Friday, 9 March 2012

Tortoise or Hare? O2 or Virgin?

YOU remember the story of the tortoise and the hare. And, if you don't, you'll remember this: slow and steady wins the race.

It's pushing it a bit to call O2 slow and steady - they're one of the faster ADSL2+ providers - but put them next to Virgin Media and, well, they go back into their shell.

So, who should you pick: Virgin or O2 broadband?

How big is the speed difference between these two? It's not to be sniffed at.

The statistics below are daily averages from Ofcom's last large-scale speed test, compared with the advertised 'up to' speeds for each deal.

In short: Virgin Media are knocking O2 out of the park.

For those in a fibre area (check Virgin Media availability here) with a large household or a fondness for streaming video those speeds should make Virgin an easy winner.

However, note that the two top O2 unlimited broadband deals - All Rounder and The Works - now offer truly unlimited downloads so, given that the cheaper Virgin Media deals have somewhat draconian fair use policies they may not be the best bet for very heavy downloaders.

The fact that Virgin Media's deals over 30Mb get the provider's superfast superhub, much better than O2's bog-standard wireless router, should also make a big difference to broadband speeds which can degrade by around 30% over a wireless connection and more with a poor quality modem.

Only O2 The Works offers one of the top wireless 'N' routers.

However, although Virgin Media beat O2 on broadband speed O2 win in the rest of our categories: price, flexibility and customer service.

O2 give big discounts to their pay monthly and PAYG mobile phone customers: about £5 off their broadband every month plus free connection, rather than a £25.53 fee.

Even without an O2 mobile, they're cheaper than Virgin but, with an O2 mobile, they beat Virgin definitively (for simplicity, we've excluded set up fees and introductory discounts in this comparison).

That's true of the most basic deals...

... but even when customers choose to go up a notch and take better broadband and more calls O2's comparative package prices are still beating Virgin's.

* note that the O2 prices are for their mobile customers, for non-O2 customers add £5.

Line rental prices

As you can see above, part of the reason that O2 is cheaper than Virgin is that their line rental prices are far lower, reducing the overall cost of their deals significantly.

Note that when you take Virgin Media broadband and phone, the provider hides the cost of their extra calls (i.e. it's always £13.90 no matter how many calls are included) and, instead, adds the extra cost to the broadband price.

The list below, then, is a guide to the approximate cost of Virgin Media line rental when you add in those extra call costs in a bundle.

As you can see, however, the cheapest O2 line rental deal doesn't come with any inclusive landline calls. That means it'll only really be good value for those who never or only very rarely use their home phone.

However, even comparing like with like, O2 consistently come out on top in terms of line rental price.

The increase of £7.90 a month would, for example, work out as an effective price increase of £94.80 a year.

Finally, though, it's well worth noting that Virgin Media are the only provider who allow home broadband users to go completely phone-line free, although ditching line rental altogether does mean an extra few pounds a month on the price of broadband.

Virgin Media contracts run for between 12 and 18 months, with the shorter contract being offered to those who don't take line rental.

The cheapest O2 contracts are also 12 months long but the provider does offer a 30-day rolling contract, albeit for a small fee.

As with all large broadband providers, both O2 and Virgin Media have had their share of bad reviews.

Neither seriously underperforms when it comes to customer service but if pushed to choose Virgin or O2 we'd go for the latter.

O2 are proud of their UK call centres and, while that doesn't necessarily equal better service, it seems to have given them the incentive to actually deliver better, faster answers to customer problems.

Still undecided? Check out our dedicated review of O2 broadband and our guide to whether or not Virgin Media is any good.

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