Tuesday, 6 March 2012

BT Infinity vs Virgin Media XXL

THEY'RE the biggest broadband providers offering the fastest fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) internet access in the UK but which one's the best?

The good news is that a little competition has done both companies good.

Both BT and Virgin Media are desperate for your business and there's an option to suit almost every household in terms of price and downloads.

So, first things first: who does the fastest broadband cheapest?

Here are the current cheapest options for both providers:

As you can see, by this basic measure, BT are currently winning on price.

However, the reason they can charge less is that their cheapest option comes with a 40GB download limit, unlike Virgin Media's service which is unlimited.

Do downloads matter?

40GB isn't a small allowance and it should suffice for those that largely want superfast to stream a good few hours of video a night without interruption, as well as surfing and checking emails.

For P2P lovers, gaming or streaming addicts, however, either unlimited Infinity or Virgin Media XXL are likely to be a better bet.

BT Infinity's unlimited deal comes with a fairly fair fair use policy.

XXL's fair use policy is also very lenient: only those who have had the upload speed upgrade to 5Mbp/s will have upload speeds restricted during peak times.

All in all, however, there's little difference between the two in how downloads are managed.

Ditch your phone line

Virgin Media do distinguish themselves, however, by allowing customers to sign up without a phone line, although the price cut for doing so is somewhat lower than you might expect.

Virgin Media XXL without home phone is £30 a month for the first three months and £35 a month thereafter.

BT Infinity's cheapest deal is just a few pounds more but ditching your home phone line means potentially making bigger savings overall by not paying for landline calls, plus avoiding any future price increases on line rental from either provider.

More on broadband without a phone line »

One provider advertises up to 50Mb and the other one only up to 40Mb but is there actually any difference in reality?

The technical difference between BT and Virgin Media resides in how their respective superfast networks connect to your home.

BT's 'up to 40Mb' Infinity broadband service uses superfast fibre optics to link together BT exchanges and green street cabinets, creating a fibre-to-the-cabinet network.

From there, BT connect to your home via a normal copper phone line, referred to as 'the last mile'.

Virgin Media have a separate fibre optic network which runs underneath the pavements of the areas in which it is installed (remember the chaos of all that digging?) and then there's a short stretch of more efficient coaxial cable that connects a customer's home to the fibre connection outside.

This also helps to explain why BT advertises it services as 'up to' 40Mb - it doesn't know exactly how far away your house is from the street cabinet.

Close by and you could receive 35-40Mb, further away and perhaps only 25-30Mb, a possibility Virgin have been keen to play up ever since the BT Infinity launch.

Virgin Media likes to gloat that it can always guarantee an advertised speed thanks to the close proximity of its fibre to every customer's home.

Future speeds

However, the advertised speeds on a package like BT Infinity are likely to increase as BT will gradually deploy new technologies to boost speeds in years to come.

In fact, BT has already announced that it will be upping the maximum speed of its 'up to 40Mb' packages to 'up to 80Mb' fairly shortly.

Virgin Media has also launched a 100Mb package which was, in turn, trumped by BT, who began pimping a 110Mb fibre-to-the-home deal.

Finally, both Virgin Media and BT are big on broadband bundles - phone, broadband and TV all on one bill - and focusing on finding the best one is often a larger practical concern than worrying about a few Mb difference in speeds.

As you can see from our Virgin or Sky guide, it's a tricky question.

BT vs Virgin TV

Both Virgin Media and BT offer TV deals through their cable network to really make the most of their superfast speeds. We go into both in more detail in our BT broadband, phone & Vision review and is Virgin Media any good guide.

Both offer a large range of on-demand content, at least some of which is free to all customers, all the core Freeview channels and movies or Sky sports for an additional monthly fee.

However, Virgin Media has the edge for the sheer number of channels available - 175 with TV XL - and its TiVo box, one of the top set-top boxes on the market.

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