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Sky Broadband vs Virgin Media Broadband: Who's best?

If you’re looking for a new broadband package, you will likely have seen lots of ads for Sky and Virgin Media. Both providers invest heavily in TV, print and radio advertising, and offer a roughly comparable choice of broadband and TV packages.

As two of the country’s best-known broadband providers, it is probable that you have seen them in broadband comparisons during your search. But which is best? When you get past the marketing and advertising campaigns, is there a clear winner in terms of quality, value and performance? Let’s find out!

Sky vs Virgin Media broadband packages

Sky uses the BT Openreach telephone network to deliver its services while Virgin Media uses its own cable network. As such the two offer very different options and don’t always compare very equally for some criteria. We've compared them by looking at the cheapest deals and the fastest deals, but you do need to keep in mind their different network infrastructure and very different range of speeds means that direct comparisons aren't always that helpful and other criteria need to be considered.

Cheapest broadband packages

 
Sky Broadband Essential
Virgin Media M50 Fibre
Download speed (average) 11Mb 54Mb
Upload speed 1Mb 3Mb
Data usage limit Unlimited Unlimited
Traffic Management No No
Contract length 18 months 12 months
Monthly price (initial contract term) £20 £28

Winner: Tie

The cheapest broadband package is Sky Broadband Essential at just £20 per month. However, the true value of that depends on what you’re looking for. In terms of pure value, the faster M50 package from Virgin Media is just £8 more but offers almost five times the speed. If it’s just about lowest price, Sky wins. If it’s about value, Virgin Media wins.

Fastest broadband packages

 
Sky Broadband Superfast
Virgin Media Ultimate Oomph Bundle
Download speed (average) 59Mb 516Mb
Upload speed 19.5Mb 20Mb
Data usage limit Unlimited Unlimited
Traffic Management No No
Contract length 18 months 12 months
Monthly price (initial contract term) £27 £99

Winner: Virgin Media

For many broadband customers, speed is the main criteria. Where Sky and Virgin Media were close in terms of cost, it’s no competition in terms of speed. As Sky are tied to the BT Openreach network, they are limited to a top speed of around 76Mbps, though Sky advertises an average speed of 59Mbps which is more achievable in practice.

Virgin Media runs its own network with newer coaxial technology and a fibre backbone. This provides the freedom to innovate and to control its own network. This combination results in much faster speeds. The slowest broadband package offered by Virgin Media is 54Mbps, close to the maximum offered by Sky. It then graduates to 108Mbps, 213Mbps, and 362Mbps, up to a maximum of 516Mbps on the "Ultimate Oomph bundle". That package may be 266% more expensive than Sky Broadband Superfast, but it's also 855% quicker. And Virgin Media offers cheaper deals which are still several times as fast as the best available from Sky.

Price and affordability

Monthly price

Winner: Virgin Media

For customers who just want a broadband connection to surf the internet or check emails, Sky Essential offers good value at just £20 per month. But for value, paying an extra £8 for 54Mbps on Virgin Media offers the freedom to effortlessly stream HD content, listen to music, play games online, and do anything else you want without having to upgrade. For this, Virgin Media wins affordability.

Setup cost

Winner: Sky

Sky broadband costs only £19.95 to set up. Virgin Media charges £35 setup fee. There are discounts available  through the QuickStart program if there was a previous Virgin Media customer at your property and the Virgin Media access point is still installed.

Broadband rewards

Winner: Sky

Both Sky and Virgin Media run frequently run deals like half price feature upgrades, inclusive weekend or evening calls and discounts on the monthly cost. For example, Virgin Media is currently offering cheaper line rental on all its products like M50 Fibre Broadband which has been reduced from £37 per month to £30 per month. Sky on the other hand is offering half price Sky Broadband Boost for 18 months.

However, free gift offers such as shopping vouchers are much rarer with Virgin Media deals, while Sky very frequently has these kinds of offers. You'll also find regular exclusive Sky deals only available from Broadband Genie. Though when Virgin does offer freebies they are sometimes a bit different to the competition, such as free Bluetooth speakers or a box of wine.

Availability and coverage

Winner: Sky

This is a clear win for Sky broadband. As they use the BT Openreach network which is accessible by around 99% of the mainland UK population, most people in most areas can get Sky.

Virgin Media runs its own cabled network which has less coverage than BT. You can only access Virgin Media fibre broadband if you live in a cabled area. This is estimated to reach around 75% of the population, mainly in urban areas. The company is expanding this but will take decades to reach BT’s coverage.

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Customer service

Winner: Tie

According to the most recent Ofcom customer service report, Sky received 20 complaints per 100,000 users in 2018, which is a reduction from 2017. Virgin Media received 51 complaints - down three from the previous year - per 100,000 users. Data is taken from 2018 as more recent figures are not yet available.

Sky broadband customers had an average waiting time of 1:24 minutes while Virgin Media customers had to wait 2:19 for their call to be answered. However, overall satisfaction for Virgin Media is higher, at 85% compared to 83% for Sky.

Additional services

Winner: Tie

Both Sky and Virgin Media offer TV, mobile, landline and broadband services. Each is comparable with the other in terms of channel availability, reliability, speed, value for money and user experience. While different in their execution, both Sky and Virgin Media offer very similar products.

Sky uses satellites and satellite dishes to provide TV services and BT Openreach line to provide landline and broadband. Sky Mobile uses the O2 network to provide services.

Virgin Media uses its own cable network to deliver TV, broadband and landlines and the EE network to provide mobile coverage. EE does have faster and better coverage than O2 but both are credible providers with excellent coverage overall.

Extras and freebies

Winner: Virgin Media

Sky broadband offers:

  • Free use of Sky Wi-Fi Hotspots.
  • Sky Broadband Shield (parental controls and online security).

Virgin Media broadband offers:

  • Free Wi-Fi hotspots from business and residential customers similar to BT WiFi.
  • Virgin Media hotspots in London Underground and Overground stations.
  • Free Websafe (parental controls and online security).
  • Free F-Secure SAFE antivirus protection.
  • Free servicing or repair of your cable box.
  • Free photo printing from Snapfish.

Sky vs Virgin Media: which is best?

Winner: Virgin Media

In terms of the broadband offering, network speed, price and overall user experience, Virgin Media surpasses Sky broadband by quite a margin. Sky is a very credible broadband provider with excellent customer service, superb TV offering and good mobile coverage. However it is hampered by having to use a speed-limited BT Openreach network. The downside of course is that you can only use Virgin Media broadband if you live in a cabled area.

The basic Sky Essentials broadband package is a cheap and cheerful option for those who want very basic broadband for keeping up with family, surfing the internet and answering emails. If you want to do more with your broadband, the M50 product from Virgin Media offers more speed for not a lot more money. And if you want to go much faster and don't mind spending the money to do it, Virgin can offer that too.

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