Virgin Mobile seems to offer decent value, but average reliability and poor service scores can’t be ignored
- Cheap SIM-only and pay-monthly phone deals
- Good 5G performance in some areas
- Free EU roaming
- Poor scores for customer service
- Unimpressive reliability scores
- Non-EU roaming costs are high
Despite the 2021 merger of Virgin Media and O2 UK, Virgin Mobile continues as a separate virtual mobile network, running – rather oddly – over Vodafone’s network. That arrangement was due to last until late 2026, but the new company, Virgin Media O2, is keen to move its customers over to its own technology sooner – something to think about if you’re signing up to a long-term deal.
For now, Virgin Mobile has some decent SIM-only deals and some tempting offers on pay-monthly phones, but we haven’t always been impressed with its customer service or satisfaction scores. Is Virgin Mobile going to turn things around in this year’s Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards?
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Virgin Mobile review: What do you get?
Virgin Mobile often has the latest smartphones at attractively low prices, though you need to take care when making price comparisons, as it tends to promote 36-month contracts with a lower monthly cost. Still, right now you could have an iPhone 14 with 30GB of monthly data for £49.50/mth on a 24-month contract, or with 250GB of data for £51.50/mth. To put that in perspective, EE sells the same phone with 125GB for £59 a month plus £30 upfront.
There are similar deals to be had on the best Android phones. Fancy a Samsung Galaxy S22? Virgin Mobile sells it on the exact same £51.50 deal, while EE is still giving you half the data for £7.50 extra a month. Sure, you can have the same phone with unlimited data on Three for £1.50 a month less, but only with a £30 upfront cost.
As for SIM-only, most of Virgin Mobile’s packages are now running as 30-day rolling plans, starting at £7 per month with 10GB of data, unlimited calls and unlimited texts, and going all the way up to an unlimited data package for £30 a month. Some of these plans are very aggressively priced, though the line-up can be confusing, with multiple plans offering the same data allowance at different price points, or different allowances at the same price.
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Despite all these tempting low, low prices, Virgin Mobile’s scores for value in our Mobile Network Awards survey are fairly middle of the road. With 83% of customers happy with the value they’re getting from the network, Virgin is in front of EE, O2 and Vodafone, but a way behind other virtual networks such as Giffgaff, iD Mobile and Smarty, who operate at similar price points.
Virgin Mobile review: Customer service
Customer satisfaction has long been a pain point with Virgin Mobile, and the news isn’t good in this year’s survey. Only 23% of customers told us they were very satisfied with the network’s customer service – the lowest score for any network – though 48% described themselves as fairly satisfied. Only Lebara and iD Mobile get worse results overall, and nearly 19% of Virgin Mobile customers said they were not very satisfied or not satisfied at all.
Ofcom’s most recent report comes to similar conclusions. Virgin has the worst score – 83% – for overall satisfaction, and the third-highest number of customers with a reason to complain. Virgin Mobile also has more Ofcom complaints per 100,000 customers than any rival, with 16, while users were also less likely than the average to recommend the network to a friend.
Virgin Mobile review: Coverage, reliability and speed
Maybe moving to O2’s network and infrastructure will improve things, but for now Virgin Mobile is still running over Vodafone. According to the latest test data from RootMetrics, Vodafone’s UK median download speed – 23.8Mbits/sec – puts it in third place behind EE and Three, at 66.2Mbits/sec and 29.9Mbits/sec respectively. However, it still delivers good 4G speeds in most areas and some excellent 5G speeds where available.
Vodafone beats Three for speed in Wales and Northern Ireland, and is seriously speedy In some UK cities, with median download speeds of over 50Mbits/sec in three of the 16 areas where RootMetrics tests. 4G coverage extends to reach over 99% of the UK population, and Vodafone now offers 5G services in over 127 locations, covering roughly 35% of the country. That still puts it behind EE and Three, with coverage of around 50%.
Three and EE also top the charts for 5G speeds, with median download speeds of approximately 200Mbits/sec and 150Mbits/sec respectively. However, Vodafone’s 130Mbits/sec is not to be sniffed at, and its 5G speeds should improve with time. Of course, by that point Virgin Mobile may have moved to O2, currently in fourth place for UK median download speeds. Just under half (49%) of the Virgin Mobile 5G customers we surveyed were satisfied with their connection; a little disappointing, but not unusual, with a lack of 5G coverage the biggest issue – 47% of dissatisfied customers pinpointed it as the reason for their unhappiness, with 38% mentioning a lack of any noticeable speed improvement.
Virgin Mobile’s figures for reliability show some signs of hope. 88% of users say it’s mostly or always fast enough for browsing the web, with over 20% saying always; a better result than Tesco Mobile, O2 and Three. However, only 56% think it’s always or mostly fast enough for audio streaming, while video streaming is worse at 48%.
Virgin Mobile review: Roaming
Virgin Mobile still supports free EU roaming though its Roam Like Home scheme, allowing you to use your UK allowance of minutes, megabytes and texts. Outside of that, using your phone can get expensive, with prices of £2 per minute, 50p per text and £5 per MB in many territories, and call charges going as high as £5 per minute in some countries. If you’re travelling outside the EU, it’s smart to get your hands on another SIM.
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Virgin Mobile review: Other services and spending caps
Virgin’s 5G plans come with a data rollover, so that unused data from one month rolls over to the next. You can also message and tweet on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter without using data, though voice and video calls are excluded. Spending caps are also available, and you can set up a safety buffer of between £0 and £100 to give you a maximum spend over your normal monthly outlay.
Virgin Mobile review: Verdict
Despite some very tempting deals, it’s a struggle to recommend Virgin Mobile. Speeds and reliability aren’t what they could be, while customer service seems to be an ongoing issue, based on both our survey data and Ofcom’s research. Perhaps the biggest indictment, however, is the percentage of customers that would recommend the network to a friend. Only 61% of Virgin Mobile customers would do so, the lowest figure for any network in our survey.