Phones

Who provides the Virgin Mobile network?

Woman on smartphone
Network confusion: find out who's behind Virgin Mobile (Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

Virgin Mobile is not a ‘proper’ mobile network. It’s a virtual network (MVNO) that piggybacks on the networks of other providers. Trying to work out who provides the Virgin Mobile network is a bit of a head-scratcher, because it involves three different networks. Strap in and we’ll try and unpick it.

Virgin Mobile and EE

Since the day it was formed in 1999, until quite recently, Virgin Mobile ran on the EE network.

Actually, that’s not quite true – when it first launched, Virgin Mobile was based on the One2One network, which later became T-Mobile, which later merged with Orange to become EE. EE was subsequently bought by BT. Still with us? Good, because it’s about to get a slice more complicated.

Virgin Mobile and Vodafone

In 2019, Virgin Mobile announced it was ending its deal with EE and moving over to the Vodafone network from 2021.

That transition started happening in January this year, meaning that customers taking new contracts or upgrading to 5G services are now running on Vodafone’s network. However, the vast bulk of Virgin Mobile customers are – at the time of writing in July 2021 – still on EE. The remaining customers will be moved over to Vodafone by the early part of next year, so I’m told by a Virgin Media spokesperson.

Is there any easy way to find out whether you’re on EE or Vodafone? The easiest method is probably to give Virgin Mobile customer services a call (789 from your Virgin Mobile phone) and ask them.

The more complicated method – and thanks to my PC Pro colleague Paul Ockenden for this tip – is to download the Network Info II app for Android, and then look for the MCC+MNC number in the Device tab. It will be a five-digit number, such as 23430. The 234 indicates the country is the the UK, the 30 indicates the parent network, in this case EE. Check the MNC number against the list here.

Virgin Mobile and O2

“Hang about,” I can hear a few readers shouting at their screen. “Didn’t I read that Virgin Media had merged with O2? Y’know, the mobile network O2.”

No, you weren’t hallucinating. Virgin Media (Virgin Mobile’s parent company) and O2 did complete their merger in June 2021. Naturally, you’d expect Virgin Mobile to soon be swapping once more to the O2 network… and, for the time being, you’d be completely wrong.

Virgin Mobile signed a five-year deal with Vodafone, which only commenced at the start of 2021. However, in a recent set of financial results, Virgin Media O2 stated:

“In November 2019, we entered into a new 5-year MVNO deal with Vodafone that enabled the launch of 5G services for our mobile customers in the U.K. in January 2021. Following the formation of the Joint Venture, notice has been given to cancel this MVNO agreement.”

There are no details yet on when Virgin Mobile customers will be moved to the O2 network, but we’ll update this article if we get any more information.

Richard Branson

Does Richard Branson own Virgin Media?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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  • Thanks, the android app does work, but lots of warnings due to being targetted to old version, will uninstall after use Your MNC number link gets Google spam warning, and redirect to http://www.smscarrier.eu/en, list now seems to be at https://www.mcc-mnc.com/
    My Virgin SIM was definitely on EE before, but seems to have changed to Vodafone automagically with code 23415

  • just joined virgin from Vodafone thinking I would still be on Vodafone network as good in my area but it looks like its o2? not good for me now

    • Virgin moved customers to Vodafone earlier this year and are now moving them again to O2, apparently will be completed over the next 3 months. I have 4 family phones on Virgin mobile, 2 have already moved to O2, they were 2 that had numbers ported to Virgin, not sure that is significant. They do not inform users of the switch nor do they require new SIMs to be sent out. The easy way you can tell what Network you are on is to do a manual search for mobile Networks, I can See Virgin, EE, O2 and Three, no sign of Vodafone which means I am on Virgin over Vodafone at the moment. I am waiting to see what O2 coverage is like, Virgin over Vodafone in my area is much worse than over EE for me. I am likely to go back to EE if not resolved soon, main issue I have is “4G connection showing, but no internet access”, I suspect as jilted partners Vodafone are not giving good service to Virgin customers.

      • Thanks for this info, really helpful, I did a bit of research and saw that they pulled out of the deal with Vodafone, I ported my number so I guess that’s why I am on o2 now. not good signal at work or home so not sure what to do thanks again

  • Looks like Virgin are switching to O2.

    Have VM sim 2 years now, had perfect signal everywhere I need it. About 8-10 months ago quality dropped a lot.
    Checked now: 234 10 – looks like O2 network.
    Unfortunately, not sure what was before: EE or Vodafone. That knowledge would be helpful when choosing new provider

  • Up to 2021 Virgin were using EE. They moved to Vodafone towards the end of the year, but then in 2022 are moving everyone over to O2. Moves were phased, not everyone at the same time, our family phones all now on O2 which has poor network coverage compared to EE for me. They did not communicate with customers, no SIM swap needed. I got an obscure phone notification about checking roaming settings on the recent last switchover to O2. 8-10 months ago would have been EE I am sure, but 2020/2021 not good time to compare to, the streets much busier now! There has been steady network upgrades with the roll out of 5G, and some degrades as old services removed to make way for new…. I keep getting “4G connection, but very slow data connection” in nearby city – local network congestion, but maybe it’s just time for a new phone…

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