BT Infinity vs Virgin Media

virgin media vs bt infinity

BT and Virgin Media are the two biggest ISPs offering fibre internet access in the UK - which naturally led us to wonder: who's doing it best?

In this guide we look at who's cheapest and who's fastest (skip to the end to see the results).

First though, check whether Virgin Media and BT Infinity are available in your area:

Postcode:
Enter your phone number and / or postcode above to check availability in your area.

Who's cheapest?

Let's start by asking: who does the fastest broadband cheapest?

The good news is that a little competition has done both BT and Virgin Media good: fibre is now not that much more expensive than ADSL, and there are options to suit most households in terms of price and download limit.

Here's a quick rundown of the broadband options for both providers, all with line rental and inclusive weekend calls:

Package Broadband Total monthly price
(inc line rental)
bt infinity Infinity 1 + Weekend calls Up to 52Mb
25GB usage
£26.99
for 12 mths,
then £39.99
bt infinity Unlimited Infinity 1 + Weekend calls Up to 52Mb
Unlimited
£28.99
for 12 mths,
then £38.99
bt infinity Unlimited Infinity 2 + Evening & Weekend calls Up to 76Mb
Unlimited
£43.99
for 12 mths,
then £48.99
virgin media SuperFibre 50 + Talk Weekends Up to 50Mb
Unlimited
£31
for 12 mths,
then £40
virgin media Vivid 100 + Talk Weekends Up to 100Mb
Unlimited
£36
for 12 mths,
then £45
virgin media Vivid 200 + Talk Weekends Up to 200Mb
Unlimited
£44
for 12 mths,
then £53

By this basic measure, Virgin Media offer faster, supposedly more expensive, deals for about the same price, sometimes even a little cheaper, than BT charge for their fibre offerings.

Most impressively Virgin Media's slowest fibre deal - now technically pipped at the post on speed by BT's freshly boosted Infinity 1 service - manages to beat BT's lowest price, despite the BT deal having a 25GB download limit.

Looking more closely at price

However, just looking at the headline package costs isn't always the best guide to which providers offer the better deals overall.

Special offers

Special offers for new customers often range from money off vouchers to money off the package for the first few months.

These deals can make considerable savings, so they're worth looking into. Here's what Virgin Media and BT are offering at the moment:

BT

What's on offer? When you join online for:
bt Online Exclusive: Unlimited broadband just £5 for 12 months (usually £18/mth) + £50 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
BT Unlimited broadband up to 17Mb
bt Online Exclusive: Infinity 1 up to 52Mb (25GB usage) + TV Starter just £8 for 12 months (usually £25/mth) + £100 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
BT Infinity 1 up to 52Mb fibre broadband (25GB usage) + TV Starter
bt Online Exclusive: Unlimited Infinity 1 + Entertainment Plus TV just £18 for 12 months (usually £35/mth) + £100 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
BT Unlimited Infinity 1 up to 52Mb fibre broadband (25GB usage) + TV Entertainment Plus
bt £100 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
Any BT Infinity Broadband, with or without BT TV.
bt £50 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
Any BT Broadband , with or without BT TV.
bt Free phone line installation or reconnection worth £130With any BT Broadband package

See more deals and prices, and check availability on our main BT table here.

Virgin Media

What's on offer? When you join online for:
virgin media Money off TV, broadband and phone for up to 12 months + free set up worth £49.95One of Virgin Media's Big Bundles
virgin media Save over £180 on broadband and phone + free set up Virgin Media broadband
(with a Virgin phone line)
virgin media Exclusive offer: 50Mb broadband + phone £5 a month for the first 6 months (then £17.50)This exclusive 50Mb broadband and weekend calls deal only

See more deals and prices, and check availability on our main Virgin Media table here.

Cutting phone line costs

Virgin Media distinguish themselves from BT by allowing customers to sign up without a phone line, although the saving for doing so is somewhat lower than we might expect.

Let's look, for example, at the 200Mb fibre deals from Virgin Media (which we review in more depth here):

Package Price without line rental Line Rental Total monthly
virgin media Vivid 200 + Talk Weekends £25
for 12 mths,
then £34
£19 £44
for 12 mths,
then £53
virgin media Vivid 200 £45.25 N/a £45.25

It's not that big a saving at all - and given the introductory offers available when adding in the phone, it can even be more expensive over the course of the contract.

Rising prices
The winter 2014 line rental rises
2015: Virgin raise standalone broadband prices
... followed by higher line rental and bundle costs
2016: BT announce early "annual" rises
...and new Virgin packages reflect increases

But ditching the home phone line does mean potentially bigger savings further down the line - there's no need to worry about the cost of landline calls, and it's the only way to avoid increasingly steep line rental costs.

There's more information on broadband without a phone line here.

Virgin have just leapfrogged BT to become the provider charging the most for line rental - £19 a month, up from £17.99; the difference is tiny however, as BT charge £18.99.

Both offer a discount when line rental is paid for 12 months in advance. Since July this year BT have charged £205.08 for 12 months upfront, equivalent to £17.09 a month.

By contrast, Virgin's upfront line rental is £184 a year for now, but will rise in November to £196 (equivalent to £16.34 a month).

Bundle options

Both Virgin Media and BT are big on phone, TV and broadband bundles, offering big discounts for their triple play subscribers.

More on sports
Sky Sports click here
BT Sport click here

Each offers a large range of on demand content - at least some of which is free to all customers - all the core Freeview channels and movies, and Sky Sports or BT Sport for an additional monthly fee.

While BT's TV bundles tend to be cheaper than Virgin's, it's worth remembering that they're only available to BT broadband customers, which adds to the overall cost. The prices below are for TV alone:

Package Basic channels Price
bt Starter Up to 80
(12 in HD)
£4
bt Entertainment Plus Up to 108
(12 in HD)
£10
bt Total Entertainment Up to 130
(28 in HD, 1 in UHD)
£13
for 12 mths,
then £16
virgin media Mix TV 150+
(11 in HD)
£24.50
virgin media Fun TV 190+
(11 in HD)
£31.50
virgin media Full House TV 245+
(50 in HD)
£41.50

BT TV is cheaper, however, because Virgin Media have the edge in terms of the number of channels available and their Tivo box - which, while looking a bit dated, is still one of the best set top boxes on the market.

For more on the details of the providers' TV packages - and how they compare with Sky's - have a look at our TV guide.

Whilst it doesn't include BT, our Sky vs Virgin guide is also worth a look for more about how Virgin perform against their closest competitor.

Who's fastest?

Virgin Media advertise much faster speeds, and their claims tend to stand up. Technical differences between the networks enable Virgin to deliver faster speeds, and independent testing confirms that customers do actually receive those higher speeds.

A cable apart

As mentioned above, however, BT have recently raised their game slightly with the regrading of their Infinity 1 fibre to offer up to 52Mb. At the time of this update, it's far too soon to know how well it'll actually perform for customers.

One factor against it being able to beat Virgin's 50Mb service is that BT are using their existing network to deliver it.

BT Infinity uses superfast fibre optics to link together BT exchanges and green street cabinets, creating a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) network - but from there, they connect to homes via a normal copper phone line, referred to as "the last mile".

Virgin Media have a separate fibre optic network which runs underneath the pavements of the areas in which it is installed (remember the chaos of all that digging?).

Then there's a short stretch of coaxial cable - which is more efficient than copper at transmitting data - to connect a customer's home to the fibre network outside.

The technical difference means that when Infinity was first launched, BT could only advertise speeds of up to 40Mb - when Virgin were already offering up to 50Mb.

The much greater speeds their network is capable of - now up to 200Mb in some places - are something Virgin have been keen to play up ever since BT Infinity launched in January 2010.

Headline speed versus reality

However, in 2014 Ofcom said there was strong evidence that Virgin Media's network slowed down more at peak times, saying, "[BT] FTTC connections were less affected by peak time contention than cable [Virgin Media] connections".

That means Virgin Media users experience slightly slower speeds during the busiest periods of the day.

Peak time speeds tend to be lower anyway because of the sheer amount of people sharing the network at those busy times.

But for what that means in terms of actual speeds, here are Ofcom's latest figures from November 2015 (published March 2016):

Advertised speed Average speeds
over 24 hours
Average speeds
at peak time
(8-10pm weekdays)
bt Up to 38Mb 34.3Mb - 35.5Mb 33.8Mb - 35.1Mb
virgin media Up to 50Mb 49.4Mb - 51.6Mb 44.6Mb - 49.1Mb
bt Up to 76Mb 57.4Mb - 61.1Mb 56.9Mb - 60.5Mb
virgin media Up to 100Mb 93.3Mb - 98.2Mb 81.6Mb - 90.6Mb
virgin media Up to 200Mb 168.0Mb - 179.9Mb 148.0Mb - 164.4Mb

Among BT's up to 76Mb customers, 93% can get speeds of more than 90% of that maximum speed during peak hours.

It's easy to see that the faster Virgin services suffer the most, but since the introduction of the 200Mb service, the drop isn't as great as it could be, and it seems to be shrinking slightly each month.

Ofcom's latest figures, cited above and used in the graph below, look at performance in November 2015, shortly after Virgin started offering up to 200Mb.

At that point, around 70% of people on Virgin's 50Mb service get the advertised headline speed; the figures above show how close most come to that.

Among those on the faster packages, just under 60% of 100Mb customers manage the top speed, but less than 40% of 200Mb customers got speeds of at least 90% of that advertised.

ofcom peak time speed proportion

SOURCE: Ofcom, UK fixed-line broadband performance, March 2016. Available here [pdf].

Virgin have been reporting on their 200Mb performance every month since it began rolling out, using SamKnows - who work with Ofcom to produce their figures - and it's improving a little each time.

At the time of this update, for example, here's what the SamKnows results showed:

Average over 24 hours Peak (8-10pm weekdays)
August 2016 187.8Mb 158.1Mb

SOURCE: SamKnows and Virgin Media. Available here.

That said, Ofcom have previously remarked on Virgin's traffic management for its part in the reduction of speed for Virgin Media customers at peak times - but it's not clear by how much.

Virgin may claim to have the 'Ferrari' of broadband services but this report clearly shows it gets stuck in rush hour traffic. BT fibre on the other hand is far more reliable ensuring customers enjoy an open road however fast they're travelling.
BT spokesperson, 2013

Virgin Media have relaxed their traffic management policy twice in recent years. The first, major, change came in 2014, when they removed restrictions for heavy downloaders.

That left in place the limits on uploads: customers who reach "soft" upload limits will see any additional uploads they make slowed down considerably.

For example: once customers on their 50Mb package have uploaded 1GB of data in the space of an hour between 4pm and 11pm weekdays, and between 11am and 11pm at weekends, their upload speeds will be throttled by up to 50% for 60 minutes.

Those with faster connections can upload more before they're throttled - 152Mb and 200Mb customers can upload just over 2GB of data before they're affected.

If users continue to upload data and hit a second threshold, their uploads will be slowed even further, and for another two hours from that point.

However, since September 2016, a new version of the 200Mb package has seen even these upload limits done away with, and upload speeds increased to 20Mb. The Vivid 200 Gamer deals costs £5 more per month than the standard versions of the 200Mb packages.

Since February 2013, BT haven't applied any kind of limit, soft or otherwise, to their unlimited packages - and they've recently stopped managing their capped packages too.

The research suggests that BT Infinity may well provide a more consistent service in the evenings, particularly for heavier users.

Usage limit differences

As we've noted above, Infinity broadband comes with either a 25GB download limit or an unlimited allowance.

This feels like a bit of a backwards step from BT, who had only recently bumped up the allowance for capped Infinity users from 20GB to 40GB - particularly as it coincides with the move to the 52Mb version of Infinity.

Consider also that in late 2014 Ofcom reported that the average household got through around 60GB of data per month, but by the end of 2015 that average had shot up to 82GB per month

The new limit is just about enough for those who want superfast broadband in order to stream a few hours of SD video per night without interruption, as well as surfing and checking emails - or for those who have BT TV and can therefore access their on demand content through the set top box, which doesn't count towards data limits.

For gaming or streaming addicts, either unlimited Infinity or a Virgin Media deal are likely to be a better bet - but remember that the extent of their unlimitedness differs.

As mentioned, BT say users on unlimited packages can download as much as they want without being slowed at any time.

This was a surprising move from BT, mainly because of the number of customers they have. Previously "truly unlimited" broadband was associated with ISPs with smaller customer bases, purporting quality over quantity.

Even Sky, despite having a glowing record for customer service, often run into difficulties because of the high demand for their truly unlimited broadband.

That said, BT's change of policy wasn't that big a jump for them, given that they previously only slowed peer-to-peer downloads during peak times. We can only assume BT know what they're doing.

See this article for more information on downloads.

All in all

In conclusion, Virgin Media continue to beat BT Infinity in several key areas: their cheapest options are cheaper; they offer the fastest speeds; they allow users to sign up for fibre without having to take a copper phone line too.

However, BT really aren't far behind.

Ofcom tests show they may be offering a faster real world service, with lower contention and fairer traffic management, and their special offers are extremely competitive.

Let us know which you prefer in the comments below.

Comments

1
4 September 2016
Steve Foster

does this apply to suppliers like Vodafone who also use the Infinity hardware? How do they manage to offer prices less than those quoted for BT themselves?

7 September 2016
Choose team

Hi Steve

The first part of your question is probably answered in our guide to fibre broadband, available here.

As for why the ISPs who resell BT Infinity charge different (and often lower) prices than BT, there are a couple of reasons: firstly, the wholesale prices BT Openreach charge other providers for their fibre lines aren't as high as we might expect - we look into them a little here. Then it depends which extras they provide - like free wi-fi when out and about and the like - as to how much more cheaply (or not) they can offer their fibre.

2
31 January 2016
sean

I have Virgin and it's a disgrace I have called them many of times to no joy, I ask for an engineer to come out to me but they will not send, so soon I am changing to bt infinity and hopefully my gaming problems will be resolved.

3
13 December 2015
Megan

Very close call. BT giftcard evens out small difference in price, which they are above Virgin. + my partner loves football and BT sports TV is included for only one off activation cost - so we went for BT this time.

4
23 November 2015
MrWeavile

I wouldn't recommend VM either way. Every Sunday afternoon/evening, the network is borderline unusable, with ping tests coming back with an average of 500ms, and some packets even being lost outright. Not sure if BT is as appalling as VM, but from my own experience, I would absolutely avoid at all costs.

5
15 March 2015
Charles5678

I have been with Virgin Media for many years now (my parents were with them before they were even NTL etc) about four years ago I was on copper 10Mb down and 1Mb up and that was horrible I couldn't stand it, in 2012 or before that we got an email saying our speeds were being doubled for free, so up to 20Mb down and 2Mb up we went. Still was terrible the whole time we'd be getting somewhere in the region of about 6Mb down 0.5Mb up at the most.

BUT...

September last year it all changed. Free upgrade to Virgin Fibre, brand spanking new hub and 50Mb down 3Mb up, ALL FOR FREE.

For four months everything was perfect I was loving it, never slowed down in peak times and the wireless was fantastic (until my dad broke the hub somehow) sent us out a new one (FOR FREE) took the old one and we were on our way again.

THEN....

I was so happy with the service that for an extra £5 a month I tripled our speeds to 152Mb up, 12Mb down.

In the whole 7 months I have had Virgin Media Fibre there has been ONE line outage and that lasted 12 hours before it was fixed.

Highly recommend Virgin, fast speeds, great customer service, and I'm never slowed down in peak times!

#teamvirginmedia BT haven't got nothing on Virgin Media.

Also Virgin Media don't have a fair usage policy on your downloads so you will never be purposely slowed down because of your use. HURRAY.

And here is a peaktime SpeedTest.

Peace.

6
22 February 2015
Leigh

I have Virgin Media and I get 152Mb/12Mb Ethernet and 90Mb/13Mb via Wifi.

7
7 March 2014
Karl Leeming

And just to make this a little bit more interesting, I have BT fibre straight into my house I reach speeds of up to 300Mbs, my telephone is through my fibre box and no longer have copper line in the house for the last 9 months, as well as free wifi abroad and in the UK with open zone and fon.

29 September 2014
don atkinson

How did you get that?

8
30 January 2014
Simon Fisher

After 2 years of consistently fantastic Infinity from BT (37 Mbps down, 8.5 Mbps up), I have upgraded to Infinity 2 (and getting 74 Mbps down / 18Mbps up). It never stops, never goes wrong. I am delighted it with it.
My broadband provider before that, same property, was Virgin - an advertised 30Mbps service. From 4pm - 11pm every weekday it stopped dead. My speeds ranged from 0.02Mbps to 0.3Mbps. It was put down to congestion. I complained and complained. Fair play to Virgin, they reimbursed me every month. But as the date to fix the congestion kept slipping, month to month, my patience was tested too severely and I asked to be set free.
Every area is different, but I am living proof that congestion on Virgin cable can be crippling.

27 March 2015
MadMarc

I had the same issue and it ended up being the early modem and router hub. I had them put just the modem and used my own router and the issue was solved after 3 separate engineers and data gathering from me. Congestion doesn't take your rates down THAT low.

9
1 December 2013
Tony

Good article but it makes out that Virgin's fibre optic network is right outside the house when in reality the node, the equivalent to the green cabinets BT use, is probably much further away. The reason why Virgin can theoretically offer higher speeds than BT is the use of coaxial cabling instead of BT's twisted pair cabling. Coaxial cabling has a higher throughput and signal propagation than twisted pairs so they can offer higher speeds than BT.

10
24 September 2013
LeeC22

The biggest problem with BT, is their refusal to allow static IPs on their residential services. For me, they remain on par with sub-standard providers like TalkTalk and Sky, until they up their level for more tech-savvy users. PlusNet, Zen and even John Lewis offer this facility.

The demands of the users are changing, so BT needs to up their game to stay with the competition. It's no good driving at Ferrari speeds, if you can only drive in straight lines.

11
11 September 2013
Iain

What BT do not tell you when you sign up for Infinity is that the broadband speed all depends on how far you are away from the "box".

I complained about the speed as I was only achieving between 9 and 13Mb. BT sent an engineer who told me the best I would get was 18 - 20Mb as I was too far from "the box".

Their "up to" in reality for me is now regularly just over 18Mb with an upload just over 2Mb wireless and best achieved with an Ethernet connection was a tad over 21Mb - this despite their emails suggesting and I quote:
"You can now get faster broadband speeds in your neighbourhood because we've improved our network. And they won't cost you a penny extra.
Your download speed could go from up to 38Mb to up to 76Mb, and your upload speed from up to 9Mb to up to 19Mb.
They have not contacted me at contract expiry and when I called them they were not prepared to reduce the price but kept re-iterating the service is "up to". The email I quoted was received 23rd May 2013.

12
3 July 2013
Christopher Mark Greenhalgh

Thinking of switching to BT also. Worth mentioning too that the 2 key points for me are:

1. BT upload speed on fibre is double that of Virgin, data received to pc x2
2. no fair usage soft cap (I do online gaming) which would be better all round.

Also as mentioned cheaper calls too, more so to those 0845 customer service people we all deal with.

13
2 July 2013
Ella

What about comparing customer services? I have had Virgin in the past and found not only did the broadband and TV regularly not work but that calling them up often took 20 minutes before we got through and then there were call out charges. This was 2 years ago but friends still with Virgin often complain about it. Is BT any good?

30 July 2015
lilcpl

I've had the same exact problems with BT...

2 July 2013
Choose team

We compare ISPs by customer service reports in this guide, and we covered a recent Ofcom report on complaints figures here.

14
9 April 2013
b

What's also worth noting, is that it costs around £5-£6 extra to get free evening calls with Virgin Media. I am with them at the moment and thinking of changing to BT, because BT include free evening calls.

9 April 2013
Choose team

That's right - BT do indeed include free evening and weekend calls when customers take BT Infinity broadband.

However it's worth noting that BT normally only include weekend calls within the price of their line rental, and evening and weekend calls are currently £3.30 extra a month (at the time of writing).

15
9 February 2013
Neil

Virgin Media's actual speed in my area at peak times on their 60Mb package is 4Mb. Slowest broadband I have had. Do not believe the advertising, its awful.

19 April 2016
James

I think what you dont realise is it's 60mb's megabites, you are measuring it in Megabytes, there are 8 bites in a byte so divide 60 by 8 and that is your speed.

16
22 December 2012
Adam

What about upload speeds? Virgin are terribly stingy on uploads compared to BT. I'm with Virgin, and I think I have to move as I can't back up all the photos I take, the connection is just too slow.

17
2 January 2012
Brendan

I'm on BT Infinity option 1 with a 40GB monthly usage allowance. If you go over your allowance BT will charge you £5 extra for every 5GB over, if you go under, the difference is not carried over to next month. I had about 17GB usage remaining as of 31/12/2011. That got wiped out on Jan 1 2012. Value for money? I don't think so.

2 January 2012
Choose team

That is unfortunately a BT policy (it's not restricted to Infinity), but they aren't alone in charging for exceeding usage limits. We've detailed the ISPs who charge (and how much) as well as those that don't at the end of this guide on broadband usage limits.

18
28 November 2011
Alan

One thing worth mentioning with BT is the added bonus of free unlimited wifi hotspot usage. I've yet to try it, but it is certainly an attractive proposition as an alternative to 3G. This could save several pounds a month provided it's as good as it appears to be.

28 November 2011
Choose team

Hi Alan, yes, we have touched upon BT Openzone minutes in our full review of BT broadband here, it is the UK's largest hotspot network.

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