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Virgin Mobile vs Sky Mobile: which is the better network?

Sky Mobile vs Virgin Mobile

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We compare joining Sky Mobile vs Virgin Mobile for a phone contract or SIM only plan, looking at coverage, speeds and extra benefits. Last updated: 19th April 2021.

In our Sky Mobile vs Virgin guide

Latest offer news

Their mobile networks compared

UK coverage on Sky vs Virgin

Do Virgin or Sky Mobile have better reception?

Sky and Virgin Mobile logo with mobile signal bars

They use different networks - so signal varies

Sky and Telefonica logo

Read press release

(opens in new window)

Both Sky and Virgin use other networks to bring their customers signal. On Virgin Mobile it’s Vodafone (they used to use EE). And on Sky Mobile it’s O2. There’s advantages and disadvantages to both.

For basic calls and texts, we’d say they’re both the joint-best choices. Their host networks have equal amounts of the UK’s landmass covered. And they’re the best two networks for indoor call signal in general.

The main difference is 4G data. Virgin Mobile have a slight advantage over Sky by using Vodafone. Rural 4G reception is generally slightly better on Virgin. Though in towns and cities, there’s nothing to split them.

We’d still recommend using both networks’ official maps, prior to signing up to either - as it’s the local differences to you that matter. Don’t just test at home, look in all places you can think you’ll take your phone.

Useful link: Our full Sky Mobile network review

Both have 5G live on rapidly-expanding networks

5G data on Virgin Mobile

Read their 5G guide

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You can now get 5G data on both Virgin and Sky Mobile. It’s easier to get on Virgin: every plan comes with it as standard. On Sky, you have to add a 5G-on costing £5 extra if you’re not a free-to-join Sky VIP member.

Comparing coverage is tricky. It’s a fast-moving picture. And when one network says they’ve got 5G live in a town or city, it mostly means just in one part (except EE who only report it once 50% off the city has it).

The current locations on Virgin Mobile is the same 100+ places as Vodafone. On Sky, there’s 150+ towns and cities live. Both lists are growing and the coverage within them. So you’ll get more-and-more over time.

Useful link: Getting 5G data on Sky Mobile

Official network maps on Sky and Virgin

Use these to check everywhere you take your phone

Virgin Mobile checker

Virgin Mobile coverage checker

Check Virgin signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Sky Mobile checker

Sky network coverage checker

Check Sky signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:

Minor win for Virgin Mobile

“There’s very little to split either provider for reception in urban and residential areas. We just think Virgin have a slight advantage for holding onto a 4G data signal in the wider country”

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Data speeds on Sky Mobile vs Virgin

Do Virgin Mobile or Sky have faster 4G?

Virgin and Sky logos with speedometer icon

Virgin Mobile’s 4G downloads are faster on average

Don’t let anything slow you down and rocket-themed phone

Read benefits page

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There’s plenty of speed data published by independent network testers Speedtest and OpenSignal, who use apps on volunteers’ smartphones to conduct millions of speed tests around the country.

For years now, they’ve always reported that typical downloads via the O2 network Sky Mobile use are slower on average 16.95 - 18.00 Mbps than the Vodafone network Virgin Mobile use 21.15 - 25.1 Mbps.

Our own tests haven’t found any evidence of built-in speed differences to being on Sky/Virgin vs their host networks directly. So we think these are good measure of what to expect on both.

If you only use your phone for a bit of basic browsing, social media and checking emails, the difference won’t be hugely noticeable. If you’re a big downloader or gamer Virgin are probably the better choice.

On 5G, there’s a much smaller amount of speed test info available. But early testing by puts Vodafone (for Virgin) at130.57 Mbps vs O2 (for Sky) at130.04 Mbps, so big improvements on 4G.

Useful link: What difference 5G will make on Sky Mobile

Our verdict on data speeds

Win for Virgin Mobile

“Given most the time you’ll be on 4G, Virgin Mobile are a safer bet for a smoother, faster 4G experience around the country if you’re sensitive to having a speedy connection.”

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Extra network features on Sky vs Virgin

How do extras like WiFi calling and hotspots compare?

Virgin and Sky logos with phone

Both have WiFi calling and 4G calling

WiFi calling explained

Check supported phones

(opens in new window)

Virgin and Sky both use networks with signal on theoretically-good frequencies for getting through buildings and indoors for calls and texts, so you’re less likely to suffer from poor indoor signal on them both.

Both also have WiFi calling and 4G calling to help. WiFi calling connects your phone to the network via WiFi if signal is weak. 4G calling provides more signal types to use for calls (so better coverage).

Virgin and Sky’s schemes are separate technology to their host’s WiFi calling. Check Sky support your phone here and Virgin support yours here. Older Android phones are less likely to work.

Out of the two, only Virgin say they support SMS texts over WiFi. We could only send one though, not receive, when we tested it. Sky’s works for calls only. Other than that, they’ve very similar.

Useful link: Our best network choices for WiFi calling

Virgin Mobile have more free hotspots included

Virgin Mobile WiFi hotspots

How it works

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Both Virgin Mobile and Sky Mobile belong to companies that provide broadband too. We’d say Virgin Mobile make better use of this though, with exclusive access to millions of Virgin Media hotspots.

All you have to do is download their Virgin Media Connect app to your phone and it can connect your phone to their free and unlimited WiFi whenever you’re in range - saving you on mobile data.

It works automatically, so you don’t have to log in over and over. And you only get the benefit from being a Virgin Mobile or Media customer. It also works on London’s TFL network (Sky don’t offer this).

Sky Mobile don’t have any similar automatic integration with the Sky WiFi network for their customers. It’s a little advantage for Virgin we think people on smaller data plans will appreciate.

Useful link: Our favourite networks for free WiFi

Our verdict on network features

Minor win for Virgin Mobile

“There’s not a huge gap between Sky Mobile and Virgin Mobile in this category. But we’d say having free access to more hotspots on Virgin just about puts them ahead for extra ways to stay connected.”

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Comparing their benefits

Data rollover on Sky Mobile vs Virgin Mobile

Which has the best scheme for unused data?

Virgin and Sky logos with a wallet

Keep unused data for 3 years on Sky and trade it in

Sky Mobile themed piggybank

Read full benefits

(opens in new window)

Sky Mobile and Virgin Mobile are both on our list of networks with data rollover. Sky come higher than Virgin though, because the amount of time they let you keep unused data for is a huge three years.

Every month, Sky will check if you’ve not got through your entire allowance and add anything unused to your Piggybank. Then, if you ever run out of data, you can withdraw some 1GB at a time whenever.

And you can share banked data with other users on your account, which is great to prevent your kids going over their allowance. Or you can even trade in unused data for a discount on phones and tablets.

It’s a really nice benefit that avoids the problem you get on pay monthly, where you pay for data, whether you use it or not. On Sky, they give you more opportunities to get back its value.

Useful link: How to share data on Sky Mobile

Virgin let you keep it for a month

Rolled over data on Virgin Mobile

Read help guide

(opens in new window)

If you don’t get through all your data on Virgin Mobile, they’ll also total up what you didn’t use automatically and give you another chance to use it.

The difference between Virgin and Sky is you’ll only get one month to use that unused data on Virgin Mobile, after which it does disappear. So it’s not as generous as Sky’s system.

You will use up rolled-over data first each month. That means you’re more likely to roll over your regular data allowance in the month after that. If this keeps happening, you should probably switch down plans.

It’d be nice to see Virgin do something innovative with their data rollover scheme like Sky have. But overall, it all works well and does what it’s supposed to do.

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

Our verdict on data rollover

Win for Sky Mobile

“It’s good that Virgin have some data rollover but Sky’s scheme is clearly superior, by letting you keep data longer, share it and trade it in for money off new phones.”

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Free streaming or social media data

Do Virgin or Sky offer more?

Virgin and Sky logos with phone streaming

Sky include unlimited TV app streaming data

Sky Mobile unlimited streaming banner

Read full terms

(opens in new window)

Whether you’ve got Sky TV from Sky directly or via Virgin Media, joining Sky Mobile can actually help you get more out of your home TV package. All Sky’s phone contracts and SIM only plans include Watch:

It’s a benefit that effectively gives you unlimited data to watch Sky’s TV apps. Watch for hours and hours when you’re on a mobile connection out of the house and it won’t use up your monthly data allowance.

Amazingly, you even get the benefit on Sky’s smallest, cheapest SIM only plans. Here’s the current lowest-cost deal to include it:

We’ve tried it ourselves and it really is a great benefit. It’s game-changing for staying entertained in boring situations like long journeys, without using lousy public WiFi or fretting about data usage and extra costs.

Useful link: Sky’s full guide to their streaming data

Virgin won’t charge you for messaging data

Logos of streaming apps

See included apps

(opens in new window)

When you use the apps WhatsApp Facebook Messenger and Twitter out of the house, it normally uses little bits of data as you go. Virgin Mobile have made it so that this won’t come out of your monthly allowance.

So Virgin are among our list of networks that give you free streaming or social media data. But their scheme isn’t as generous as some of the others, or Sky:

If you make audio or video calls using the app, that does come out of your allowance. That’s a shame as that’s more likely to actually use significant amounts of data. Basic messaging barely uses any anyway.

You’d have to seriously hammer the messaging apps to make any noticeable data savings with Virgin’s scheme. You’ll never get anywhere near the savings from Sky’s video streaming. But it’s still a bonus.

Useful link: Full terms and conditions

Our verdict on free data schemes

Win for Sky Mobile

“Getting free video streaming data on Sky is way more valuable than messaging on Virgin Mobile but you do need a Sky TV subscription (from Sky or Virgin) to actually benefit.”

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Roaming on Sky Mobile vs Virgin

How do the networks compare for going abroad?

Virgin Mobile and Sky logos with globe

Free EU roaming is standard on Virgin Mobile’s plans

Virgin free social media data

Full details and terms

(opens in new window)

While many networks have changed their EU roaming policies, Virgin have kept theirs in place. The downside is that they still impose their fiddly fair usage policy while you’re abroad, but at least they still offer free EU roaming.

This makes it a bit complicated to work out how much data you can use abroad, and you’ll be restricted even if you’ve only got a small data plan already. It’s an unnecessary complication and makes Virgin’s roaming worse in our eyes.

If you’re going further afield then you’ll want to look elsewhere. Roaming beyond the EU can get ridiculously expensive on Virgin Mobile (1GB costs £5000!). You can cap overspending if that’s a concern for you.

In the end, it’s nice that Virgin Mobile still let you roam in the EU, but their scheme is far from the best in our eyes.

Useful link: Our guide to the best UK roaming networks

Sky no longer offer free EU roaming

Sky Mobile roaming passports

See costs & countries

(opens in new window)

Sky Mobile used to take this category quite handily as they used to be one of only two networks to let you use your entire allowance abroad (Tesco being the other). But now they no longer offer free EU roaming.

A lot of other UK networks are doing a similar thing by making you pay a daily rate while you’re in the EU. On Sky it’s £2 for every day you’re there, which can get pricey if you’re going on a long holiday.

You also won’t benefit from Sky’s free data streaming on their apps while you’re abroad. At least, they still don’t impose a fair usage policy, so you’re free to use as much of your allowance as you want.

On the bright side, roaming beyond the EU costs the same amount now as roaming in the EU (it used to be £6 a day). That makes Sky one of the cheaper networks for worldwide roaming, but we think more people care about EU roaming.

Useful link: Which networks still offer free EU roaming?

Our verdict on roaming

Virgin Mobile

“We don’t rate Virgin Mobile’s roaming particularly highly, but at least you don’t have to spend anything extra to roam unlike on Sky Mobile. But if you’re going beyond the EU, Sky are definitely the best choice of the two.”

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Comparing their prices and deals

SIM only plans on Sky Mobile vs Virgin

Which offers better value on pay monthly SIMs?

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Special offers on Virgin Mobile and Sky

Here’s what promotions each have on this month

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Phone contracts on Virgin Mobile vs Sky

Which offers the best phone contracts?

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Similar deals on both Sky and Virgin

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Compare phone contracts

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Virgin Mobile and Sky Mobile both base their phone contracts on taking out a credit agreement (loan) for the cost of your phone and then combining that with a monthly agreement for your minutes, texts and data.

This way of doing things means both can offer a choice of spreading the cost of the phone over 36 months or 24 months. You’ll find the two are usually neck-and-neck on price among the cheapest providers.

The system also builds in flexibility. You can upgrade early on both by paying off the loan in full. You can change your data plan once a month, up or down. They also both offer trade-in schemes like Sky’s Swap.

The only disadvantage of this type of contract is that it might be harder to get accepted for them, if you’ve got any blips on your credit file. They’re lending you money, so have to act responsibly, more like a bank.

Useful link: Compare phone contracts with us

Our verdict on phone contracts


“There’s little to pick between the way Sky and Virgin’s phone contracts work. It’ll come down to price and the other extra network benefits you get on both, to make a decision.”

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More Sky Mobile guides

Other Virgin Mobile guides