BT Infinity vs Virgin Media

virgin or bt infinity

BT and Virgin Media are the two biggest ISPs offering fibre internet access in the UK.

Which naturally led us to wonder: which one's doing it best?

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

First though, check to see if Virgin Media and BT Infinity are available in your area:

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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 too much more expensive than ADSL and there are options to suit almost every household 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:

Broadband speed Broadband usage Price Total price
(incl. line rental)
virgin media Up to 50Mb Unlimited £7.50
for 6 mths,
then £15.50
£23.49
for 6 mths,
then £31.49
Visit Virgin Media
bt infinity Up to 38Mb 20GB £5
for 6 mths,
then £15
£20.99
for 6 mths,
then £30.99
Visit BT
virgin media Up to 100Mb Unlimited £15
for 12 mths,
then £20.50
£30.99
for 12 mths,
then £36.49
Visit Virgin Media
bt infinity Up to 38Mb Unlimited £16
for 3 mths,
then £23
£31.99
for 3 mths,
then £38.99
Visit BT
bt infinity Up to 76Mb Unlimited £20
for 3 mths,
then £26
£35.99
for 3 mths,
then £41.99
Visit BT
virgin media Up to 152Mb Unlimited £22.50
for 12 mths,
then £28
£38.49
for 12 mths,
then £43.99
Visit Virgin Media

As you can see, by this basic measure, Virgin Media are currently just about beating BT on price, even for those that take a slightly faster, and more expensive, deal.

Most impressively Virgin Media have managed to match BT's lowest price even though the BT deal has a 20GB download limit, a limit which previously gave them the edge on price.

Looking more closely at price

However, just looking at the cheapest packages isn't always the best guide to which provider's customers are getting cheaper 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 at the moment:

BT

£150 Sainsbury's Gift Card
ends 8 Sep 2014
Sign up online for BT YouView TV + BT broadband to get this offer here
£80 Sainsbury's Gift Card
ends 8 Sep 2014
Sign up online for BT Infinity broadband to get this offer here
£25 Sainsbury's Gift Card
ends 8 Sep 2014
Sign up online for BT broadband for this offer here
Free phone line installation worth £130 Sign up for BT broadband and phone (if you need a new phone line installed) to get this offer here

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

Virgin Media

Save up to £180 in the first 12 months on Virgin bundles Sign up here for one of Virgin Media's pre-made bundles for this offer here
Save up to £66 on Virgin broadband and phone + free installation Sign up for Virgin Media broadband with a Virgin phone line for this offer here
Exclusive offer: Half price for 12 months on 50Mb broadband + phone Sign up for this exclusive 50Mb broadband and weekend calls deal for this offer here

See more deals, 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 price cut for doing so is somewhat lower than you might expect.

So looking at 152Mb from Virgin Media (separate review):

Package Line Rental Price Total Price
virgin media 152Mb Broadband + Weekend calls £15.99 £22.50
for 12 mths,
then £28
£38.49
for 12 mths,
then £43.99
Visit Virgin Media
virgin media 152Mb Broadband N/a £39 £39 Visit Virgin Media

It's not a big discount but ditching the home phone line means potentially making bigger savings overall by not paying for landline calls, plus avoiding any future price increases on line rental from either provider.

Get more information on broadband without a phone line here.

Similarly, BT currently offer a discount when line rental is paid for 12 months in advance, a lump sum of £159.84. That reduces the price to the equivalent of £13.32, which would make the cheapest BT Infinity deals a little less than Virgin's.

Bundle options

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

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

BT's TV bundles tend to be slightly cheaper than Virgin's.

However, that's because Virgin Media has the edge in terms of the sheer number of channels available and its TiVo box, one of the best set top boxes on the market.

For more detail on this see our TV guide.

Whilst it doesn't include BT, our Sky vs Virgin guide is also worth a look for more on how Virgin TV performs against it's closest competitor.

Who's fastest?

Virgin Media generally advertise faster speeds and those claims are real: technical differences between the networks should allow Virgin to deliver faster speeds and independent testing confirms that customers do actually receive those higher speeds.

However, Ofcom's reports have also found that Virgin Media was likely to have much higher levels of contention on its network - resulting in users experiencing slightly slower speeds during the busiest periods of the day - than BT.

Ofcom research into speeds, released in March 2013:

Advertised speed Average speeds
over 24 hours
Average speeds
at peak time
(8-10pm weekdays)
virgin media Up to 30Mb 30.2Mb - 31.4Mb 29.4Mb - 31.1Mb
bt Up to 38Mb 31.4Mb - 34.2Mb 31Mb - 33.9Mb
virgin media Up to 60Mb 59.2Mb - 60.4Mb 57.5Mb - 59.3Mb
bt Up to 76Mb 61.6Mb - 68Mb 60.8Mb - 67.2Mb
virgin media Up to 100Mb 113.2Mb - 116.7Mb 106.1Mb - 111.5Mb

Peak time speeds are lower because of the sheer amount of people sharing the network at those busy times.

There is some evidence that Virgin Media's network slows down more at peak times. "FTTC connections [BT] were less affected by peak time contention than cable [Virgin Media] connections," Ofcom's 2014 report said.

So, for example, Ofcom found that Virgin Media 120Mb customers got 86% of the average maximum speed at peak times.

In contrast, BT 76Mb Infinity 2 customers got 96% of the average maximum speed at the busiest time, or, to put it another way, their speeds degraded by 4% rather than 14%.

As you can see below, that trend repeats with all the BT and Virgin Media deals.

ofcom peak time speed proportion

SOURCE: Ofcom May 2012 report.

What Ofcom didn't mention however, was that aside from contention, traffic management may also play a part in the reduction of speed for Virgin Media customers at peak times.

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's traffic management policy is no longer as restrictive as it once was but it does slow the upload speeds of customers who reach 'soft' download limits their packages between 4pm and 9pm.

BT no longer apply soft limits to their unlimited packages.

All in all, the research suggests that BT Infinity may well provide a more consistent service in the evenings, and this may particularly be the case for heavier users.

A cable apart

The technical difference between BT and Virgin Media is how their respective superfast networks connect to homes.

BT's 'up to 38Mb' Infinity broadband service uses superfast fibre optics to link together BT exchanges and green street cabinets, creating a fibre to the cabinet network.

From there, BT connect to your home 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?) and then there's a short stretch of more efficient coaxial cable that connects a customer's home to the fibre connection outside.

The technical difference means that when Infinity was first launched, BT could only advertise speeds of up to 40Mb, where Virgin were offering up to 50Mb. Something Virgin have been keen to play up ever since the BT Infinity launch in January 2010.

Usage limit differences

As we've noted above, Infinity broadband comes with either a 20GB download limit or unlimited.

20GB is a fairly small allowance but it should suffice for those that largely want superfast to stream a good few hours of video a night without interruption, as well as surfing and checking emails.

For gaming or streaming addicts, then, either unlimited Infinity or a Virgin Media deal are likely to be a better bet.

However, as we've mentioned above, the extent of their unlimitedness differs.

From 1st February 2013, BT Infinity's unlimited deal now offers 'totally unlimited usage'.

BT say that users on unlimited packages can now download as much as they want without being slowed at any time.

Initially it was a surprising move from BT mainly because of the number of customers they have, as 'truly unlimited' broadband has often been limited to ISPs with smaller customer bases, purporting quality over quantity.

Even Sky, despite a recent glowing record for customer service, has run into difficulties of late from increasing demand for their truly unlimited broadband.

That said, it's also not a far jump from BT's previous policy of only slowing peer-to-peer downloads during peak times, so 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 are currently beating the BT Infinity service in several key areas: their cheapest options are cheaper; they're currently offering the fastest speeds and 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 one you're going for in the comments below.

Comments

1
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.

2
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.

3
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.

4
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.

5
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.

6
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.

7
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?

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.

8
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).

9
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.

10
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.

11
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.

12
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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