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Sky Broadband vs Virgin Media Broadband: which is 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 Essential
Virgin Media M50 Fibre + Weekend Calls
Download speed (average) 10Mb 54Mb
Upload speed 1Mb 10Mb
Data usage limit Unlimited Unlimited
Traffic Management No No
Contract length 18 months 12 months
Monthly price (initial contract term) £25 £28

Winner: Virgin Media

The cheapest broadband package is Sky Broadband Essential, costing £25. However, for only a few pounds more you can get a speed significantly faster with Virgin Media M50. The difference in speed (5x) is well worth the additional cost, we think (please note price are subject to change).

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Fastest broadband packages

 
Sky Broadband Superfast
Virgin Media M500 Fibre + Weekend Calls
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) £28 £52

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 is 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 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.

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Price and affordability

Monthly price

Winner: Tie

In terms of bang-for-your-buck then Virgin Media is definitely your best option, particularly if you want seriously high-speed broadband. However, if Sky Broadband Essential is genuinely enough for you then it is the cheapest package available (although we would recommend Sky Superfast, coming in at around ~£28).

Setup cost

Winner: Sky

Sky broadband costs only £9.95 to set up. Virgin Media often charges up to £35 setup fee - although they do often waive this charge. 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: Virgin

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. 

However, free gift offers such as shopping vouchers are now much rarer with Sky deals while Virgin very frequently has these kinds of offers, commonly known as 'flash sales'. However, these Virgin freebies are sometimes a bit different from 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: Sky

According to the most recent Ofcom customer service report, Sky received 21 complaints per 100,000 users in 2019, which is essentially  level with 2018. Virgin Media received 60 complaints - up nine from the previous year - per 100,000 users. Data is taken from 2019 as more recent figures are not yet available.

Sky broadband customers had an average waiting time of 2:28 minutes while Virgin Media customers had to wait 4:26 for their call to be answered. Overall satisfaction for Sky is higher, at 86% compared to 85% 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.

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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.

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 a slight 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 Virgin cabled area.

While Sky Superfast represents good value, if you want to do much more with your broadband, faster packages from Virgin Media offer 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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