Virgin Media is leaving BT’s mobile network for rival Vodafone from late 2021, in a five-year deal that will give its customers access to new services including 5G.
Under the deal, Vodafone will supply wholesale mobile services including voice and data to over three million Virgin Mobile and Virgin Media Business customers until 2026.
“This agreement with Vodafone will bring a host of fantastic benefits and experiences to our customers, including 5G services in the near future,” said Virgin Media chief executive Lutz Schuler.
Virgin pioneered the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) model, when a company offers own-brand mobile services on the network of an established partner company.
“Twenty years ago Virgin Mobile became the world’s first virtual operator and this new agreement builds on that heritage,” Schuler said.
“We’ve worked with BT to provide mobile services for many years and will continue to work together in a number of areas. We want our customers to have a limitless experience – it’s now the right time to take a leap forward with Vodafone to grow further and faster,” he added.
BT’s share price fell 4.5 per cent to 193.5p following the deal.
Virgin Media’s current MVNO deal with BT has been in place since the start of 2017, and will come to an end at the end of 2021. Existing Virgin customers will not need to change their SIM cards when the switchover occurs.
The deal marks a significant shift for Vodasone in its home market. The mobile operator had previously largely avoided MVNO partnerships, unlike rivals such as EE and O2.
Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffrey said: “We are delighted that Virgin has recognised the huge investments we’ve made, and continue to make, in building the UK’s best mobile network and our role in challenging the market with new commercial services.”
“This is an exciting deal between two great British brands. We are combining our strong heritage in innovation to create a world without limits for our customers through unlimited data offers and 5G.”
Ru Bhikha, mobiles expert at Uswitch.com, called the move a “surprise”, adding that it could be the first step towards creating a new rival to BT and EE.
“Vodafone has been offering its customers tariffs based on unlimited data, so any similar offering by Virgin Media could be a huge draw for new users,” Bhikha said.
“It will be interesting to see how far the new partnership crosses over, and whether Virgin Media customers will receive access to Vodafone’s rewards and their VeryMe platform.
“This joint venture also increases speculation that the two companies could work together in a more formal capacity in the future, potentially taking on the partnership of BT and EE.”
Main image credit: Getty