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Virgin Mobile review: Is it changing for the better?

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
6
Starting at

Great deals and good performance, but Virgin Mobile’s customer service and satisfaction scores are surprisingly low

Pros 
Cheap SIM-only and handset deals
Solid 4G performance and potentially good 5G
Free data for social media apps
Cons 
Poor scores for customer service
Weak results for value for money
Complaints and long call waiting times
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Prepare to be confused. Right now, Virgin Mobile operates as a virtual network, and after years of piggybacking on EE for 3G and 4G coverage, it’s now running over to Vodafone for both 4G and 5G. However, parent company Virgin Media has recently merged with O2 and is likely to switch to O2’s mobile network at some point in the near-ish future. 

The plan is that the larger company can offer a wider range of plans and packages, including all-in-one subscriptions for TV, broadband and 5G. But where does that leave Virgin Mobile right now, and does it make sense to sign up to its current mobile plans? And how does Virgin fare in our 2021 Mobile Network Awards?

READ NEXT: Vodafone review

Virgin Mobile review: What do you get?

It’s hard to say what the future holds for Virgin Mobile, as plans for O2 and Virgin services to converge seem to clash with its contract with Vodafone, which doesn’t run out until 2026. Right now, though, it sells a mix of smartphones at aggressive prices and value-packed SIM-only plans, giving Virgin more than its share of eye-catching deals.

On the smartphone front, there are some bargains to be had, particularly if you’re happy to stretch the cost over a longer contract. At the time of writing, you can have an iPhone 12 with 2GB of data for just £30 a month over 36 months with no upfront fees, or a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE for £28 a month under the same terms.

With the more regular 24-month contract and 30GB of monthly data, you’re looking at £41.50 a month for the iPhone and £38.50 a month for the Galaxy S20 FE, a total cost of £996 and £924 respectively, which is significantly lower than what you’ll pay with most rival networks. What’s more, Virgin offers similarly good deals on a fairly extensive range of phones, including budget and mid-range handsets from Samsung, Oppo, Sony and Xiaomi. 

If you’re after a SIM-only contract, Virgin has some equally tempting deals, particularly on its 24-month contracts. 40GB for £13 or 100GB for £20 isn’t to be sniffed at, or you can find unlimited data for £28 a month on a 12-month contract or £25 if you sign up for two years. If you don’t need so much data then you can have 4GB or even 6GB for £10 or less, with 15GB available on a current £10 offer. You can see Virgin Mobile’s current plans and prices listed here:

Monthly fee (12 months)

Monthly fee (24 months)

Texts

Minutes

1GB data

£7

n

Unlimited

Unlimited

2GB data

£8

n

Unlimited

Unlimited

3GB data

£9

n

Unlimited

Unlimited

4GB data

n

£8

Unlimited

Unlimited

6GB data

n

£10

Unlimited

Unlimited

8GB data

£14

£12

Unlimited

Unlimited

10GB data

n

£15

Unlimited

Unlimited

12GB data

£10

n

Unlimited

Unlimited

15GB data

n

£10

Unlimited

Unlimited

30GB data

n

£18

Unlimited

Unlimited

40GB data

£20

£13

Unlimited

Unlimited

50GB data

£16

n

Unlimited

Unlimited

100GB data

£25

£20

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

£28

£25

Unlimited

Unlimited

Browse Virgin Mobile phone contracts


These plans include 5G connectivity at no additional cost, so you’re good to go if you live in a 5G area and have a 5G phone. 

Weirdly, given that Virgin’s plans tend to be so well priced, its results in the Value for Money category in our 2021 Mobile Network Awards survey were surprisingly disappointing. Where 79% of Sky Mobile customers and 68% of Giffgaff’s say that they’re very satisfied with their network in terms of value for money, only 41% of Virgin’s say the same. In fact, 18% are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, while 11% feel more negatively. It goes to show that there’s more to value than just having a low price.

READ NEXT: Giffgaff review

Virgin Mobile review: Customer service

Customer service has been a regular issue for Virgin Mobile, and while it scored better for customer satisfaction in Ofcom’s most recent survey, beating Three, it still lagged behind Vodafone, Tesco Mobile and O2, not to mention EE and Giffgaff. What’s more, Virgin had the highest number of Ofcom complaints per 100,000 subscribers (25) and the longest average call waiting times (6mins 44secs). 

The figures in our Mobile Network Awards survey aren’t much better. Only one in five of Virgin customers said that they were very satisfied with its customer support – the lowest percentage in the survey – while 16% were actively dissatisfied or very dissatisfied; the highest number we recorded. This doesn’t leave us with much confidence that Virgin Mobile’s customer service is heading in the right direction.

Browse Virgin Mobile phone contracts


Virgin Mobile review: Coverage, reliability and speed

In other respects, it could be said that Virgin is taking a step backwards. It never enjoyed EE’s fastest 4G services, which EE holds back for its own customers, but Virgin Mobile still benefited from running over the UK’s fastest network, according to the latest speed research from RootMetrics. 

Virgin’s new host, Vodafone, is still the second fastest, but its UK-wide median download speed is less than half that of EE’s, at 25.2Mbits/sec to 58.5Mbits/sec. Coverage is great but not quite as comprehensive, though Vodafone’s reliability was rated as outstanding in the last RootMetrics tests, with awards for reliability in 12 out of 16 of the UK’s largest cities. 

When it comes to 5G performance, Vodafone’s availability could be better. It was the only UK operator where RootMetrics couldn’t record 5G results in three of the 16 test cities, and what RootMetrics calls everyday 5G availability was under 40% in ten of the remaining 13 cities. 

Yet Vodafone hit median download speeds of over 100Mbits/sec in 12 of the 16 test cities, reaching 192.2Mbits/sec in Glasgow and over 140Mbits/sec in Manchester, Cardiff and Birmingham. Of course, by the time 5G has rolled out everywhere, Virgin’s customers may be on O2, which currently lags behind Vodafone on both speeds and availability, but until that happens, those lucky enough to get 5G should have decent performance.

This seems to be the case with customers at the moment. 97% of those we surveyed said that they had adequate speeds for web browsing and social media – one of the best results of any network – and 89% said their connection was fast enough for streaming music. 80% said their connection could handle streaming video, putting Virgin in front of O2, Vodafone and Three. For all the concerns about customer service and value, the network is doing some things right.

Browse Virgin Mobile phone contracts


Virgin Mobile review: Roaming

Virgin Mobile’s Roam Like Home feature covers 43 destinations in the EU and EEA, allowing you to use your inclusive calls, texts and data just as you would in the UK. While Vodafone has announced that it’s reintroducing roaming charges, to the tune of £2 a day, Virgin has yet to announce any plans to follow.

Outside the EU, roaming can get expensive. In the US it’s £2 per minute to make a call and £1.50 to receive one, while data costs hit £5 per megabyte. In Kenya, you’re looking at £5 per minute to make calls and £1.50 to receive them, with texts charged at up to 60p per text and the same £5 per megabyte data costs. Needless to say, if you’re planning to travel outside the EU, you might want to pick up a PAYG SIM from another provider.

READ NEXT: Sky Mobile review

Virgin Mobile review: Other services and spending caps

Virgin throws in a few useful extras, including free messaging on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter, with no impact on your data allowance, along with free Wi-Fi at 3.5 million hotspots around the UK. Spending caps are also available, and you can set up a safety buffer of between £0 and £100 to give you a maximum limit over your normal monthly plan.

Browse Virgin Mobile phone contracts


Virgin Mobile review: Verdict

Virgin Mobile should have everything going for it. It’s affordable, with good prices on smartphones and SIM-only plans, and while it doesn’t use the fastest host network, it doesn’t use the slowest, either. 

Yet it’s hard to ignore the poor scores for customer service and satisfaction or the underwhelming scores for value for money. When a full 24% of your customers wouldn’t recommend your network to a friend – the highest number in our survey – something isn’t going right.

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