Virgin Mobile vs Sky Mobile 2020: Over 3.5 Million Free Wi-Fi Hotspots or free Sky TV?

Virgin Mobile offers the best 4G network coverage & fastest download speeds in the UK, Sky Mobile customers get free Sky TV, 5G and other benefits. Let’s see which network comes out on top!

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Who is Virgin Mobile

virgin-mobile-article-logoCurrently powered by EE, Virgin Mobile provides 2G, 3G and 4G coverage in the UK. The network’s run by Virgin Media and they’re to merge with O2 in late 2021, so from that point on Virgin Mobile will piggyback on O2’s network. The carrier offers the fastest 4G data speeds and best 4G network coverage in the UK thanks to EE’s infrastructure.

Virgin Mobile is also the first mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) having launched way back in 1999. The network’s SIM only deals include 12-month contracts and 24-month contracts, this means you have to go through a credit check if you wish to join them. The operator doesn’t offer any no credit check deals or a pay as you go service. You can also opt for a phone contract if you need a new smartphone.

Virgin Mobile plans include Wi-Fi Calling (No 4G Calling though), data-free messaging on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp & Twitter, and free WiFi at over 3.5 million hotspots in the UK, and 20 million more across the world. They also offer an unlimited data plan, but it’s exclusive to Virgin Media TV or Broadband customers.

Pro’s

  • Best 4G network coverage, best 4G download & upload speeds.
  • Over 3.5 million free Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK, and more across the world.
  • A data rollover scheme.
  • Wi-Fi Calling.
  • Unlimited UK minutes and texts on all plans.

Con’s

  • No PAYG service.
  • Credit checks are required.
  • No 4G Calling, no 5G.
  • Unlimited data plans are exclusive to Virgin Media TV or Broadband customers.

Who is Sky Mobile

sky-mobile-article-logoSky Mobile belongs to Sky UK and the carrier is currently using O2 as its network provider. Sky Mobile provides 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G services in the country, but free 5G coverage is exclusive to Sky VIP members, alternatively you can purchase their 5G add-on. There are five different SIM only price plans to choose from, but there are no unlimited data plans, or even large data plans.

Sky Mobile customers enjoy unlimited streaming through Sky TV apps and a data roll over scheme that’s valid for up to three years. The operator’s data rollover perk allows you to use the data you save anytime you want, and you can even convert the left over data to points and pay for a new device or exclusive online content. Sky Mobile also offers phone contracts, and you can sign up to a Swap deal for extra flexibility. Their customers also benefit from voice call quality improving features like Wi-Fi Calling & 4G Calling.

However, just like its competitor in this case, Sky Mobile only offers contract deals, meaning you have to undergo a credit check first. There are no PAYG options on Sky either.

Pro’s

  • Data Rollover scheme, valid for three years.
  • Unlimited Sky TV app streaming.
  • Free 5G coverage for VIP members.
  • 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling.
  • Free Wi-Fi hotspots with ‘The Cloud’.

Con’s

  • The shortest contract is 12 months.
  • Credit checks are required.
  • No unlimited data, or even large data plans.
  • No PAYG services.

Table of Contents

1. Plans & Pricing

– SIM Only Deals

– Pay As You Go

– Pay Monthly Phones

2. Network Coverage & Speeds

– 2G, 3G & 4G Coverage

– 5G Coverage

– Voice Call Quality

– Wi-Fi Calling & 4G Calling

– Wi-Fi Hotspots

– Tethering

– International Roaming

3. Features

– Virgin Mobile’s Features

– Sky Mobile’s Features

4. Half Cooked’s Overall Breakdown

5. Frequently Asked Questions

Plans & Pricing

SIM Only Deals

At the time of writing, Virgin Mobile offers a number of SIM only deals starting from as little as £7 per month. Having said that, you can only choose a 12-month or 24-month contract if you wish to join their network, meaning you’ll have to undergo a credit check. The network’s unlimited data plans are only available to Virgin Media TV or Broadband customers, but you can still get your hands on a 100GB/month price plan.

Virgin Mobile’s SIM Only price plans include Virgin Media WiFi, which gives you free access to more than 3.5 million WiFi hotspots in the UK and 20 million more across the world; a data rollover scheme, data-free messaging on Facebook Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp (voice and video calls aren’t included), and Wi-Fi Calling. You can also get more SIMs for yourself or for your family members. When you purchase additional SIMs under one account, you get a £2/month discount.

Sky Mobile’s SIM only deals are similar to Virgin Mobile’s; except they don’t offer 24-month contracts. You can choose between five different data plans, but regardless of your choice you’ll be on a 12-month contract, provided you pass a credit check.

The network’s deals include free Sky TV app streaming, free WiFi hotspots thanks to the Cloud (but this service is available to all mobile network customers, it’s just owned by Sky), and you can save any unused data for up to three years! Sky VIP members also get free 5G coverage in the UK. There are no unlimited data plans on Sky Mobile, and the largest data plan currently available is 40GB for £40/month.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

virgin mobile winnerBoth Virgin Mobile and Sky Mobile lock you in for long-term contracts, however Virgin Mobile gives you more plans to choose from, plus you can also opt for a 2-year long contract for cheaper prices. We also believe Virgin Mobile’s SIM only contracts offer a bit more value.

Pay As You Go

Neither Virgin Mobile, nor Sky Mobile have any active pay as you go services. The former used to offer PAYG bundles, which required no credit checks, but this pay as you go service has been terminated as of July 2020.

We would recommend checking out giffgaff’s goodybags, or VOXI’s endless plans. Both networks offer monthly rolling SIM only bundles as well as a traditional pay as you go service. Make sure to read our giffgaff Review and VOXI Review to learn more about each provider!

Half Cooked’s Verdict

We have no winner here as both mobile network providers lack any type of pay as you go service.

Pay Monthly Phones

If you’d like a new mobile phone, you can buy a handset from Virgin Media on a choice of either a 24-month or 36-month plan. A range of handsets are currently available from manufacturers including Apple, Huawei, Samsung, OPPO, and Sony.

Virgin Mobile will also keep your phone bill and airtime bill separate, so you can upgrade your device if you wish to. Another great thing about Virgin Media’s phone contracts is you can switch between their price plans every month, you don’t have to continue using your initial plan choice. If you need more data or if you’re not spending as much as you thought you would, you can simply switch to a new tariff.

Sky Mobile offers a selection of mobile phones from Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Sony and Doro. Their selection is not as wide as Virgin Mobile’s and we think they offer a bit less value, unless you’re specifically interested in benefits of Sky TV or a long-term data rollover feature.

The network’s phone deals come along with a feature called ‘Swap’ and as the name suggests this feature allows you to swap your phone for a new one after a certain amount of time passes.

You can either choose Swap12 or Swap 24.

Swap12 is a 24-month long phone contract. Sky Mobile will allow you to swap to a new phone anytime after 31 days or from month 12 at no extra cost.

Swap24 is a 36-month long phone contract. The carrier will let you swap to a new handset anytime after 31 days or from month 24 with no extra charges.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

virgin mobile winnerVirgin Mobile’s phone deals are more flexible, plus their selection is wider. Some deals include rewards like Apple TV+ or free headphones. Plus you get more features and better coverage with faster data speeds.

Network Coverage & Speeds

2G, 3G & 4G Coverage

4G network coverageAt the time of writing Virgin Mobile is using EE as its network provider, which means they offer the best 4G network coverage in the UK as well as fastest data speeds. All the mobile networks in the UK offer over 99% population coverage, however when it comes to landmass coverage, which is objectively more important, EE takes the lead by a large margin. EE is the UK’s largest network operator and they have over 90% UK geographical coverage, and they’re aiming to reach 95% before the end of the year. Meanwhile Sky Mobile is powered by O2, and it’s host network trails far behind EE in terms of network coverage and data speeds.

According to the latest speed test results published by Open Signal, EE’s average download speeds are around 36Mbps and upload speeds are around 10Mbps. Meanwhile, O2’s average download speeds are around 18Mbps and upload speeds are around 6Mbps.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

virgin mobile winnerThanks to EE’s great infrastructure Virgin Mobile outclasses Sky Mobile in this category. Virgin Mobile customers simply get better network coverage and faster download speeds.

5G Coverage

5gVirgin Mobile doesn’t offer any 5G coverage at the moment, but we expect this to change when the merger between O2 and Virgin Media happens.

Sky Mobile customers can enjoy O2’s 5G coverage in 60 cities and towns if they’re a Sky VIP member or if they’re willing to pay an extra £5 for a 5G add-on. You also must purchase your 5G-ready handset directly from Sky Mobile or there’s a chance 5G just won’t work.

We strongly recommend reading our best 5G networks in the UK guide before you decide to join a network. For example one of the major networks, Three, offers 5G at no extra cost on all their price plans including PAYG services. You can read our Three Review to learn more!

Half Cooked’s Verdict

sky mobile winnerSince Virgin Mobile doesn’t offer a 5G service, Sky Mobile gets an easy win here. Sky provides 5G coverage in 60 cities and towns in the UK thanks to O2.

Voice Call Quality

virgin-mobile-voice-call-qualityMeasuring voice call quality is a big task, and we don’t have the necessary means to do that by ourselves, but thankfully independent testing bodies such as Open Signal, OOKLA and umlaut do. They’re reliable and objective and they perform countrywide tests.

According to these test results Virgin Mobile’s host network EE is taking the lead again in almost every region, while Sky Mobile’s parent network O2 trails significantly behind. This doesn’t mean O2’s coverage or voice call quality is bad though, it’s just not as good or as wide as EE’s. Virgin Mobile’s call setup times are much faster than Sky Mobile’s and the carrier’s overall voice call quality seems to be significantly better. You can read our EE Review to learn what makes it’s network’s coverage superior when compared to all the others.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

sky mobile winnerVirgin Mobile’s host network EE has the best network coverage and best voice call quality performance according to independent testing bodies like OOKLA and Open Signal.

Wi-Fi Calling & 4G Calling

sky-mobile-wifi-calling-4g-calling4G Calling eliminates indoor blackspots while making your voice calls much clearer thanks to larger data transfer capabilities of 4G spectrum.

Wi-Fi Calling complements 4G Calling by utilising an available Wi-Fi connection and keeping your device connected, even when you’re not getting any phone signal.

Both features improve your overall voice call quality, however they’re not always available to customers. Most MVNOs skip these features so that they can offer competitive prices. Even if your network has Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling you’ll still need to pick a plan that includes these features, and you’ll need a compatible handset.

Virgin Mobile customers can enjoy Wi-Fi Calling, but 4G Calling is not available on the network. Meanwhile Sky Mobile offers both 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling on all their plans.

If you wish to get your hands on these two schemes on a 30-day rolling basis, we’d recommend checking out iD Mobile’s pay monthly deals. You can read our iD Mobile Review to learn everything you need to know about the network.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

sky mobile winnerBoth networks have Wi-Fi Calling and it’s available to all their customers, however, Sky Mobile customers can also enjoy 4G Calling, which isn’t an option on Virgin Mobile.

Wi-Fi Hotspots

This is an interesting category because we’re seeing two of the giants go toe to toe when it comes to free Wi-Fi hotspots. On one side we have Sky Mobile and their The Cloud service, which is free for all mobile network customers, provided they create a Sky WiFi account, and on the other side we have Virgin Media WiFi, which has over 3.5 million free WiFi hotspots in the UK and then 20 more million across the world. However on top of this, Virgin Mobile also keeps you connected in over 250 London Underground stations and another 79 London Overground stations.

You also get to enjoy O2’s free WiFi wherever available, but this is not an exclusive deal for either network. Alternatively you can check out BT Mobile’s free WiFi service. Make sure to have a look at our BT Mobile Review.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

virgin mobile winnerSky Mobile’s The Cloud service is a good contender, but then again it’s available to everyone for free. Meanwhile Virgin Mobile’s free Wi-Fi service is only available to their customers.

Tethering

virgin-mobile-tetheringTethering means linking a mobile phone with other compatible devices such as other smartphones, laptops, tablets, video game consoles etc. so they can use the phone’s mobile internet. It’s also known as turning your handset into a personal hotspot.

You can tether freely on both Virgin Mobile and Sky Mobile, but as always we strongly suggest you to opt for a large data plan, or even an unlimited data plan if you’re planning to tether on a regular basis. Your mobile data will be consumed at a much faster rate when tethering. Given how Virgin Mobile’s price plans offer more data at cheaper prices we believe for tethering purposes Virgin is the right choice between the two networks.

We strongly recommend checking out SMARTY’s unlimited data plan or Superdrug’s unlimited data plan if you wish to tether regularly. Don’t forget to read our SMARTY Review and Superdrug Review if you want to learn more about what these networks offer and why we love their unlimited data deals. We also recommend VOXI’s unlimited data plan for regular tethering, plus it comes with 5G coverage!

Half Cooked’s Verdict

virgin mobile winnerTo tether without having to worry, you’ll need large data plans. We believe Virgin Mobile is the better choice for tethering between the two networks, given how they offer larger data plans and even unlimited ones if you’re a Virgin Media TV or Broadband customer.

International Roaming

international roamingEver since the EU roaming regulation changes were introduced in 2017, all the UK mobile network operators must offer inclusive roaming in the EU and some networks expand beyond that.

Virgin Mobile’s inclusive roaming zone covers 43 destinations in Europe, meanwhile Sky Mobile’s international roaming zone has 48 destinations in the EU and EEA. You can also get Sky Mobile’s ‘Roaming Passport Plus’ add-on for £6/day to use your UK allowances in 12 more destinations:

USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Qatar, Switzerland, Thailand, Hong Kong, Turkey and Northern Cyprus, Christmas Islands and Cocos Islands.

If you’re a frequent traveler we’d recommend checking out Vodafone’s Red or Unlimited data deals. The carrier has multiple roaming extras, and their Unlimited Max plan offers 81 free roaming locations across the world. Read our Vodafone Review to discover more about the network! Alternatively, you can read our International Roaming 2020 guide to find the network that suits your needs.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

sky mobile winnerBoth networks offer similar types of inclusive roaming deals, though Sky Mobile offers one extra destination. However, we’re giving the win to Sky Mobile because their Roaming Passport Plus add-on covers an extra 12 destinations.

Features

Virgin Mobile’s Features

Virgin Media WiFi

Virgin Mobile has more than 3.5 million WiFi hotspots in the UK and 20 million more in the world. These Wi-Fi hotspots are exclusive to Virgin Media customers and they come at no extra cost. Virgin Mobile customers can also access free WiFi in more than 250 London Underground stations and 79 London Overground stations.

Data-Free Messaging on Social Media

Virgin Mobile customers can use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger & Twitter without burning through their regular data, however this doesn’t include video and voice calls. These will still use your regular data allowance.

Data Rollover

You get a second chance to use any left over data from the previous month, plus you’ll always use your rolled over data first.

Unlimited Data Plans

If you’re an existing Virgin Media TV or Broadband customer you can get an unlimited data plan from the network. You can choose either a 12-month contract or a 24-month contract.

Virgin Mobile has two unlimited data plan options. Both are identical plans, except one is a 12-month contract, and the other one is 24-months. Unfortunately, both options are only available to Virgin Media TV or Broadband customers.

SKY Mobile Features

Roll

sky-mobile-rollRoll is arguably the best data rollover feature in the UK. Sky Mobile lets you keep your unused data at the end of each month for up to three years. Your unused data is saved in your Sky Piggybank and you can withdraw it in 1GB increments. Alternatively you can cash it in for a new smartphone or tablet, Sky Store vouchers to stream movies and TV shows or Sky Go Extra.

If you have multiple SIMs under one account (or if you’re using it as a family account) all the unused data will be pooled together, allowing you to move data between accounts.

Watch

sky-mobile-watch-v3Sky TV customers with a Sky Mobile SIM can watch Sky TV and use all the other Sky Apps without burning through their general data allowance. They also get free access to Sky Go Extra, which lets them download Sky’s on demand programmes and series.

You can still benefit from Watch, even if you don’t have a Sky TV membership. Some Sky Apps don’t require any subscription but under normal circumstances would eat through your mobile data. Sky Mobile customers can watch these apps without losing any data from their regular allowance.

Mix

sky-mobile-mix-alternativeWhile Sky Mobile locks you in for a long-term contract, they still try to offer you all the flexibility that they can. Thanks to the network’s Mix feature you can switch between any available plans on a monthly basis. If you’re upgrading your plan your new data allowance will be ready to use straight away. However, if you’re downgrading to a lower data allowance you’ll have to wait until your next bill date.

The Cloud

The Cloud is also known as Sky WiFi and it’s a free WiFi service for all mobile customers in the UK. All you need is a compatible phone and a Sky WiFi account, don’t worry it’s free. The Cloud has thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.

Swap

sky-mobile-swap-alternativeThere is more than one way to upgrade your device if you’re a Sky Mobile customer. The network has a feature called ‘Swap’ giving you the flexibility to upgrade your device before your contract ends. You don’t have to use this feature, you can choose to upgrade and keep your old device if you want, but Swap is still a good option to consider.

If your device is still in good condition after 12, 24 or 36 months you won’t have anything extra to pay. Sky Mobile will take your old device and your old device will cover what’s left to pay on your contract.

You can choose to swap early if you want to (before 12 months for Swap12, before 24 months for Swap24 or before 36 months for Swap36), but in that case Sky Mobile will make you an offer but it might not fully cover the rest of your contract.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

sky mobile winnerThis was a close race, because both networks offer some good features that add decent value to their contracts, but we think Sky Mobile is the better choice here. We especially love Sky Mobile’s data rollover feature and Sky Piggybank benefits.

Half Cooked’s Overall Breakdown

virgin mobile winnerWhilst Sky Mobile is a decent network with many good extras, we think Virgin Mobile is the better network between the two. Virgin Mobile has better coverage and speeds, a wider selection of SIM only and pay monthly phone plans and free Wi-Fi across the UK.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Virgin Mobile as fast as EE?

Virgin Mobile’s download speeds are as good as EE’s base plans. However, EE’s premium contracts offer faster 4G download speeds, plus they also get access to EE’s 5G coverage.

Which network does Virgin Mobile piggyback on?

Virgin Mobile is powered by EE at the moment, but this will change in late 2021. Virgin Media and O2 will merge and the network will switch to O2.

Who owns Virgin Mobile?

Virgin Mobile is owned and operated by Virgin Media.

Can I switch to Virgin Mobile and keep my phone number?

Yes, you can easily switch to Virgin Mobile from any other UK based networks and keep your phone number. All you need to do is get your PAC code from your current network and pass it on to Virgin Mobile.

Can I use Virgin Media WiFi if I don’t have a Virgin Mobile SIM?

The short answer is yes, but only if you are a customer to another Virgin Media service. Virgin Media WiFi is exclusive to their customers.

Who owns Sky Mobile? Which network does Sky Mobile use as its network provider?

Sky Mobile is owned by Sky UK and the mobile virtual network operator is using O2 as its network provider. The carrier offers 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G coverage.

Do I have to go through a credit check to join Sky Mobile or Virgin Mobile?

Unfortunately, yes. Both Virgin Mobile and Sky Mobile only offer long-term contract deals and they don’t have any active pay as you go services.

Does Sky Mobile have 4G Calling, VoLTE or Wi-Fi Calling?

Yes, Sky Mobile customers can benefit from both 4G Calling (VoLTE) and Wi-Fi Calling at no extra cost.

Does Virgin Mobile have 4G Calling?

No, while the carrier offers Wi-Fi Calling to their customers, 4G Calling isn’t available on the network.

Does Virgin Mobile have 5G?

No, 5G isn’t available to Virgin Mobile customers, at least not yet.

Does Sky Mobile have any 5G plans?

Yes, Sky Mobile’s 5G plans are available to Sky VIP customers for free. However, you can pay £5/month for a 5G add-on if you wish.