When you’re looking for home broadband, you often have two main options. You can use a provider on the BT Openreach network, which includes ISPs such as Sky, TalkTalk, EE, and BT itself. Or, you can use the Virgin Media broadband network instead.
But when comparing deals, you need to remember that the two networks are completely separate and aren’t compatible with each other. And, for the reasons we’ll explain below, Virgin Media isn't as universal in its reach as a BT line. You need to research to see if you can get it where you live. In this guide, we'll show you how.
Virgin Media in your area: the key points
A short history of BT and Virgin Media
Openreach is the network owned by BT, which is used by almost all broadband providers.
BT began as a government entity called the General Post Office. It was charged with taking over the many private companies offering telegraph services and bringing them all under one roof.
Its job was to provide home phone services to everyone in Britain, and it created the public telephone network to do just that. As its government mandate was to provide landline services to every property, it was, and still is, legally obligated to connect every home in the UK.
Virgin Media began as several private cable companies that operated independently of BT.
When cable TV first came to Britain, regional companies were launched to offer these services to their towns and cities. Swindon Cable was the first back in 1984 and was soon joined by many others. These companies were eventually permitted to offer telephone and then cable broadband to their TV customers.
Eventually, all those independent companies were bought by larger operations, primarily NTL and Cable & Wireless. These were then purchased by Virgin Media.
As these cable companies didn’t have the same obligation to offer an internet connection to every home, they only installed cable where it benefitted them. If they could make a profit by installing cable in a location, then they did. If the company thought profits would be harder to come by, they wouldn’t.
This is why not everyone can access Virgin Media services.
Is Virgin Media cable or fibre broadband?
Virgin Media no longer refers to its services as cable broadband and instead is now calling it fibre optic broadband. The network technology Virgin uses for most of its network is Hybrid Fibre Coaxial or HFC. What that means, is that their cables up to the street cabinets are fibre, and then it uses coaxial cables to reach into homes.
HFC is similar to the Fibre To The Cabinet, (FTTC) technology used by most Openreach network fibre broadband providers. Except in the case of FTTC, it’s an Openreach phone line which connects homes to the street cabinets.
Virgin also uses FTTP or Fibre to the Premises in some places, though it's currently a very small percentage of the total network. FTTP is when only fibre cables are used to provide your broadband, meaning you can reach much faster speeds than even FTTC. Right now, it’s not available to all homes, but if it’s available in your area, it can be worth looking into.
Virgin broadband checker
To become a Virgin Media customer, you must live in an area covered by its network.
The Broadband Genie deals checker can tell you whether you’re in a Virgin area or not. Just enter your postcode into the box below or on any of our comparison tables. If you see Virgin Media as an available broadband option, you are likely in a cabled area.
Broadband Genie deals checker
For a definitive check, you need to use the Virgin Media Postcode Checker. This will have the most up-to-date records of where cable is available and precisely who can connect. This is always the first part of the sign-up process when choosing a Virgin Media broadband deal, so you'll know right away if Virgin is available in your area.
If you're ready to make the switch, here are some of the top Virgin Media deals currently available for new customers:
Virgin Media coverage
Virgin Media is currently available to around 50% of premises across the UK.
For the reasons noted above, Virgin Media hasn't had to connect every home. The company assesses the profitability potential of a given area, calculates the cost and decides whether or not to connect it to the network. That’s why some areas can access Virgin Media broadband and others can't. Even within the same city!
The company has put lines in established towns and cities, new housing estates, and planned town expansions. It’s much cheaper to do this while the roads are being constructed than to dig them up later.
Why isn't Virgin Media available everywhere in the UK?
While BT was legally obligated to connect every property to the public telephone network, cable companies had no such restrictions. They could concentrate on connecting profitable areas first and work their way outwards on their own terms.
Much of the original cable network was built in the 80s and 90s. Although expansion continues, it's slow. Since its acquisition of the cable network, Virgin has prioritised network speed over coverage and put more money into improving the service for existing customers and offering them the fastest broadband before adding new areas. This is a positive way of working and has meant they keep their spot as one of the best broadband providers, but it does leave many areas of the UK without a Virgin connection.
Alternatives if you can't get Virgin Media broadband
If your postcode isn't in a Virgin broadband area, you still have alternatives.
Many other providers use the BT Openreach network, and one of these will almost certainly be able to deliver broadband to you. Download speed will vary depending on your location, but it’s possible to achieve average speeds of around 65Mbps using fibre broadband.
Providers such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet and others offer fibre broadband to a good portion of the UK. These services are regularly expanding, so it’s worth checking availability in your area.
Some providers also offer ultrafast, full fibre broadband (FTTP). These are currently limited to specific regions but are also being steadily rolled out across the UK. You’re more likely to be able to get FTTP if you’re in a big city with providers such as Hyperoptic or Community Fibre. But BT does offer their own ultrafast package too.
What does FTTP mean?
Full Fibre broadband is also known as ‘Fibre To The Premises’, ‘Fibre To The Home’. This is often shortened to FTTP or FTTH. They’re all the same thing!
Instead of copper telephone wire making up the final part of the journey from that green cabinet on the street, fibre optic cables are installed right up to your home.
It’s amazing the difference in speed this small data journey can have. With full-fibre broadband you can expect to receive speeds of 1Gb+.
The downside is full-fibre is only available to a small percentage of homes in the UK, and it’s taking a good while to get everyone up to speed.
Can I get Virgin TV if I’m not in a Virgin Media Broadband area?
You might have heard of Virgin Media’s TV package and might be interested in getting it. However, Virgin no longer offers their TV services without broadband. Both the TV and broadband use the cable setup to provide their services.
This is great if you are interested in both TV and broadband as you can get a bigger bundle including TV, broadband, and even phone if you wish. If you’re just after Virgin Media TV channels, then you won’t be able to.
Here are some Virgin TV and Broadband bundles currently available.
If broadband speeds matter to you, then Virgin is a great option. It can be pretty quick to get set up, too. Provided the cables are already connected to your property, Virgin Media will send you a QuickStart self-install package along with your router for free.
If it’s available in your area, but your home wasn’t connected, you’ll have to wait for an engineer visit, but that’ll be done within two weeks of you signing up for a package.
Virgin Media coverage is more limited than some other providers, but it does offer a lot, including broadband and TV packages, mobile deals and good customer service.
If you’re interested in getting Virgin Media, you can get started by using our deals checker to see if it’s available in your area.
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