on O2 vs Virgin Mobile

How do extras like WiFi calling and hotspots compare?

O2 and Virgin Mobile logo with WiFi calling

O2 have slightly better WiFi / 4G calling

Big news - WiFi calling is here banner

Check supported phones

at o2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Even though both networks broadcast on frequencies that are decent for getting through buildings, your indoor signal might still suffer on both. This is where WiFi calling comes in handy.

Both networks offer WiFi calling and 4G calling. WiFi calling lets your phone connect to calls using WiFi signal if call signal is weak. 4G calling lets your phone use 4G signal (instead of just 2G/3G) for calls which improves coverage.

O2’s WiFi calling supports more phones and won’t drop your call when moving from WiFi to 4G signal. Virgin’s supported phone list is disappointingly short and you’ll find your call dropping when you lose WiFi connection.

It’s notable that Virgin let you send SMS messages over WiFi, but in testing we found we couldn’t receive them over WiFi signal. O2 don’t support this at all, so it’s one thing that Virgin’s WiFi calling has over O2’s.

Useful link: Our best network choices for WiFi calling

Virgin Mobile offer more free WiFi hotspots

Map of Virgin Mobile's hotpots

How it works

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Both Virgin Mobile and O2 offer free WiFi hotspot provisions for their customers, but Virgin have by far the larger hotspot network of the two. You’ll get access to over 4.3+ million hotspots on any Virgin Mobile plan.

You’ll just have to download their Virgin Media Connect app after buying your plan. Then, whenever you’re in range you’ll be automatically logged in for free. This helps you save your data on the go.

On the other hand, O2 offer a more moderate 15,000+ hotspots across the UK. But, anyone with a phone can connect to these. The only exclusive benefit you get from being on O2 is that you can be logged into 7000 of these automatically.

Both networks get you WiFi access on the London Underground. But with Virgin you’ll have a better chance staying connected on the go. O2’s WiFi provision is good, but Virgin’s is a couple steps ahead of them.

Useful link: Our favourite networks for free WiFi

Our verdict on network features

Draw

“We couldn’t separate the two on network features as it really depends what you want. If you need a good WiFi calling feature you’re better off with O2, if you want hotspots you’re better off with Virgin.”

Compare pricing and deals

Comparing their benefits

Data rollover on O2 vs Virgin Mobile

Which has the best scheme for unused data?

O2 and Virgin Mobile logo with wallet

Virgin’s data rollover is pretty standard

Virgin Mobile's data rollover scheme

Read help guide

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Data rollover is a feature where the data you don’t use from one month will be added to your data allowance for your next month. Between O2 and Virgin, only Virgin offer it on their pay monthly plans.

It’s pretty standard for networks that do offer data rollover to offer it for only a month, and this is the case with Virgin Mobile. If you don’t use your “rolled-over” data in the next month it will disappear.

However, you shouldn’t need to worry as you’ll automatically use your rolled-over data before your new monthly allowance. If you keep losing your rolled over data, you’d be better off with a smaller data plan.

It would be nice to see Virgin do something a bit different to stand out, but there’s also merit in having a simple system that works. It’s a good scheme and that’s all that needs to be said.

Useful link: Full ins and outs of Virgin’s data rollover

O2 offer data rollover on pay as you go

O2 data rollover banner

O2’s PAYG SIMs

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Unfortunately, O2 don’t offer data rollover on their pay monthly plans, but they do offer it on pay as you go. We think it’d be more appealing on pay monthly, as that’s the more common type of plan people are using these days.

O2 offer their pay as you go scheme with “Big Bundles”, which get you unlimited minutes and texts with a data bundle without being tied to a contract.

Since you’re not on a monthly contract, your unused data can be rolled over for multiple months. But, O2 do set a cap on how much data can be rolled over. It’s usually the same amount as the bundle you took (10GB bundle = 10GB cap).

If you switch data bundles then you’ll lose your rolled over data. You’ll also have to make sure to renew your bundle on the same day it expires otherwise you’ll lose it. It’s not an amazing scheme, but not a terrible one either.

Useful link: O2’s FAQs page on their Big Bundles

Our verdict on data rollover

Win for Virgin Mobile

“Virgin’s data rollover scheme is similar to O2’s. But since more people are on pay monthly plans than pay as you go, Virgin’s is more likely to benefit more customers.”

Compare pricing and deals

Family plans on Virgin Mobile vs O2

Which network’s better to join on multiple deals?

Family plans on Virgin Mobile vs O2

O2 discount up to 20 extra plans on one account

O2's Family Plans

See O2's Family Plan

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

To draw in as many customers as possible, networks will sometimes offer discounts for extra users added onto one main account. This mainly helps families who want to keep all their plans under one roof.

O2 offer a flat 20% off added SIM only plans and off the usage (minutes, texts, data) of phone contracts. Bear in mind this only applies to the added users and not to the main account holder.

In order to get the benefit you’ll have to have an O2 account with a SIM only or phone contract and then register another contract which the discount can be applied to. It can only be applied within 28 days of taking that extra contract.

The only drawbacks are that it’s a bit fiddly to apply the discount (other networks just let you do it in the checkout) and O2’s plans are already expensive. While you can add up to 20 contracts, this is subject to your credit history.

Useful link: Read O2’s FAQs on their Multisave scheme

Virgin discount extra plans on the same account

Virgin Mobile family plans banner

See all details

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

If you’re a Virgin Media Broadband or TV customer then you get an exclusive benefit for joining Virgin Mobile. You can save on additional SIM only plans added onto your main account.

It’s fairly straightforward. Any plans you add to your account will get £2 off. Use their calculator here to see how much you’ll be spending overall.

Bear in mind this only applies to certain tariffs, but you do get a decent range from small data deals to unlimited data deals that you can apply your discount to. We’d say it’s still worth shopping around to see if there are any better deals.

It’s a bit disappointing that only Virgin Media broadband or TV customers can benefit. It also only applies to select 12-month contracts. But Virgin are already a low-priced brand, so getting even more money off is great.

Useful link: Virgin’s Family SIM FAQs

Our verdict on family plans

Slight win for O2

“If you take larger plans you could save more with O2, but in the end you’ll probably be spending more overall. O2 only win because they don’t require you to be an existing broadband or TV customer to get their benefit.”

Compare pricing and deals

Roaming on O2 vs Virgin

How do the networks compare for going abroad?

O2 SMARTY roaming

Some worldwide destinations included on O2

Free EU roaming on O2

See qualifying plans

at o2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

With some networks now removing inclusive EU roaming, it’s nice to see that O2 have kept theirs in place. You can travel to 48 EU destinations where you can use your regular UK plan with no extra cost.

While you’re abroad you’ll be limited to 25GB a month, but we’d say this is more than enough for the average user.

They also include 27 worldwide destinations (notable ones include Australia and the US) in their “Inclusive Zone.” Here you can roam, but with a limited usage amount. You get 120 minutes, 120 texts and 150MB full speed data.

There’s actually no usage cap on how much data you can use in the Inclusive Zone, but it will be severely speed capped. Once you hit your regular allowance you’ll start paying at these rates.

It’s a scheme that we rate quite highly. You can use it for short trips across the channel or for long haul journeys to the other side of the world.

Useful link: See O2’s full guide to their Travel Inclusive Zone

Virgin Mobile have a fiddly fair usage policy

Virgin Mobile fair data usage calculator

Calculate your cap

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile have also kept their EU roaming in place. But they have a fiddly fair usage policy that limits how much of your regular allowance you can use while abroad depending on the size of your plan.

You can use their calculator here to work out how much you can use abroad. For mid-range data plans it’s usually around half of your allowance, but for larger plans you’ll only get around 15GB to use abroad.

There’s also no worldwide roaming on Virgin and using your plan somewhere like the US can become unusably expensive (see rates here).

Virgin are a good enough choice for small trips to the EU, but you’ll really have to reign in your data usage while there. It’s definitely not one of our favourite schemes.

Useful link: Check Virgin Mobile roaming destinations

Our verdict on roaming

Win for O2

“Virgin’s fair usage policy really hamstrings it. With O2 you’ll have more data to use while in the EU and you even have a bit of leeway to travel beyond the EU. A fairly clear win for O2 here.”

Compare pricing and deals

Extra benefits and freebies

Do Virgin or O2 offer more?

Virgin Mobile vs O2 perks and freebies

Virgin get you free unlimited social media messaging data

Data free socialising on Virgin Mobile

See included apps

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin let you use Whatsapp, Messenger and Twitter out and about without eating into your data allowance with their free unlimited social media data offered on all of their plans.

They are on our list of networks that give you free streaming or social media data. It’s a similar idea to VOXI’s unlimited social media data benefit, but VOXI’s covers far more than just messaging apps.

When you send a message, download a file on Whatsapp or Messenger you won’t eat into your data. But calls will use data. With Twitter you can scroll, tweet and watch videos without using data if you stay in the app.

The main benefit here is Twitter, but you’ll save a fair bit with the other apps too, especially if you’re out and about a lot.

Useful link: Full terms and conditions

O2 Priority is the best daily reward scheme

O2 Priority on SIM only

See Priority offers

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Generally the major networks want to give their customers a reason to stick with them and put up with the pricier deals. So, O2 offer their Priority Rewards scheme to help sweeten the deal.

If you haven’t heard of it, Priority gives O2 customers a set of discounts, special offers and freebies for shopping, food and drink and other services and experiences.

You also get first priority for purchasing tickets for events and gigs that are hosted at O2 sponsored venues before non-O2 customers and you can get preferential treatment at these venues (see what's on offer here).

It can get you some nice value and genuinely save you money. But we don’t think it’ll be anyone’s number one reason for joining O2. At most it’s just nice to have.

Useful link: See O2's full list of Priority perks

O2 Extras give you a choice of free trials

O2 extras banner

See choices

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

To help justify the higher price tag that comes with getting on a major network provider, O2 offer one free limited-time subscription. Generally the more expensive your plan, the longer your free trial will be.

You can get between a one month or six months free trial of Disney+ or even an up to 12 months free Amazon Prime subscription. on certain plans. Or you can choose a free trial of Apple Music for up to six months.

Check what you get with your plan before buying. You don’t get any free subscriptions on 30-day contracts. But O2 make it pretty transparent what you’re getting when you select your plan.

If you’re dead set on getting one of these subscriptions, then going with O2 can save you a decent amount on your subscription. But make sure to cancel if you don’t want to keep paying for them after the trial is up.

Useful link: Read O2’s terms and conditions for their Extras

Our verdict on freebies and extra benefits

Win for Virgin Mobile

"While the free subscriptions you get on O2 are nice, we hesitate to call them freebies as you pay more to get more. O2 Priority is good but not always useful. Virgin’s benefit will always save you data on any plan you choose."

Compare pricing and deals

Deals and pricing on Virgin and O2

SIM only deals: Virgin Mobile vs O2

Can you get a cheaper SIM on Virgin or O2?

O2 vs Virgin Mobile SIM only deals

Networks

Providers:

Three logo
ASDA logo
BT Mobile logo
EE logo
giffgaff logo
Honest logo
ID logo
IQ logo
Lebara logo
O2 logo
Plusnet logo
Sky logo
SMARTY logo
Talkmobile logo
Tesco logo
Virgin Mobile logo
Vodafone logo
VOXI logo

Plan

Data: (0MB+)

Minutes: (0+)

Contract

Maximum length: (Any)

Added features

Current offers running on Vodafone and O2

What promotions do Vodafone and O2 have currently?

Virgin Mobile and O2 logos with a promotional sticker

Phone contracts on Virgin Mobile vs O2

Which offers the best phone contracts?

Phone contracts on O2 vs Virgin Mobile

O2 offer more flexibility with Refresh plans

O2 custom plans builder

See custom plans

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

O2 call their phone contracts “Refresh” and they base these on credit agreements (basically loaning you the phone with the expectation that you’ll be able to pay them back). See their full guide here.

The advantage of this over a regular contract is that you can pay off the cost of your phone early, letting you upgrade before your contract is up. If you want the newest phone then this flexibility is essential.

They also give you the freedom to choose your contract length between 3 and 36 months, choose a data plan between 2GB and 100GB and pay as much upfront as you want. You can really suit your plan to your budget.

The big downside is that because it’s a financial agreement it could be harder for you to get accepted for one of these contracts if you have any small blips on your credit history.

Useful link: Read more about their custom plans

Get cheaper phone contracts with Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile Freestyle

How Freestyle works

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile offer a similar sort of phone deal to O2, but with lower prices coming at the cost of less flexibility. You get one payment for your phone and another for your usage that comes together to make your monthly bill.

They call this “Freestyle” and it lets you choose either to take a 24-month contract or a 36-month contract. The overall cost of your phone will be the same, but how much you pay per month will be different between them.

You also have the flexibility to upgrade early, pay lump sums to lower your monthly payment or to switch your usage plan whenever you need to. You can also leave your data plan when your phone is paid off (with 30 day’s notice).

Again, like with O2 you could find it difficult to get accepted for a contract if you have poor credit history. Virgin may have more competitive prices, but this doesn’t mean it’s easier to get accepted.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts with us

Our verdict on phone contracts

Draw

"If you value flexibility highly, we’d say O2 are the better choice. If you want an overall better deal, Virgin are probably the better choice. It all depends on what you want."

Compare pricing and deals

More O2 guides

Other articles about Virgin Mobile

Individual network reviews