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:

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 Price Total monthly
(incl. line rental)
virgin media 50Mb Broadband + Weekend calls Up to 50Mb
for 9 mths,
then £19
for 9 mths,
then £36.99
virgin media 100Mb Broadband + Weekend calls Up to 100Mb
for 9 mths,
then £24
for 9 mths,
then £41.99
virgin media 200Mb Broadband + Weekend calls Up to 200Mb
for 9 mths,
then £30
for 9 mths,
then £47.99
bt infinity Infinity 1 + Line rental Up to 38Mb
40GB usage
for 12 mths,
then £21
for 12 mths,
then £38.99
bt infinity Unlimited Infinity 1 + Weekend calls Up to 38Mb
for 12 mths,
then £23
for 12 mths,
then £40.99
bt infinity Unlimited Infinity 2 + Evening & Weekend calls Up to 76Mb
£30 £47.99

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

Most impressively Virgin Media's slowest fibre deal manages to beat BT's lowest price - and the BT deal also suffers from having a 40GB 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:


What's on offer? When you join online for:
bt Black Friday Offer: Unlimited BT Infinity 1 just £10 for 12 months, then £30/mth, + £100 Prepaid MasterCard.
Hurry! Offer ends tomorrow!
30 November 2015
Unlimited BT Infinity 1 + Weekend Calls
bt Black Friday Offer: Unlimited Broadband just £5 for 12 months, then £18/mth, + £50 Prepaid MasterCard.
Hurry! Offer ends tomorrow!
30 November 2015
BT Unlimited Broadband + Weekend Calls
bt £100 Prepaid MasterCard
Hurry! Offer ends tomorrow!
30 November 2015
BT Infinity Broadband
bt £50 Prepaid MasterCard
Hurry! Offer ends tomorrow!
30 November 2015
BT Broadband
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 9 months and free set up worth £49.95.One of Virgin Media's Big Bundles
virgin media Save over £180 on broadband and phone + free set upVirgin 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 Line Rental Total monthly
virgin media 200Mb Broadband + Weekend calls £14.99
for 9 mths,
then £30
£17.99 £32.98
for 9 mths,
then £47.99
virgin media 200Mb Broadband £42.75 N/a £42.75

It's not a big 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

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.

BT offer a discount when line rental is paid for 12 months in advance, a lump sum of £194.28 for the year. That reduces monthly line rental to the equivalent of £16.19 a month, which brings the BT Infinity deals a little closer to Virgin's in price.

That said, Virgin also offer upfront line rental - and at £164 a year until February 2016, it makes their line rental considerably cheaper than BT's.

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

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, and Sky Sports or BT Sport for an additional monthly fee.

BT's TV bundles tend to be cheaper than Virgin's:

Package Basic channels Price
bt BT TV Starter Up to 80
(12 in HD)
for 12 mths,
then £4
bt BT TV Entertainment Plus Up to 108
(12 in HD)
for 12 mths,
then £10
bt BT TV Total Entertainment Up to 130
(28 in HD, 1 in UHD)
for 12 mths,
then £15
virgin media VM: More TV 70
(10 in HD)
virgin media VM: TV M+ 130
(11 in HD)
virgin media VM: TV L 170
(11 in HD)
virgin media VM: TV XL 230
(47 in HD)

That's because Virgin Media has the edge in terms of the sheer number of channels available and their Tivo box, 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 should allow Virgin to deliver faster speeds, and independent testing confirms that customers do actually receive those higher speeds.

A cable apart

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 (FTTC) network.

From there, BT 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 efficient coaxial cable 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 - at the time Virgin were 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 2014 (published February 2015):

Advertised speed Average speeds
over 24 hours
Average speeds
at peak time
(8-10pm weekdays)
virgin media Up to 50Mb 52.5Mb - 53.3Mb 51.5Mb - 52.8Mb
bt Up to 38Mb 32.1Mb - 34.4Mb 31.9Mb - 34.2Mb
virgin media Up to 100Mb 94.3Mb - 99.5Mb 86.5Mb - 95.0Mb
bt Up to 76Mb 62Mb - 65.1Mb 59.3Mb - 62.6Mb
virgin media Up to 152Mb 129.5Mb - 135.8Mb 115.0Mb - 124.5Mb

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 Virgin's maximum speeds are actually higher than their advertised headline speeds, which means the drop isn't as great as it could be.

Everyone on Virgin's 50Mb service gets the advertised headline speed. Among those on the faster packages, only 59% of 100Mb customers manage that, but only 33% of 152Mb customers got speeds of at least 90% of the advertised headline speed.

ofcom peak time speed proportion

SOURCE: Ofcom, UK fixed-line broadband performance, November 2014. Available here

Ofcom have previously said that aside from contention, traffic management also plays a part in the reduction of speed for Virgin Media customers at peak times - but they haven't said 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'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" upload limits.

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 almost 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.

Since February 2013, BT haven't applied soft limits to their unlimited packages.

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 40GB download limit or an unlimited allowance.

The 40GB limit is definitely an improvement on the previous 20GB cap, although it may feel a little restrictive - in late 2014 Ofcom reported that the average household got through around 60GB of data per month.

It's 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.

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.


15 March 2015

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.


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.


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.


22 February 2015

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

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?

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

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.

1 December 2013

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.

24 September 2013

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 September 2013

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.

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.

2 July 2013

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

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.

9 April 2013

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 February 2013

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.

22 December 2012

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.

2 January 2012

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.

28 November 2011

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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