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Virgin Mobile vs EE: what's different and the same on the networks?

Virgin Mobile vs EE

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Now that Virgin Mobile no longer use the EE network, we look at what differences there now are for coverage, speeds and benefits. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 25th May 2021.

In our Virgin Mobile vs EE guide

Special offer news

EE vs Virgin Mobile's network

Different: coverage between EE and Virgin is now separate

Is coverage better on EE or Virgin Mobile?

Mobile signal bars, Virgin Mobile and EE logos

They're separate companies on separate networks

Laptop with Virgin's EE coverage checker on screen

Read network guide

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

For decades, Virgin Mobile used EE (and its precursors' networks) for signal. That's no longer the case. Virgin now use the Vodafone network. While EE is owned by BT and own their own.

Using the Vodafone network should be an advantage for Virgin's basic calls and texts. Vodafone have more of the country's physical landmass covered with 2G/3G and their indoor coverage is generally better too.

Where Virgin have lost out vs EE is 4G data. EE is the biggest UK network for coverage (Vodafone are second biggest). The difference isn't noticeable in residential areas but when you're travelling round on road and rail.

So it's a mixed picture and depends on what you use your phone for and where you use it. Definitely give both networks' latest coverage checkers a go before signing up and don't just check at home.

Useful link: Use EE and Virgin's coverage checkers.

5G is available on both networks

EE 5G locations map of UK

See latest locations

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

Every major network is now rolling out 5G at an impressive pace. Virgin benefit from Vodafone's rollout and sell all there plans as 5G-enabled for new customers, at no extra cost. On EE, you choose a 5G-specific plan.

These plans come with 5G data:

Out of the two, we'd say EE are doing the better job. You'll get the faster data technology on EE in these 125+ locations, compared to Virgin's 100+ here. So not a huge difference on paper.

But we would say EE are doing a better job within those places of spreading out the coverage to more areas. They're only reporting on their list once they've hit 50% - where some networks only have a few streets.

So, again use their checkers to find the best near you. But also consider that EE are probably the most likely of the two to start offering 5G in your area at some point during your contracts.

Useful link: What difference does 5G make vs 4G?

EE and Virgin Mobile network maps

Check signal everywhere you'll use your phone, not just at home

EE checker

EE network map

Check EE coverage

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile's checker

Virgin coverage checker

Check Virgin coverage

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:

Minor win for EE

"EE's better 4G data coverage is still their trump card over other networks. It's the most useful technology: use it for data and calls via 4G calling. But Virgin are no slouch either. It's a close thing and both are top tier."

Compare pricing and deals

Different: 4G data speeds

Is Virgin Mobile's 4G slower than EE's?

Speedometer, Virgin Mobile and EE logos

EE are still the UK's fastest network on average

EE best network banner

See all EE's awards

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

Out-and-out 4G speed dominance is something else that Virgin Mobile have traded in by moving to using the Vodafone network instead of the EE. EE have long tested as the fastest on average:

Independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla say you can expect typical 4G downloads of 32.99 - 35.9 Mbps on EE, compared to 21.15 - 25.1 Mbps via the Vodafone network.

In cities, we found both networks can go 2 - 4x faster than that. The main difference is in smaller towns, villages and rurally, Vodafone slows down below to half their average while EE holds up in 15 - 20 Mbps range.

If you're sensitive to speed, we'd say you're likely to be happier on an EE-based provider. If you live urbanly or don't really mind, Virgin are still better than O2 and Three for speed.

Useful link: Our best 5G networks guide

5G speeds are close

Virgin banner with rocket-themed mobile phone

Virgin's speed claims

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

It's early days for 5G data on all networks and there's not that much information available from the independent networks testers of the speeds you can expect. But Speedtest have got some results from London:

They put typical 5G on EE at 142.86 Mbps vs 166.77 Mbps on Vodafone (there's no info for Virgin). They measured peak 10% of speed at 245.73 Mbps on EE, compared to 288.17 Mbps on Vodafone.

So it's a huge move on from 4G. The results are better than most people's home broadband. There's no mention of a speed cap on Virgin vs Vodafone, so we think it's reasonable to assume you'd get the same.

Useful link: Our full Virgin Mobile review

Our verdict on download speeds:

EE win

"For the time being, you'll still spend most your time on 4G with both providers, so we'd still say EE's superiority here is more important but it is a changing picture for the future."

Compare pricing and deals

Different: other network features

What else do Virgin and EE have to keep your phone connected?

Virgin and EE logos with some cogs

EE's WiFi calling is better than Virgin Mobile's

EE WiFi calling scheme

Check supported phones

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

EE's WiFi calling has been around a lot longer than Virgin's, which only launched in 2020 (we believe Virgin are using their own custom technology for it too, not Vodafone's).

A good WiFi calling scheme lets you make/take calls (and send/receive SMS texts) over a WiFi connection, if you're somewhere with poor indoor coverage for calls. And will support the largest range of phones.

Out of the two, only EE's WiFi calling scheme achieves this best. You can use it for calls and texts and switch to a 4G call mid-way through if you go out of range of WiFi without it dropping (check your phone's supported).

Virgin's on the other hand supports fewer phones (check yours here). And our tests found you couldn't receive SMS text messages, even if you can send them. General phone calls worked fine and there's 4G calling too on Virgin.

Useful link: Our best-rated networks for WiFi calling

Virgin Mobile offer more comprehensive free WiFi hotspot access than EE

Virgin Media free WiFi on the Underground

How it works

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Despite being owned by BT, EE haven’t managed yet to tap into the huge network of WiFi hotspots that BT WiFi offers. It might be that they’re happy with you using up mobile data instead.

EE do offer their pay monthly customers free WiFi on the Underground though if you live in London. This is something you’ll also get as standard on Virgin Mobile.

Virgin Mobile do manage to use being part of Virgin Media to their customers' advantage. You’ll be able to access a huge network of over 3.5 million hotspots if you join Virgin Mobile. Just download the app.

These hotspots save you from using up your mobile data allowance, and they’re located in convenient places like on the high street, pubs and restaurants and transport hubs like train stations and airports.

Useful link: Full details on Virgin's free WiFi scheme

Our verdict on extra network features:

Win for EE

"There's loads of free WiFi about nowadays that we think more people will benefit from EE's better WiFi calling day-to-day than Virgin's superior hotspot availability. But you'll know what you'll find more useful."

Compare pricing and deals

Benefits on Virgin Mobile vs EE

Different: data rollover

Which is the best for unused data?

Recycle symbol with EE and Virgin logos

Every plan on Virgin Mobile comes with data rollover

Virgin Mobile data rollover banner

How it works

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

There's now a small number of mobile networks that let you keep any data you've not managed to get through, to use next month. This generally gets called data rollover. And both EE and Virgin offer it in parts.

Every phone contract and SIM only plan on Virgin lets you keep data for an extra month if you didn't use it. This helps avoid overpaying for data you don't manage to get through, by giving you another chance.

It is only a month extra though. There's nothing like Sky, who let you keep it for 3 years, trade it in for money off discounts and share with other people on your account (see their scheme here).

But it is still a bonus. We've tried it ourselves and it all works automatically. You use up rolled-over data first, so your regular allowance has more chance of rolling over again too.

Useful link: Virgin Mobile's data rollover help guide

Data rollover on EE is a pay as you go thing

EE data rollover banner

See Flex plans

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

EE as a network are mainly geared towards pay monthly phones and SIMs but they do offer monthly pay as you go bundles with their Flex SIMs. They're the most commitment-free way to join EE.

As well as having no contract, no credit check and letting you change plans month-to-month, Flex plans are also the only plans on EE to come with data rollover.

You'll be able to keep data for the same one month period as you can on Virgin, giving you another chance to get through it. In fact, it's very similar to Virgin, it's just you don't get it on pay monthly phones or SIM only.

Useful link: See latest Flex Plans and their benefits

Our verdict on data rollover:

Win for Virgin Mobile

"We think most people reading this are probably after a pay monthly SIM or phone, so we think Virgin win by default, as EE don't offer data rollover on either of those products."

Compare pricing and deals

Family plans on EE vs Virgin

Icon of a family between EE and Virgin logos

EE's family accounts offer loads of benefits

See EE's family plans

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

If you've got multiple people you want to buy phone or SIM only contracts for under one account, EE have one of the most comprehensive package of benefits on the UK market.

To start, you'll get 10% off the full price of extra phone contracts, SIM only plans, tablet deals or data SIMs you add to your main account, for your friends or family. And a 1GB a month data bonus for you.

You can also do clever stuff like data gifting, which is moving data from one number on your account to another, if they run out and someone else has spare (helps you avoid extra data usage charges).

And that's on top of the convenience of billing and parental controls all managed from one account. It's one of our favourite shared family mobile plan schemes on the market.

Useful link: EE's full guide to their family accounts

Virgin's Family plans are much more about price

Calculate discounts

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

There's now actually very few advantages on Virgin Mobile for being a Virgin Media broadband or TV customer. But one of them is getting access to their Family SIM discounts.

At any point during a phone or SIM only contract, you can up to 4x extra family SIMs and receive a modest £2 discount on each. It's not a massive saving but it's £2 off already cheaper (than EE) plans in the first place.

You can't get the discount if you don't have Virgin Media at home but you can still add multiple numbers to one account on Virgin Mobile - you just won't get any extra discounts on it.

There's also nothing clever like data gifting on Virgin so far. Their family plans are just about making a cheap thing cheaper, which we think most people will appreciate!

Useful link: Full ins and outs of Virgin Mobile family plans

Our verdict on family plans:

Win for EE

"While Virgin's family plan has its place as a decent discount off already-cheap deals, it's closed to most the public. EE's is open to everyone and has more features but would admittedly work out more expensive for a family to join."

Compare pricing and deals

Different: free data schemes

Free data schemes on EE vs Virgin

Free social media messaging data on Virgin

Virgin Mobile free social media data

How it works

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Even if you join Virgin Mobile on a SIM only or phone plan that comes with the smallest amount of data, you’ll still benefit from their scheme that doesn’t charge you for data used by selected apps:

Send messages and photos via the WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger apps and the data used won’t come out of your monthly allowance. The same goes for when you use the Twitter app for general use.

It effectively means you’ve got unlimited data for this kind of usage, and if you’re a really heavy messenger you could save enough mobile data to take a smaller, cheaper plan than usual.

That said, sending messages on these apps barely uses any mobile data, particularly compared to things like video streaming, which some networks including do offer (read our guide to the best here).

Useful link: How data-free messaging works

You can get unlimited data for streaming on EE

EE Smart plan banner

Read Smart plan guide

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

If you join EE on a pay monthly phone contract or SIM only deal, you’ll get a free trial to four different streaming services, including Apple Music, BritBox and Apple TV+ for up to 6 months and BT Sport for 3 months.

During the trials, EE will also not charge you for any mobile data those services use (effectively unlimited streaming data for those apps). But you can also get unlimited video streaming data more permanently:

Take one of EE's Smart plans on SIM only or a phone contract and you can choose from a range of Smart Benefits to add to your deal. One of these is a Video Pass that gives you unlimited streaming data for these popular video services.

All these deals come with at least one Smart Benefit:

The list includes things like iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube and more so will save your regular data if you watch a lot of these. Remember it's not a total freebie though, Smart plans cost more than their non-Smart equivalents with the same data.

Useful link: EE's full guide to Smart Benefits

Our verdict on this topic:

Draw

"Which scheme is best depends largely on what you do on your phone. Social media uses less data but you get it the length of your contract on Virgin. EE's schemes are either temporary or come as premium but they will save you more data."

Compare pricing and deals

Inclusive roaming: is EE or Virgin Mobile’s scheme better?

Now every network has to offer free EU roaming, we look at whether Virgin or EE do the best job

Globe with Virgin and EE logos

4G roaming on EE wherever it's available

EE roaming banner

All roaming costs

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

Like every mobile network in the UK, EE offer inclusive roaming within the EU. Use your plan's regular minutes, texts and data in these countries at no extra cost.

You will be limited to 15GB data usage within the EU per month, because of EE's fair usage policy. This would be a very large amount to be using on a short trip. And is more than many even use at home.

If you join on a Smart plan (available with phones and SIMs), you can choose EE's Roam Further Pass as your Smart Benefit, which unlocks a further 5 inclusive roaming destinations like the USA and Canada.

If you don't have an extra pass or go anywhere not covered, roaming can be pretty expensive on a per minute, text or MB data. Check the latest costs per country here before travelling.

Useful link: Full guide to roaming on EE's network

Virgin Mobile are geared towards EU roaming only

Virgin Mobile roaming calculator

Calculate costs

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Unlike EE (and all these mobile networks), Virgin Mobile don't have any inclusive roaming outside the EU on pay monthly. You'll get the standard inclusive EU roaming that every network has to offer though.

Their inclusive roaming is subject to a few annoying fair usage policies that you probably won't ever come up against, unless you're a really heavy user.

This affects how much of your monthly data you're allowed to use while abroad based on the cost of your plan. There's a calculator you can use here that works this out depending on the deal you take.

Going elsewhere can get really expensive, really fast on Virgin Mobile, particularly for data. So check costs here before you leave. And think about other providers if you're regularly outside Europe.

Useful link: Virgin's own guide to roaming

Our verdict on roaming:

A win for EE

"If you mainly travel within the EU, there's little to split EE and Virgin for roaming. It's only if you're going further afield that EE's Roam Further pass could save you money in select countries."

Compare pricing and deals

Deals on EE vs Virgin Mobile

SIM only deals

Are SIM only plans cheaper on Virgin or EE

EE and Virgin Mobile logos and a SIM card

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

Our verdict on SIM only plans:

Win for Virgin Mobile

"It's very rare that EE can beat Virgin Mobile on price for SIM only. The main reason you'd choose EE over Virgin is for the coverage, speeds and any other unique benefit you like."

Compare pricing and deals

Special offers

Current offers compared on EE and Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile and EE logos with a percentage sticker

Phone contracts on Virgin Mobile vs EE

Are phone contracts better from EE or Virgin Mobile?

Virgin Mobile and EE logos with a phone

Virgin's phone contracts are more flexible

Virgin phone range

See full range

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin are one of the mobile providers to offer phone contracts on "split contracts", where you have a credit agreement (loan) for a handset a separate contract for your monthly minutes, texts and data.

These bring a number of advantages, like choosing your contract length flexibly (24-month or 36-month) and upgrading early or leaving Virgin altogether by paying off the remaining balance of your credit agreement in full.

We'd urge a bit of caution though. Virgin's monthly prices look low because they're spread out over 3 years (instead of the regular 2 years). That's a long commitment. And you'll need a good credit rating to be accepted.

But nine times out of ten, Virgin will work out cheaper than EE for the full contract cost for a handset. If you're not fussed about 5G or can't get it, it's almost a no-brainer to go with Virgin to get a good price and enjoy access to EE's network.

Useful link: How Virgin's phone contracts work

EE's phone contracts are less flexible than Virgin

Screenshot of phone deal finder

Compare phone deals

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

Phone contracts on EE are a lot more straightforward and conventional than on Virgin Mobile. You're signing one 24-month contract for the phone and your monthly minutes, texts and data.

You lose some of the flexibility in early upgrades and cancellations. Andd EE's prices are rarely as competitive as Virgin Mobile when you buy direct from EE.co.uk.

Where you can make a saving is by going via EE re-sellers like Fonehouse or Chitter Chatter, who can offer cheaper deals on the network because they buy their own handsets.

Depending on the plan you choose, you can get the same EE benefits with these re-sellers but a much better overall contract price most of the time. It still pays to compare all contracts using our deal finder below.

Useful link: Compare all ways to join EE and Virgin on phones

Our verdict on phone contracts:

Win for Virgin Mobile

"Not only are Virgin Mobile's phone contracts almost always cheaper than EE, they're also a lot more flexible in terms of early upgrades or ditching Virgin as your network altogether"

Compare pricing and deals

More EE guides

More Virgin Mobile articles