Virgin Media returns to mobile growth as 55% take 4G

Virgin Media has returned to mobile growth as strong demand for its 36 month ‘Freestyle’ contracts, which split the cost of handsets and tariffs, boosted revenues and lifted its customer base to 3.1 million.

The Liberty Global-owned firm added 63,000 contract customers during the fourth quarter – a tenfold year on year increase – but overall growth was just 33,000 due to a decline in pay-as-you-go customers, which is typical within the industry.

More than half (55 per cent) of its customers are now using 4G, which is astonishing given Virgin Media has only offered 4G since late 2016.

Virgin Mobile growth

Total mobile revenues rose by 17 per cent during Q4, however due to accounting changes, subscription revenue fell by seven per cent. This is because unlike subsidised handset sales, ‘Freestyle’ handsets are counted as a separate revenue stream.

Virgin Mobile was the UK’s first mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) when it launched in 1999 on the One2One network and became part of Virgin Media in 2007 following the merger of NTL and Telewest.

It renewed its MVNO deal with EE last year and now has much more control over its network, becoming a ‘thick’ MVNO that has responsibility for billing, SIM cards and other network components. This makes it much easier for it to roll out new services and avoid a repeat of the delayed 4G launch.

Virgin Media boasted of a “strong start” to its MVNO platform migration since it began in November and expects SIM migration to be complete before the end of 2019.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.