Virgin bites back at BT broadband speed claimsBT Infinity 'doesn't come close' to Virgin cable

25 January 2010

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Virgin Media shows Sky Sports and Sky Movies via cable

Virgin Media has hit back at BT's claims that its new superfast broadband offer, BT Infinity, will 'transform consumer experience of the internet'.

As of today, new and existing BT Total Broadband customers in enabled exchange areas are eligible to upgrade their broadband service to 40Mbps speeds. 

But Virgin Media has told Which? that BT's 40Mbps fibre optic broadband service 'doesn't come even close to our fantastic cable services'. 

How does Virgin Media measure up to BT and other broadband rivals such as TalkTalk for customer satisfaction with broadband speed, connection reliability and customer service? Find out in the Which? broadband review.

The broadband speed battle - BT versus Virgin Media

Compared to BT Infinity, Virgin says its own superfast broadband package is:

  • Available right now to 12.5 million homes - whereas only a few thousand homes can get BT's 40Mbps right now and even by the end of 2010 BT estimates it will only pass 4 million households.
  • Available on a shorter contract - Virgin Media's standard broadband contract is 12 months, whereas BT only offers its superfast Infinity broadband on an 18 month contract.
  • Faster - Virgin offers up to 50Mbps compared to BT's fastest available speed of up to 40Mbps.
  • Unaffected by distance - BT's fibre network still uses copper wire for the last stretch to the customer's home. So Virgin says BT customers' actual broadband speeds may still be affected by distance. 

It's worth noting, though, that distance is not the only factor that affects the broadband speed you achieve in practice. For example Virgin's broadband - like that of any other provider - may be slowed down by traffic over the broadband network. For more see our guide to broadband speed.

How do costs compare?

BT up to 40Mbps broadband is available from £19.99 a month for BT Infinity Option 1 - which has a monthly usage cap of 20GB and up to 2Mbps upload speeds. For £24.99 a month, BT Infinity Option 2 offers unlimited broadband and up to 10Mbps upload speeds. You'll also need to pay for phone line rental on top of this, which costs £11.54 a month from BT. 

Virgin Media's superfast cable broadband costs £28 a month if you take a Virgin phone line at £11 a month, or £38 a month if you don't have a Virgin phone line. Both options offer unlimited monthly downloads and upload speeds of up to 1.5Mbps. 

Taking into account both phone line rental and broadband, BT's 40Mbps broadband is £36.53 for its unlimited service. 

Virgin's 50Mps broadband weighs in at £2.47 extra a month at £39.

Upload and download speeds

Differences between the two services make it impossible to compare like with like exactly. Virgin's unlimited superfast broadband has faster download speeds than BT. 

But BT's unlimited Infinity broadband has faster upload speeds. This could be a plus for those frustrated by how long it can take to upload files to the internet - for example uploading photos to an online album. 

Unauthorised use of your broadband service can slow down even the fastest connection. Keep your broadband service secure with Which? Best Buy security software.

Who needs superfast broadband?

For many UK broadband customers the rivalry between BT and Virgin Media will be pretty meaningless, since around half of the UK population are currently outside areas that can get either superfast service - and some struggle to even get a basic 2Mbps service. 

At the other end of the scale, some people will be fortunate enough to live in an area with a choice of superfast broadband.

Which? broadband expert Ceri Stanaway says: 'The great superfast broadband debate is grabbing the headlines and probably will for some time to come. BT and Virgin Media's investments in superfast broadband networks are positive steps in future-proofing the UK against increasing demands on our broadband network. 

'The reality is that many people just don't need broadband speeds this fast yet - only heavier broadband users such as people who watch lots of online TV, download lots of big files such as movies or play data-intensive online gaming will really reap the benefits. Shared households with multiple users connected to the internet at the same time could also notice a difference. 

'If you just use the internet to browse the web and email, a reliable basic speed of as low as 2Mbps should be plenty.'

Not sure if you're a light, medium or heavy user? Use the Which? broadband usage calculator to find out how the way you use the internet adds up.

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