Virgin Media vs BT broadband

Virgin Media and BT logos


Dear Dominic, I'm trying to choose between BT and Virgin Media but don’t really know what to look out for. I want a reliable connection and a download allowance that will let me watch programmes on the BBC iPlayer.

Olive, via email,

Our expert says...

BT and Virgin Media are two of the UK's biggest broadband providers and both companies offer a range of broadband packages that can be bundled with home phone and TV services, making it hard to choose which provider is right for you.

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Broadband availability

The first thing you need to do is run a postcode check to find out exactly what providers and packages are available in your area.

Although Virgin Media does offer copper wire ADSL broadband packages via its National broadband, the reason most people join Virgin Media broadband is for its much faster cable broadband connections and TV packages. This article will focus on Virgin Media's cable packages rather than its ADSL connections.

While its cable network is available to around 12.5 million people across the UK, it only covers around half of the country.

BT, on the other hand, has much wider coverage as it is able to offer broadband to the 99% of the population who have a telephone connection. BT is often the only option for people living in rural areas.

So while you'll almost certainly be able to get broadband from BT, you need to double check that you're in a Virgin Media cable area before choosing your provider.

Broadband speeds

When it comes to download speeds, it's hard to beat Virgin Media's cable broadband packages. It not only offers the UK's fastest, widely available connections in the form of its 100Mb broadband as well as speeds of up to 30Mb and 60Mb broadband, it regularly tops Ofcom speed tests for fastest actual broadband connection speeds.

However, since 2010, BT has also been rolling out its own fibre optic network, offering speeds of up to 38Mb, 76Mb and 100Mb through its BT Infinity packages.

It has also been upgrading its standard broadband network so non-fibre customers will benefit from faster broadband connections too.


Both providers however, are continually upgrading their fibre network resulting in faster speeds.

As with all broadband packages, you shouldn't expect to get your top advertised speed. BT's standard connections are all affected by the distance you are from your local telephone exchange, so the further away you live, the slower your internet connection will be.

Because Virgin Media's packages and BT Infinity packages use fibre optic cables to deliver your broadband, they aren't affected by distance from the exchange. While this does mean that you should get a faster connection, a number of other factors including network congestion and traffic management at peak times can still slow you down.

Download allowance

The amount of data that you're allowed to download each month will depend on the broadband package that you choose.

As well as actually downloading things like music, movies and software, your other internet activities will also count towards your download allowance. Every time you send an email, view a web page or stream content from YouTube or the BBC iPlayer, data will be downloaded to your computer.

You can choose from a variety of download allowances with BT's broadband connections. BT's up to 16Mb, comes with a choice of 10GB or . Customers taking an up to 38Mb package can choose from either a 40GB download allowance, or a totally unlimited package, and all up to 76Mb packages come with a totally unlimited usage allowance.


Virgin Media offers unlimited downloads on all of its broadband packages but with a traffic management policy applied.

Virgin Media says that it only applies traffic management in order to maintain speedy downloads for all customers, not just a few, and only the top 5% of downloaders are likely to ever be affected.


Bundling your broadband, phone and TV services with a single provider could cut the amount you are paying for your services each month.

Both BT and Virgin Media offer broadband, phone and TV bundles that allow you to select the right package for you. So whether you make lots of daytime calls, want fast speeds and a high download allowance, or have an addiction to sport that necessitates both BT Sport AND Sky Sports subscriptions, you can select the features that work best for your needs. 

BT also offers a choice of two different BT TV packages: TV Essential,  and TV Entertainment - however you can only get BT TV is you have a minimum line speed of at least 2mb. All packages come with BT Sports (BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN) at no extra cost, either via the BT Sports app and online player, or, if you are a BT Infinity and BT TV customer, you can get BT Sport via your TV.

Virgin Media takes bundling to the next level. As well as home phone calling plans and TV offering as many as 175 channels, you can also bundle your mobile phone and mobile broadband.

Virgin Media offers the biggest range of on-demand and catch-up TV and even offers the BBC iPlayer direct to your TV, which won't use up your data allowance. You can also add Sky Sports and Sky Movies for the very best in TV.

Find out about broadband, phone and TV bundles


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