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Virgin Mobile review: is this the UK's best low-cost 4G network in 2018?

Virgin Mobile logo with a phone and a SIM card

Are Virgin Mobile UK just about cheap SIM only plans and handset contracts? We investigate their 4G network coverage, speeds and benefits too. Last updated: July 17th 2018.

Overall rating

Virgin Mobile

SIM Sherpa rates Virgin Mobile as an excellent provider
 (4 / 5, excellent)

"Normally when you join one of the lower-cost networks there's a few compromises you have to make by getting worse coverage or fewer benefits. But on Virgin Mobile it's hard to see that many."

Our guide below finds the few things Virgin aren't great at but plenty of other positives to balance them out.

The 3 best bits

1) Use the UK's largest, fastest network
2) Low monthly prices on SIM only and phones
3) Added benefits like data rollover and free data

The 3 worst bits

1) Too many conditions on roaming
2) Smartphone contracts based on loans
3) Worrying customer service record

In our Virgin Mobile review

Overall rating

Our verdict

Overall rating

Network review

Network

4G and 3G coverage
Data speeds
Call quality
Free WiFi hotspots
Tethering
WiFi calling

Perks review

Benefits & features

Data rollover scheme
Inclusive EU roaming
Customer reward schemes
Free app subscriptions
Free data schemes
Spending caps
Shared / family plans

Deal review

Deals & plans

Special offers
SIM only plans
Phone contracts
Pay As You Go
Mobile broadband

Customer service review

Customer service

Ofcom data

Virgin Mobile's network

Coverage: Virgin Mobile get you access to EE's 4G network

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 are part of the wider Virgin Media brand. They're the only major provider that use the EE network to not be owned by BT (even EE themselves are owned by BT).

Using the EE network is a huge advantage for Virgin Mobile customers, because it's the UK's largest for 4G and joint largest for 3G and 2G.

Virgin Mobile's 4G signal is available to 99% of the UK population, while 98% can get their 3G. That's a better combination than any other network (although the same as EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet).

Despite the impressive stats, no network has universal geographic coverage, so we highly recommend checking Virgin's signal everywhere you use your phone (not just at home but on your commute, at work etc).

Useful link: Check Virgin Mobile's coverage now on their official map

Our rating:
★★★★★ (joint best choice)

Rank:
Joint 1st
(out of 4 places)

Same as:
EE, BT Mobile, Plusnet Mobile

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

4G speeds: Virgin Mobile's hosts are the UK's fastest

Mobile network 4G speed tester logos
29.02 Mbps
(EE's result)
32.99 Mbps
(EE's result)

If you look at the results of Virgin Mobile’s host network in independent speed tests by OpenSignal and Speedtest, it makes for encouraging reading, because they’re so far ahead of their nearest competitors:

On average, EE customers get between29.02 - 32.99 Mbpsdownloads over a 4G connection, which is a very healthy score that will see you watching HD videos without buffering quite comfortably.

The key question is whether you get the same speeds via Virgin Mobile (the testers only measure EE directly, they don’t provide scores for virtual networks like Virgin).

This page here on the Virgin Media website explains Virgin’s speeds being capped at a max 50 Mbps. This is superfast and above the average on EE anyway, you just won’t get EE’s top 90 Mbps speeds.

Useful link: Virgin Mobile's guide to their 4G speeds

Our rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
Joint 2nd

Not as good as:
EE

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

Call quality: Virgin’s host network scores well recently

No 4G calling on Virgin Mobile

Virgin have 4G data but no 4G calling yetAbout Virgin's 4G

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

This is another area where it’s a big advantage to Virgin Mobile customers that they use EE. They’ve just scored well in tests on how fast calls connect and the quality of the audio.

Independent network testers P3 Analytics do an annual report into how each of the UK’s 4 main networks (EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone) perform for call quality. Note they don’t measure virtual operators like Virgin.

In their most recent 2017/18 report, Virgin’s host network EE came top of the scores for call quality, receiving a ‘very good’ rating, having made large improvements on the year before.

There is a difference though that could be crucial here. Virgin Mobile don’t yet support 4G calling (which offers better sound quality), so we wouldn’t expect Virgin to score quite so highly if they were measured directly.

Useful link: BT explain why 4G calling is useful (BT also use EE's network)

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
Mid-range

Not as good as:
EE, BT Mobile or Vodafone

Better than:
O2 and Three

WiFi calling: it’s not supported by Virgin Mobile currently

BT Mobile logoEE Mobile logoiD Mobile logoO2 logoThree logoVodafone logo

All these networks have WiFi callingRead our guide

to the networks with WiFi calling
(opens in new window)

This is one area where Virgin Mobile are at a disadvantage to two of the networks that use EE’s network: BT Mobile and EE themselves. Both offer WiFi calling on pay monthly plans but Virgin Mobile do not.

Some of Virgin’s competitors such as Three and iD Mobile also offer it now. In fact, we actually rate Three’s InTouch WiFi calling scheme as the best in the UK.

If you’re unfamiliar with WiFi calling, read our guide here. It’s basically a system that beats indoor mobile signal black spots by letting you make calls over a WiFi signal instead of 2G/3G/4G mobile signal.

If you’ve been with a provider who uses EE before and have found their signal gets indoors fine in the places you use your phone, then Virgin not offering WiFi calling shouldn’t be a problem.

Useful link: Our guide to the networks with WiFi calling

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Rank:
Joint last
(we're still investigating)

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

Same as:
All others

WiFi hotspots: 3.5 million(!) free 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)

Nowadays, free WiFi is really easy to access in loads of businesses and transport hubs. But quite often it’s still limited by time or needs you to register and log in.

That’s why we think it’s good when mobile networks offer a universal free WiFi service to their customers that logs them in automatically. Using WiFi instead of your mobile data saves using up your monthly allowance.

This is one Virgin Mobile’s real strong points. All their mobile customers (pay monthly or pay as you go) get access to Virgin's network of 3.5 million+ (!) free WiFi hotspots in the UK.

Just download the free app, log in once and then every time you're in range, your phone will connect to the hotspot, saving you on your mobile data allowance.

Useful link: How to get free WiFi with Virgin Mobile

Our 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).

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 were one of the firsts to offer it

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 all use different amounts of data each month. Sometimes we’ll get through our whole monthly allowance. Sometime we might not get anywhere near it. Isn’t it a waste of money if you’ve paid for data you’ve not used?

Quite a few networks now have started to address this problem by launching plans that either let you keep unused data for future months, or even pay you back for the cost of data you’ve not used (see SMARTY).

Virgin Mobile are one of the few networks that offer data rollover. On their pay monthly smartphone contracts and SIM only plans, you’ll keep any of your regular data allowance you’ve not used to use next month.

We really rate this as a feature because it’s basically another chance to use up data you’ve paid for. It'd be better if you could keep data longer than a month though (Sky Mobile let you keep it the longest, up to 3 years).

Useful link: Read all ins and outs of Virgin Mobile’s data rollover plans

Our 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.

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 rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Not as good as:
Three, EE, VOXI

Better than:
All others

Roaming: Virgin offer only the standard EU inclusive destinations with a few restrictions

Free EU roaming on Virgin Mobile

Mostly pay no extra to roam in 43 countriesLatest destination list

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

Now that every mobile network has to let you roam abroad in EU countries at no extra cost, we’re looking for any providers that go above and beyond these requirements and let you go further afield too.

Virgin Mobile aren’t one of them. You’ll get free EU roaming in these 43 destinations with any of their pay monthly SIM only plans or mobile phone contracts but you can't use your whole data allowance while abroad (calculate how much you can use here). It varies per plan.

To travel anywhere else gets very pricey, very quickly with Virgin. 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!!!)

If you like the idea of free roaming anywhere elsewhere, read our guide to the best worldwide roaming mobile network here. It’s Three we still rate best with 71 destinations where you can roam for free.

Overall, we can't give Virgin Mobile a good rating for roaming because of the finickity fair usage policy on EU roaming and shockingly expensive world roaming. It's just not their strength.

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

Our rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Rank:
TBC

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 rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
TBC

Not as good as:
TBC

Similar to:
TBC

Free subscriptions: get F-Secure Safe for 12 months

Free F-Secure Safe on Virgin Mobile

Use it for up to 5 devices at once for freeSee the offer

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

EE offer a 6-month subscription to Apple Music to all their pay monthly customers, Vodafone offer a choice of Spotify, a NOW TV pass or Sky Sports Mobile TV on certain plans, so what have Virgin Mobile got to offer?

Well it’s not quite as glamorous but every pay monthly SIM only or phone contract customer on Virgin is entitled to claim a 12-month subscription to F-Secure Safe internet security software, to use on up to 5 devices at once.

It’s an app you download to your phone that protects you from viruses, hackers, internet content unsuitable for children and can help locate your phone if stolen. You can trial it and delete it if you don’t like it.

Credit to Virgin here, because this isn’t one of those offers that lures you to sign up free so they can charge you for later. You can get the software free without giving any bank details. You’ll only renew if you actively choose to.

Useful link: All features of F-Secure Safe and offer terms and conditions

Our rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Rank:
TBC

Not as good as:
EE, BT Mobile, Vodafone

Better than:
Most others

Spending caps: Virgin don’t let you set your own limits

Virgin Mobile's My Account app

It's still possible to overspend on VirginSee extra charges

from Virgin's price 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.

That’s why Virgin’s rival networks like Tesco Mobile, Plusnet Mobile and iD Mobile have introduced capped contracts, which let you set a limit of how much extra you’re willing to spend and stop you going beyond that.

This isn’t something Virgin Mobile currently offer, so we can’t give them a good rating for this. But they do have a couple of mechanisms in place to help you stay in control of your usage, and therefore your monthly bill:

They’ll text you when you get near any of your monthly minutes, texts or data limits. And they let you move up and down plans each month to make sure you’re on one big or small enough for you needs.

Useful link: All costs for extra usage on Virgin Mobile

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Rank:
Joint last

Not as good as:
Tesco Mobile, Plusnet Mobile, SMARTY, giffgaff

Same as:
All others

Family plans / shared data: nothing on Virgin Mobile

BT Mobile Family SIM promotional banner

We're a big fan of BT's Family SIM discountsCalculate savings

at bt.com
(opens in new window)

Mobile networks are starting to pick up on the fact that a lot of people now take out multiple contracts for their whole family, so are beginning to offer discounts and extra perks for families and groups.

We’ve written a whole guide to shared mobile plans here. There’s essential two types of scheme available: one gives you discounts on extra deals, the other lets you share data between family members.

Unfortunately Virgin Mobile don’t offer anything like this, so we can only give them a poor rating for the time being.

If you’re smart though, you could use their refer-a-friend scheme here to at least get some cashback for any extra mobile contracts that you take out with Virgin.

Useful link: Our guide to the best shared mobile plans

Our rating:
★☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Not as good as:
BT, Tesco, EE, Three

Similar to:
Most 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.

Up to triple data on Virgin Mobile SIM only

Virgin Mobile flash sale banner

See the deals

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

There's pretty much always offers running on Virgin Mobile on both SIM only plans and phone contracts. At the moment there's:

3GB 6GB for £10 with 2500 minutes and unlimited texts on SIM only (order by 3rd Sept)

10GB 30GB for £16 with 2500 minutes and unlimited texts on SIM only (order by 3rd Sept)

100GB data + unlimited mins, for £30 £20 a month on SIM only (order by 30th Aug)

If you're looking for a smartphone contract, Virgin currently have loads of phone + tablet deals here, which include a tablet with your deal either free, or for a small extra charge.

Useful link: See all offers on one page at virginmedia.com

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

Number of plans available:
Price range: £ - £ a month
Contract lengths:
SIM card sizes: Standard, Micro, Nano

Minutes allowances:
Texts allowances:
Data allowances:
Data speed: 4G on all 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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Phone contracts from Virgin Mobile

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

What we like about Virgin’s phone deals

Smartphone range screenshot Virgin Mobile

See all phones

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

You’ll find a broad range of well-priced smartphones in Virgin Mobile’s pay monthly range, from the latest iPhone and Samsung models, to mid-range Androids, down to cheap basic handsets.

We think it’s fair to say Virgin have the UK’s most flexible smartphone deals (as long as you’re taking a Freestyle deal, rather than a ‘Classic’ contract).

You can upgrade early or quit Virgin Mobile altogether by paying off just the phone part of your overall deal. And you can change your monthly mins, texts and data plan up or down according to your needs.

The closest level of flexibility is with O2’s Refresh, which is less flexible in terms of changing your data plan, and we’d say is usually a fair amount more expensive than Virgin Mobile’s monthly prices.

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)

Many of Virgin’s lowest monthly price deals are based on 36-month deals. So even though the monthly rate is lower, remember you’ll be paying that rate for an extra year, compared to 24-month deals. So the total cost could be more.

Also, because most of Virgin’s smartphones are on their “Freestyle contracts”, you’re basically taking a loan out to pay for the cost of the device. For this reason, you’ll need a very good credit rating to get accepted for a deal.

Lastly, we’d advise against about getting too excited about the promise of early upgrades. Virgin have a scheme where you trade in your phone with them to upgrade early by paying off your loan.

We find this sort of scheme poor value. You’re effectively surrendering a phone you’ve been paying full price for, at a price that might not be as good as selling it second-hand yourself, just to take another full-price phone contract.

If you want to upgrade early and can afford it, we’d recommend just paying off the rest of your handset loan with your own money, and selling the phone yourself or keeping it for someone else. You’ll keep more value that way.

Useful link: Browse Virgin Mobile's phone range

Phone brands available on Virgin Mobile

Choose which brand you want, to see Virgin's latest pricing

Pay As You Go: you'll only get 3G data speeds

Virgin Mobile payg Jam Packs

Monthly bundles or per min, text, MBOrder a free SIM

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

We'd say that Virgin Mobile are mainly a pay monthly network because their pay as you go is a little bit underwhelming and not overly-cheap:

You get it with either a phone (see range here) or just a SIM, with a choice to buy either a monthly bundle of minutes, texts and data (a JAM pack) or just pay per minute, text and MB data on Virgin's Starter tariff.

The JAM packs are reasonably priced and offer up to 10GB data. The Starter tariff is very uncompetitive and expensive compared to competitors like Three's 3p 2p 1p plan.

It's also worth noting you won't get 4G on Virgin Mobile pay as you go. You'll only get the slower 3G speeds. Overall, to be frank, there are better PAYG options elsewhere.

Useful link: How Virgin Mobile's Pay As You Go works

Mobile broadband: WiFi dongle but no data-only SIMs

Virgin Mobile mobile WiFi device

Limited choice but a decent deviceSee mobile broadband

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: Ofcom receive above-average number of complaints about Virgin Mobile

Ofcom complaints data table

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

We're not huge fans of going to customer review websites to find out whether people are happy with a company for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, people mainly go there if they've had a problem. You don't take the time to write a review if everything was fine. So companies look unrealistically bad on consumer review websites.

That is, of course, unless the company pays the consumer review website to manage the reviews on them: respond and resolve issues that people have raised and therefore increase their ratings.

This too is a problem, because it just means companies that pay have better ratings and ones that don't have worse rankings, so there's no accurate way to compare.

Instead we look at Ofcom complaints data (how many people have had to go to the government regulator because the mobile network didn't resolve their issue).

Virgin Mobile have a poor score here. Ofcom's latest numbers show that they receive above-average numbers of complaints about Virgin, compared to other major mobile providers.

This is a sign that Virgin Mobile's customer service are underperforming at resolving issues that come up.

Useful link: Read Ofcom's latest telecoms report

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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