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.