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

Virgin Mobile vs EE

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

Virgin Mobile use the EE network, so we find out if you can expect the same UK coverage and speeds on both and how their other benefits differ. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 25th June 2020.

In our Virgin Mobile vs EE guide

Special offer news

Hidden offers on Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile 25GB SIM banner

Squeeze even more value out of your deal with these hidden offers you won't find advertised on the main part of virginmedia.com:

5GB 20GB 25GB for £12 a month (12‑month contract)

1GB 2GB for £7 £6 a month (12‑month contract)

See Virgin Mobile's offers page > (opens in new tab)

EE vs Virgin Mobile's network

Similar: coverage between EE and Virgin isn't identical

Do you get worse coverage on Virgin Mobile than EE direct?

Mobile signal bars, Virgin Mobile and EE logos

They're separate companies but use the same network

Laptop with Virgin's EE coverage checker on screen

Most of the well-known providers that use the EE network (like BT and Plusnet) are owned by the same company that owns EE itself, BT. But Virgin Mobile is part of an entirely separate company, Virgin Media.

Virgin Mobile use the EE network for their 2G, 3G and 4G signal, meaning they can boast 99% population coverage. But that doesn't mean being on Virgin is an identical experience to being on EE direct.

As it stands, Virgin Mobile will stop using the EE network in late 2021 and switch to Vodafone - something worth considering if you're joining on a long contract.

That's been complicated further by the fact that the company that owns Virgin Mobile is planning to buy the O2 brand and network in the UK (it's an ongoing process that might still be cancelled).

If that happens, it's hard to imagine Virgin Mobile being run on a separate network still. So we could see them move over to O2 instead of Vodafone. There's no real certainty.

In some parts of the country and within particular towns and cities, you'll notice a difference between EE and Virgin's 4G coverage (2G/3G calls and data are identical though). Check the differences near you here.

The 4G difference exists because Virgin don't use a small proportion of the frequencies that EE broadcast long-range rural 4G on and use to increase capacity in built-up areas. So you'll sometimes move down onto 3G.

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

Virgin Mobile don’t have access to EE’s 5G network

EE 5G locations map of UK

See latest locations

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

The other coverage difference between Virgin Mobile and EE is that Virgin customers don't get access to EE's 5G network, even if the phone you take on a contract is 5G-ready (you will get it free when it's added though).

For early adopters, this means EE will be your only choice for 5G data. Their rollout is still in an early stage but they've already got the new technology in these 80 large towns and cities across the UK.

These plans come with 5G data:

As with 4G, we're expecting EE to have the biggest reach for 5G. They're already ahead in the rollout. And while other networks have 5G in parts of the cities they list, EE's seem to cover larger areas of them.

As part of Virgin Mobile's move over to using Vodafone entirely, it has been claimed they may use Vodafone's 5G at the same using EE's 4G/3G/2G (although this may never happen if Virgin's parent company buys O2!).

Useful link: What difference will 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:

Win for EE

"Despite Virgin using EE, EE have better 4G and 5G coverage than them. So there is an advantage to joining EE if you're in an area where there's differences."

Compare pricing and deals

Similar: 4G data speeds

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

Speedometer, Virgin Mobile and EE logos

EE offer the UK’s fastest 4G downloads on average

EE best network banner

See all EE's awards

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

While EE's 5G can top speeds of home-broadband smashing 359.66 Mbps, realistically most people will still spend the most time on 4G for the while. And EE's 4G measures up as the fastest in the UK on average.

That's what independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla consistently find, based on millions of measurements on volunteers' smartphones.

They expect typical downloads of 32.99 Mbps (Speedtest) and 35.9 Mbps (Opensignal) on EE. That's around 40% than their nearest rival. And you'll frequently get way higher than that (the results are an average).

Your top speeds on EE do depend on what product you choose though. Their standard range of SIM only plans has a 60 Mbps cap (look for "Smart" plans for top possible speeds). The same applies to phone contracts.

Useful link: Our best 5G networks guide

Virgin Mobile have a speed cap higher than most EE's SIMs

Virgin banner with rocket-themed mobile phone

Virgin's speed claims

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

The big question is can you expect the same speeds on Virgin Mobile as EE? And we’d say the answer would be yes and no:

It’s worth noting that Virgin Mobile have a top speed cap of 70 Mbps, so you’re never going to reach the blazing 90 Mbps+ you can get in some places on EE (see those locations here).

You only really need those kind of speeds if you’re downloading absolutely huge files over a mobile signal. For regular phone usage, even 70 Mbps is way more than adequate.

We’d also note that EE’s measured download speeds are only around 35.9 Mbps anyway, which doesn’t even hit Virgin’s speed cap. So it's not like you're massively held back on Virgin.

Useful link: Virgin's guide to faster 4G

Our verdict on download speeds:

EE win

"For the average user, we don't expect any difference in typical download speeds on EE and Virgin. But for those that invest in EE's premium plans or 5G deals, the top possible speeds will be higher."

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. And despite using the same mobile network, we don't think the two providers use the same technology for it.

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 but calls do drop if you move away from WiFi (there's no 4G calling 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: 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 Swappable Benefits

Swappable Benefit 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 MTV Play 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 Swappable 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 Swappable 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 Swappable 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 scheme are either temporary or come as premium but they will save you more data."

Compare pricing and deals

Free subscriptions: what you get on each

We compare what free extras EE and Virgin Mobile throw in with their pay monthly deals

Free app subscriptions

Four free entertainment trials when you join EE

Entertainment subscriptions on EE

How to claim

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

Take a pay monthly deal from EE and you’ll be entitled to add four separate subscriptions to your account for free. If you’re already on EE, here’s how to claim them.

You’ll get a free 6-month trial of Apple Music (audio streaming), Amazon Prime Video (TV and movies), MTV Play (music TV) and a 3-month trial of the BT Sport app - with a combined value of £164 according to EE.

You can start the trial at any point in your contract - and at different times per service. But you should be aware that these are trials only. After the initial free period, you'll pay at the full rate via your mobile bill.

You can actually immediately cancel the services when you first add them too and keep it free for the whole 6 months or 3 months, so you don't have to remember later.

Useful link: EE's full guide to entertainment

12 months of online security with Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile F Secure subscription

See full features

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

While EE have focused their free subscriptions on things to get more entertainment out of your mobile, Virgin’s giveaway is about keeping your phone itself safe from internet threats.

Any Virgin Mobile customer is entitled to claim a 12-month free trial of F-Secure Safe worth £79.99. This is an app you download to your phone or up to 5 other devices that provides a number of protections:

It has a virus checker, bank details protection, remembers passwords, has a child-safe browsing filter, app privacy scanner and functions for locating and disabling your device if lost or stolen.

It’s a useful package, even if it lacks the glitz and glamour of EE’s free entertainment subscriptions.

Useful link: F-Secure's full features and how to claim

Our verdict on freebies:

Win for EE

"The overall value of all the free subscriptions on EE adds up to more than Virgin's but you'll probably pay more for your mobile deal though. A lot will depend on what you personally find useful."

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 Swappable 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
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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. Unless you want 5G or one of EE's other unique benefits, it's hard to see why you'd pay more for more-or-less the same thing."

Compare pricing and deals

Special offers

Current offers compared on EE and Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile and EE logos with a percentage sticker

Hidden offers on Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile 25GB SIM banner

See full offer

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Order by 15th July to squeeze even more value out of your deal with these hidden offers you won't find advertised on the main part of virginmedia.com:

On phone contracts, every model in their pay monthly range has it's 100GB plan reduced by £9 a month, so works out just £1 more expensive than 8GB one. See how they all compare using our phone deal finder.

Useful link: See all Virgin's special offers on one page at virginmedia.com

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 Carphone Warehouse and Mobiles.co.uk, 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: Carphone Warehouse vs going direct

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 articles

Full EE review

EE logo and review stars

EE compared with BT Mobile

EE and BT logos

EE compared with O2

EE and O2 logos

EE compared with Three

EE and Three logos

EE compared with Vodafone

EE and Vodafone logos

More Virgin Mobile articles

Full Virgin Mobile review

Virgin Mobile logo and review stars

Virgin broadband customer benefits

Virgin Media logo and a gift box

Virgin compared with Three

Virgin Mobile and Three logos

Virgin Mobile Family Plans

Virgin Mobile Family Plans

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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