Virgin Media tries to tart-up new 4G service with zero rating makeover

In a bid to differentiate its new consumer 4G service Virgin Media is flirting with the net neutrality debate by zero-rating WhatsApp and Messenger.

That’s the headline initiative, but the more significant innovation may be allowing punters to roll over unused data from one month to the next. Regular OTT messaging only consumes a small amount of data – a few KB – per message, so that concession seems quite cosmetic, although less so for people into picture and video messaging. The ability to preserve unused data, however, does address a real consumer pain-point.

Virgin seems to have identified tariff innovation as the main way to differentiate its new 4G (EE MVNO) offering, which itself is as much a multiplay bundle sweetener as it is a going concern in its own right. The basic tariff table is shown below for SIM-only. Virgin does also bundle handsets, but is pricing them separately from the service contract, as is the current fashion.

  £6 £9 £12 £15 £25
Minutes 300 1500 2500 2500 5000
Texts Unl Unl Unl Unl Unl
Data 300MB 1GB 2GB 4GB 20GB
Added Value WhatsApp/ Messenger
Data Rollover

 Peter Kelly, Managing Director of Mobile at Virgin Media, said: “Virgin Media’s new mobile plans are fast, flexible and filled with data,” said Peter Kelly, MD of Mobile at Virgin Media. “By offering free messaging on WhatsApp and Messenger we’re making sure that Virgin Media customers never have to worry about messaging friends or family and if there’s data left over at the end of the month then we’ve got that covered too.”

Ernest Doku of uSwitch seems to think Virgin might have some success with this new product. “Although these apps don’t consume huge amounts of data, 42% of British mobile users continue to spend an extra £40 per year on out-of-tariff mobile charges – and with around four in ten incurring these costs by exceeding their mobile data allowances – so every little helps,” he said. “This should be the sort of stimulus to get Virgin Mobile’s customer-base moving in the right direction, an MVNO that has waited long enough for lack of access to EE’s 4G spectrum.”

These prices are competitive with other UK SIM-only MVNOs such as GiffGaff and the innovations will persuade a lot of people to at least consider it. Whether that will be enough to grab share from giant multiplay competitors BTEE and Sky is another matter.

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