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Virgin is one of those brands that seems to be everywhere, mainly offering travel, entertainment and lifestyle products and services. The brand started in the 1970s with the launch of a record shop and now comprises more than 400 companies worldwide.
The internet service is part of the Virgin Media business, which also offers TV and phone packages. Virgin broadband comes in three varieties that are categorised like clothes sizes - L, XL and XXL. Somewhat confusingly, the TV and phone packages come in M, L and XL sizes. Presumably, the aim is to demonstrate that the company doesn't do anything small while Virgin Media internet won't even go as low as medium.
The broadband package sizing does rather reflect the fact that it is about the fastest service available. The XXL size was the first to offer speeds of up to 50 Mbps, which is due entirely to the company being the front-runner with fibre optic cable. It converted its whole network by the end of 2008, well ahead of BT's, admittedly much larger, network. The outcome is that Virgin Media broadband came out top in a Techwatch speed test in November 2009 with average download speed of 7.26 Mbps. Next was O2, which includes Be Broadband, with an average of 5.02 Mbps and the rest trailed somewhere behind at less than 4 Mbps. The service also won the Fastest Home Broadband award for 2009 from Top 10 Broadband with an average tested download speed of 8.15 Mbps.
Of course, you only get the fibre optic availability if you're in a Virgin cabled street, otherwise it's down the phone line like everyone else. If your street is cabled, you don't need a phone line at all. You can get Virgin internet on its own and there's no compulsion to take TV and phone deals with it. However, you do get financial incentives to buy more, with discounts available on packages and a cheaper price if you rent your phone line along with a phone deal. You also pay more if you don't pay by direct debit and want a paper bill through the post.
Unlike many other providers, mobile broadband is available as part of the mix rather than being treated as a separate product. Different tariffs set the monthly download limit with a USB modem included free or for a one-off fee. The product was rated best customer service, best usability and easiest set up in a Which? mobile broadband test. In the Broadband Genie Roadtrip Awards of 2009, it won the Best Software and Best Downloader awards and was joint winner in the Dongle on the Move category.
The Virgin group's commitment to mobile broadband is demonstrated by the launch in November 2009 of a Wi-Fi service on its Super Voyager Trains fleet. This is available free to first class passengers but, perhaps surprisingly, is being supplied jointly by Nomad Digital and broadband provider T-Mobile.
Despite its awards, the company does come in for some criticism for the internet service, receiving only a one star rating on one review site. Although many praised the speed of their connection, some were disappointed that promised performance was not achieved and there are the usual complaints of poor customer service. Nevertheless, it signed up 39,000 new customers in the Summer 2009 quarter, up from only 5,100 the previous quarter. This compared to 68,700 in Summer 2008 but it takes the total to 3.77 million broadband customers at time of writing.
Virgin does provide one of the most comprehensive services, combining both home and mobile broadband as well as TV and phone services. However, because there are lots of options, it can be a complicated business to get the most suitable deal at the cheapest price.
Virgin's trump card currently is its fibre optic network, which puts it ahead of the game in terms of speed. So, if you need the best speed with unlimited usage, this may be the one for you, providing you're willing to pay the price and take the risk that the quoted speeds will be what you are likely to get from them. ;)
LIKELYHOOD OF VIRGIN MEDIA PACKAGE COVERAGE BY TOWN:
If that doesn't sound much help ... that took us weeks to get out of Virgin! So a postcode list is a long way off - but we'll keep working on getting you the information. (List updated 11th May 2010) †
|Outer Hebrides |
Dumfries & Galloway
Kingston Upon Hull