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Virgin Mobile review 2021: testing their network in real-life

Virgin Mobile logo with a phone and a SIM cardVisit virginmedia.com

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

We joined Virgin Mobile to put their 4G coverage and speeds through their paces and to see what their benefits and customer service are like. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 19th January 2021.

Overall rating

SIM Sherpa rates Virgin Mobile as good, for the money
 (3/5, good)

"Despite their low prices, we'd find it hard to commit to joining Virgin Mobile at the moment, because you simply don't know which network they're going to be using in a few months time, with their move away from EE.

Today, you get leading data speeds and 4G coverage. Tomorrow, that could change. We're pleased they've added WiFi calling but even that needs improving rapidly to support more phones.

There are some nice little benefits on Virgin. Data rollover is always handy, free social messaging data takes the edge off your monthly usage and their well-priced phone contracts are some of the most flexible around.

It's just that compared to the big four networks, Virgin are a little rough round the edges, with a dodgy customer service record and terrible online account management. Join for the prices, hope for a smooth ride."

The 3 best bits

1) Superfast 4G data speeds
2) Ultra-competitive deals
3) New WiFi calling feature

The 3 worst bits

1) Worrying customer service record
2) No 4G calling
3) Conditions on roaming

Information symbol We're a professional reviews website but we bought our Virgin Mobile SIM card as a regular consumer, to test what it's actually like for real life paying customers. The contents of this review are a combination of our expert industry knowledge and what we experienced during our test.

Virgin Mobile's network

Coverage on Virgin Mobile is great but not the same as EE

Virgin Mobile network map screenshot

Make sure there's 4G, 3G and 2G in your areaCheck Virgin signal

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile belongs to the Virgin Media brand. They don't have their own mobile network, your Virgin SIM card taps into the EE network. You get the same 2G/3G signal as you would on EE but 4G is slightly different:

Basically there's one newer band of 4G transmitter that Virgin Mobile SIM cards can't access. It's used for long-range rural 4G data, 4G calling (VoLTE) and to boost capacity alongside other bands in built-up areas.

We took our Virgin Mobile SIM card out and about in quite a few different locations to see how it behaves, compared it against an EE SIM card and also their coverage checker.

Generally, the only places we could find a difference in 4G coverage between Virgin and EE was out in the sticks, where our Virgin SIM only had 3G but the EE one remained on 4G (though the 4G wasn't exactly a spectacularly speedy connection either).

In cities and towns, despite the theoretical difference, we couldn't repeat the same experience. It was extremely rare to be without 4G on Virgin. Sometimes indoors, Virgin could be worse for 4G. In bigger crowds, this might be a problem in built up areas, due to lower capacity.

We've found their coverage checker to be accurate. It doesn't seem to embellish things in the few areas we did spot checks.

Our own testing found that it's pretty hard to get away from Virgin Mobile reception. Total blackspots were non-existent, there's 4G data in practically any built-up area and 3G as a backup everywhere else.

But we do recommend using their coverage checker here to predict what signal is like in your area. Check at home, on your way to work/school and anywhere else you can think you'll use your phone. It's pretty accurate and reflects the areas there are differences with EE.

Useful link: Our Virgin Mobile vs EE guide

Virgin Mobile will be moving to using a different network

Virgin Mobile press release

The switchover will happen in 2021Read press release

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

It's worth knowing that we expect Virgin to cease using the EE network at some point this year or next. The plan was to move onto the Vodafone network. But now Virgin Media are in the process of buying O2!

That O2 purchase still hasn't been approved by the government regulator, so could fall through. But if it does go through, it's hard to imagine that Virgin Mobile wouldn't move to using O2's network.

All this makes for a confusing picture for us as much as you. It's very hard to predict which network you'll actually be on in a year's time if you choose a phone contract or a long-term SIM only plan.

If you're considering moving to Virgin Mobile, because you're fed up with either O2 or Vodafone's network then you could end up back on there. And if you definitely want an EE-based provider, you won't be happy either.

Useful link: How EE and Vodafone compare

Our coverage rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
Joint 2nd
(out of 4 places)

Not as good as:
EE, BT Mobile

Similar to:
O2, Vodafone
(and all providers that use them)

4G data speeds: Virgin Mobile can be impressively fast

Rocket themed mobile phone

Virgin claim faster speeds on averageRead why

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

One thing that will be lost when Virgin Mobile move away from using the EE network will be the impressively fast 4G data speeds they currently offer. Our own tests found speeds in the 70 Mbps range over 4G+.

In city centres, we found you can actually slightly beat the expected top speed of 70 Mbps over 4G+, which seems to work on Virgin:

Screenshot of mobile mast data

We measured 78 Mbps, so it might be that they've built in a 10% buffer on top of the speed cap.

Elsewhere we were getting speeds in the 30 Mbps range in sub-urban places. And the lowest was around 12 Mbps in rural locations, which is still pretty decent and beats other providers in similar areas.

Overall, we're impressed with what Virgin Mobile delivered.

Independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla put typical speeds over the EE network in the 32.99 - 35.9 Mbps range and we don't expect the experience on Virgin's 4G to differ from that drastically.

That's like decent home broadband fast. Things like high definition video streaming aren't a problem. And even demanding stuff like mobile gaming is possible.

There's no 5G yet on Virgin Mobile and with the ongoing confusion around which network they'll actually be using next, it's hard to know with any certaintity when this will change.

Useful link: Read our full EE vs Virgin Mobile guide

Our speed rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
Joint 2nd

Not as good as:
EE

Better than:
Three, Vodafone, O2
(and other providers that use them)

WiFi calling on Virgin Mobile only supports limited devices

Virgin Mobile WiFi calling

Not many phones currently supportedCheck models

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

The good news is that Virgin Mobile now have WiFi calling, which lets your phone connect to their network to make and receive calls over WiFi if conventional mobile signal is weak or non-existent.

The bad news is that they've not just used EE's technology. So it's currently the least advanced scheme out of all the UK networks with WiFi calling. For a couple of reasons:

It supports the least phones. If your phone isn't on their list here, our own testing found it probably genuinely won't work. And it can't hand over calls to 4G so drops if you lose WiFi. It can't be used for SMS.

We test networks' WiFi calling by putting their SIM cards in a few different phones and then taking the phones to indoor areas with no signal (placing the phone on the floor helps).

We did this with Android phones not listed in Virgin's supported list and they indeed did not register on WiFi calling. We tested with an iPhone on the list (and did the necessary settings change) and it did work.

The audio quality over WiFi seems standard. And we verified that you couldn't disconnect WiFi during a call without the call entirely dropping. Virgin don't have VoLTE (4G calling) that other networks have, which allows a transfer without dropping.

Overall, we'd say, if your phone is supported, then there's nothing really wrong with Virgin's WiFi calling and it's a useful addition. They just need to expand the models quickly to be more useful to more people.

Useful link: Our guide to the networks with WiFi calling

Our WiFi calling rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Rank:
5th
(we're still investigating)

Not as good as:
Three, EE, BT Mobile, iD Mobile, Vodafone

Same as:
All others

WiFi hotspots: 3.5 million free UK locations on Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile free WiFi hotspots

Free WiFi hotspots in the UK and abroadSee WiFi locations

in Virgin Mobile's guide
(opens in new window)

If you're someone who guards their mobile data preciously, we think Virgin Mobile are one of the better choices for you, because they include loads of free WiFi hotspot provision with all their phones and SIMs.

You need to download their Virgin Media Connect app, which recognises your Virgin Mobile SIM card and sets itself up to be able to connect to their hotspots, without you having to manually enter in your account details.

We downloaded the app onto two separate phones, one Android and one iPhone to see how it behaves. We like the fact that there's no sign in, as long as you've got your Virgin SIM card in the phone, the app recognises you.

We used the map to locate some hotspots nearby. But the problem we found is that they're often based at businesses. And if the business isn't open, there can be no WiFi there. So it's worth thinking where's open before you head there.

Once you've done that, you'll be able to access 3.5 million hotspots in the UK, free-of-charge, including on London's TFL network. And a further 12 million abroad, which can help you save on expensive data roaming.

The WiFi itself isn't always world-beating in terms of speed. But for the purposes of checking a few things if you're out of data or signal, it's more than up to the task.

Useful link: How to get free WiFi with Virgin Mobile

Our hotspots rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
2nd

Not as good as:
BT Mobile

Tethering: Virgin Mobile now allow it on pay monthly

Chat conversation about tethering

An online chat agent confirms tethering's allowedSee Virgin Mobile terms

We've seen Virgin Mobile are a solid choice for superfast 4G data and extensive coverage but there was previously one thing holding them back:

Until recently, you weren't allowed to use their pay monthly phones or SIMs for tethering (making a WiFi hotspot with your phone using mobile data).

We're pleased to say Virgin have now seen sense here and have started allowing tethering for all their pay monthly customers (see screenshot of our chat conversation).

Virgin and other EE-based providers are always the best for using as personal hotspot. We were able to work while tethering on Virgin without really noticing you're not on a wired broadband connection.

Things like images on web pages don't take ages to load, YouTube videos work fine. This does of course depend on the quality of your local 4G signal.

So now you're free to use your superfast 4G data connection on Virgin to connect other WiFi-enabled devices like laptops, tablets or even other phones to your phone for internet when you're away from tradititional WiFi.

Useful link: Read all Virgin Mobile terms and conditions from their legal stuff section

Our rating:
★★★★★ (joint best choice)

Rank:
Joint 1st

Same as:
Most other networks

Better than:
iD Mobile

Virgin Mobile benefits

Data rollover: Virgin Mobile's scheme is good

Virgin Mobile's data rollover scheme

It's a second chance to use unused dataHow it works

from Virgin's own guide
(opens in new window)

We like that every pay monthly plan (phone or SIM only) on Virgin Mobile includes their data rollover benefit. They're one of the few networks to offer this. And we find it works well.

Our plan was a boosted double data offer, so we could only roll over the non-promotional data each month. This happens automatically and you get a text through saying you've rolled over data, although it doesn't say how much:

In the app and in your online account, you get a breakdown of your data usage and you'll see that any promotional data gets used first, then rolled over data and then your regular data:

Everything just works automatically and you don't really have to think about it.

Every month, Virgin will keep track of any data you've not managed to get through. They'll then roll that over into the next month, so you get another shot at using it. Ultimately, it's about not losing what you've paid for.

You'll use any rolled-over data first, which means there's more chance you'll carry that month's main data allowance forward too. Although we'd say if this keeps happening, you should move down plans.

It's a handy benefit, although there are other mobile networks doing data rollover better. Sky Mobile let you keep data for 3 years instead of a single month. And SMARTY pay you back the cost on some plans.

Useful link: Virgin Mobile's data rollover help guide

Our data rollover rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Better than:
All others

Free data schemes: Virgin offer it on messaging apps

Free social media messaging on Virgin Mobile

Unlimited data for messaging on select appsRead full details

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

In our guide to free data schemes, we notice two ways that mobile networks are giving people free data for certain activities: either for video/music streaming (Three and EE) or social media (Virgin, VOXI and Three).

Join Virgin Mobile on either a pay monthly SIM only plan or phone contract and whenever you use WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to send messages or Twitter they won’t charge you for the data it uses.

This is kind of a negative test. We used Twitter and Whatsapp over 4G to make sure that no data usage appeared in our account. We sent some pretty chunky videos over Whatsapp and no data usage was recorded:

Screenshot of Virgin Mobile data usage

And that's basically it. Nothing happens. And that's the point!

The full ins and outs can be read here on the Virgin Mobile website but there a very few restrictions: you will be charged for the data if you’re abroad and you’ll need some of regular data allowance left for it to work.

As free data schemes go, Virgin’s is on the less-valuable side: messaging doesn't use as much as video/audio streaming like on Three's Go Binge. But if you’re a heavy messaging user, Virgin’s scheme will be useful.

Useful link: All details on how Virgin's free messaging works

Our free data rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Not as good as:
Three, EE, VOXI

Better than:
All others

Roaming: their fiddly fair usage policy feels a little stingy

Free EU roaming on Virgin Mobile

Mostly pay no extra to roam in 43 countriesLatest destination list

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile haven't changed their roaming scheme after Brexit. You can still use your monthly UK minutes, texts and data while abroad in the EU. But they do apply a fair usage policy to your data while you're there.

The precise details are a nightmare to find on Virgin's website, even though they mention it everywhere. They do have a calculator here, where you plug in your plan to see what you can use without being charged extra.

We took our Virgin Mobile SIM card abroad within the European Union and have found everything to work fine, with nothing manual to do to make anything work (even though they say you have to turn on roaming in your account).

You get all the usual information texts when you arrive at your destination and Virgin seem to have some decent 4G arrangements with networks abroad, so don't have to accept slower 3G data when roaming.

If our account had a fair usage limit, we didn't get anywhere near it. We can't see it being a huge problem for just the odd trip.

It all feels a bit like unneccesary hassle and penny pinching from Virgin. While other networks have made roaming and extra charges simpler, Virgin have made it more complicated and stress-inducing.

If you go further afield regularly, Virgin Mobile's non-EU rates get very pricey, very quickly. You’ll pay per minute, text and MB of data you use (see costs per country here). In the USA for example, it's £5 per MB (that’s £5000 per GB!!!)

Useful link: Virgin's full guide to roaming on their network

Our roaming rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Rank:
Last

Similar to:
Most others

Customer rewards: exclusive unlimited data plan and more

Virgin's truly unlimited mobile plan

Unlimited data if you have Virgin's broadband or TVSee exclusive deal

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

In this section, we’re looking for how mobile companies reward existing customers who are already with them, through loyalty programmes like O2's Priority or other existing customer perks. Virgin do quite well here:

If you have broadband or TV through Virgin Media, there’s an exclusive unlimited data plan on phone contracts (see here) and SIM only (see it here) that only you can access.

Otherwise, the benefits for TV or broadband customers are limited to getting unlimited calls to Virgin Mobile numbers. There are no discounts like we see on BT Mobile or Sky Mobile for their home customers.

Another nice scheme, is Virgin Mobile’s refer-a-friend scheme, which offers some sizeable cash rewards (up to £100) if you get one of your friends to join the network.

Useful link: How Virgin’s refer-a-friend scheme works

Our rewards rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
TBC

Not as good as:
TBC

Similar to:
TBC

Spending caps: Virgin now let you limit extra bills

Virgin Mobile spending caps

Avoid spending more than you're expectingHow they work

from Virgin's own guide
(opens in new window)

Running up extra bills for additional usage like going over your data limits or phoning internationally can be a worry for some, especially if you’re taking out a contract for someone else like one of your children.

In fact the government regulator Ofcom has just made it compulsory for mobile networks to offer customers the chance to set a cap on how much extra they can spend if it's something they want to do.

Spending caps are one of the few things you can actually manage directly within the Virgin Mobile app, where you'll find a few different cap amounts, although there's no option here for a cap of £0 (i.e. no overspending at all):

Screenshot of spending cap options in app

You have to go into your online account and choose "Only use monthly allowances" to set a cap of £0. You can also set a lower £3 cap there too, which isn't available in the app. Bit weird it's different but there we go.

Another odd thing is that making your spending cap larger happens instantly, yet if you want to reduce it, you have to wait until your next billing period starts:

Screenshot of spending cap options in app

So Virgin make it easy to spend more money with them but harder to spend less.

Virgin were offering this before the deadline came in. Their page here explains all the ins and outs of the scheme but we rate it as one of the most flexible, because you can set your cap at absolutely zero or in intervals up to £100, or choose not to have any cap.

But because every network now offer them, spending caps needn't be the deciding factor between Virgin Mobile and any other provider any more.

Useful link: Costs for extra usage on Virgin | Virgin's guide to spending caps

Our rating:
★★★★★ (joint best choice)

Rank:
TBC

Similar to:
All others

Better than:
TBC

Family plans: discounted extra SIM only plans

Virgin Mobile Family Plan banner

Save £2 a month on extra SIMsHow they work

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Virgin Mobile now offer Family Plans, which give you a £2 monthly discount on any 12-month SIM only deal you add to your account alonside your main pay monthly phone or SIM contract.

You can add up to 4x extra SIMs to your deal at any point, giving a total possible saving of £96 a year (£2 discount x 4 SIMs x 12 months). And it's Virgin's regular low-priced SIM only range you get to choose from.

All the plans get added together into one single bill. And you can manage them all from your online account or via Virgin's improved My Virgin Mobile app - we think people are going to like this simplicity and convenience.

The main major downside is that Family Plans are a benefit reserved solely for Virgin Media home broadband or TV customers. Even if you're a loyal Virgin Mobile customer but not Virgin Media, you don't qualify.

Useful link: Our guide to the best shared mobile plans

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (very good)

Rank:
Joint 2nd

Not as good as:
SMARTY

Better than:
All others

Virgin Mobile deals and plans

What type of deal are you interested in?

Choose an option to skip to the right section:

Special offers running on Virgin Mobile

Here are the latest promotions on SIM only or phone contracts.

Virgin Mobile's SIM only plans

Use our price comparison tool further below to find the right deal

Key facts about Virgin's SIM only plans

You’re allowed to move both up and down plans on Virgin. So if you need more minutes and data, you can switch to a more expensive plan that gives you more.

But if you find you’ve always got minutes or data spare at the end of the month, you can move down to a cheaper plan, to pay less each month. You can do this once a month, as many times as you like.

Find a SIM only plan

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Added features

Phone contracts from Virgin Mobile

Here's what like and don't like about Virgin's smartphone contracts:

Phone and a magnifying glass

What we like about Virgin’s phone deals

Screenshot of phone contract comparison

Compare phone deals

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

The main appeal to Virgin Mobile's phone contracts is price. Every phone is sold with no upfront costs. And the combined monthly device cost and usage plans comes out really well in price comparisons.

The phone doesn't get more expensive if you spread its cost over 36 months instead of 24 months. So choosing a longer contract is a good way to keep monthly costs down (you can still pay off earlier if you like).

It's because your deal is split into a finance agreement for the phone and a usage plan for your mins, texts and data. Pay off your phone and you're free to leave the usage plan with just 30 days' notice. Or upgrade early.

You can also chop and change usage plans once a month too, up or down, to get the right data for your needs. So flexibility is also the other strength of Virgin's phone contracts.

Useful link: Browse Virgin Mobile's phone range

What we don’t like about Virgin’s phone deals

How Freestyle contracts work

How Freestyle works

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

The main disadvantage to Virgin Mobile's phone contracts is that you may find it difficult to be accepted for one, even if you a decent credit history. And it's because they're based on finance.

When you take a contract, Virgin are essentially loaning you the money to buy the phone off them and you pay that back as your monthly bill. Because they're lending money, they're under regulations to lend responsibly.

So if there's any doubt that you might not be able to make a monthly payment, Virgin seem to outright refuse you. Minor blips on your credit file seem to count more heavily against you on Virgin than other networks.

We're also not a fan of their trade-in scheme, which lets you upgrade early by surrendering your phone back to them. We think you can get better value selling it yourself to pay off your loan.

Useful link: Browse Virgin Mobile's phone range

Pay As You Go: Virgin no longer offer it

1p Mobile pay as you go rates

Cheap rates on the EE networkSee PAYG rates

at 1pmobile.com
(opens in new window)

You can no longer get a pay as you go deal from Virgin on a phone or SIM. We don't think this is a huge loss, as their old plans weren't cheap and they only gave you 3G, not 4G data.

If you're looking for a simple pay as you go deal where you only pay for what you use, 1pMobile are worth a look, as they only charge 1p per minute, text or MB data.

Like Virgin, 1pMobile use EE's 4G and 3G networks to bring your phone signal (check 1p's coverage here). There aren't any real extra perks like you'd expect with a no-frills deal.

Useful link: Read our 1pMobile review

Mobile broadband: WiFi dongle but no data-only SIMs

Virgin Mobile mobile WiFi device

Limited choice but a decent deviceSee device features

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

If you're after a data-only SIM card to put in a tablet, iPad or dongle, then Virgin Mobile aren't the place to look. They no longer offer them, you can only get a plan with a device included:

Virgin Mobile's mobile broadband plans here are pretty cheap on a monthly basis and we'd describe the pocket WiFi device included as standard quality.

You can choose between a 30-day rolling plan (you'll pay an upfront charge for the device) or a 12-month deal with the same monthly cost but no upfront fee for the device itself.

Overall, it's hard to get excited about Virgin Mobile's mobile broadband but it's reasonably priced and does get you access to a large and fast 4G network from EE.

Useful link: Mobile broadband on Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile customer service

Customer service: above-average Ofcom complaints

Ofcom complaints data table

A table you don't want to be near the top ofRead Ofcom's report

at ofcom.org.uk
(opens in new window)

Ofcom are the government's regulator for the telecoms industry. And it's where you go if you've tried to resolve problems with your mobile company and they've not sorted things out.

So the fact that Ofcom receive above-average numbers of complaints about Virgin Mobile doesn't bode well. If the average per 100,000 subscribers is 3 complaints, Virgin receive 5. This is an improvement on 8 in the past.

We can see where the frustration comes from in the number of Ofcom complaints.

Over the phone, with the best will in the world, the English language skills of their operators are among the worst we've experienced and can make explaining problems and getting things sorted difficult.

Although their app is decent for checking the basics in your deal, we find Virgin's online account management extremely glitchy. It can be hard even to get logged in to start off and changes to your account take a long time.

But at least for a cheap provider, there are plenty of ways to contact Virgin if you do have problems. They've got stores you can walk into, phone customer services from 789 on your SIM and online chat options too. Not every network has all that.

So generally, we'd say it's something to be aware of on Virgin. It's not that you will run into problems. It's just that you could run into problems and find them harder than average to solve.

Useful link: Read Ofcom's latest telecoms report

More Virgin Mobile guides

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