Clever Virgin offer puts WhatsApp and Messenger centre stage

7 Nov 2016

WhatsApp and Messenger now included in Virgin UK deal. Image: quka/Shutterstock

Virgin Media in the UK has revealed a new data plan for customers, withdrawing unlimited data but making WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger use absolutely free.

We recently spoke with Erik Meijer, who works in Deutsche Telekom’s group innovation section, on the current carrier model around the world.

“The system is broken,” he told “We are [just] selling subscriptions to handsets.”

Future Human


Meijer argued that the whole telecoms industry was due an upheaval, pioneered in particular by John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom’s US operation.

Meijer credits Legere as a man leading a revolution in the mobile carrier industry, having made “13 separate non-carrier moves” already.

The most notable is T-Mobile’s decision to ditch two-year contracts in 2013 and reduce global roaming fees.

Now every company is actively seeking ways to suit customers in areas, other than base price or base speeds. In the UK, Virgin Media is front and centre.

Virgin Media is offering its mobile customers free messaging on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and the ability to “roll over” unused data as it launches its 4G offers in the UK.

Virgin Media mobile customers who accept one of the new plans will be able to send messages, pictures and videos through WhatsApp and Messenger without eating into their monthly data allowance.

It sounds small, but this shift is huge. Instant messaging widely used by smartphone owners. By using Facebook’s wildly popular Messenger tools, this is a gimmick of sorts that will appeal to a significant number of potential customers.

“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,” said Peter Kelly, MD of mobile at Virgin Media.

Meijer’s claims that the ground was shifting beneath carriers is ringing true, with Virgin’s move just one of many creative contracts.

For example, Mobile Vikings in Belgium popped up out of nowhere in recent years and, in a very short space of time, started taking chunks out of the market.

Aimed at smartphone users with no interest in making calls, Mobile Vikings could send a sim card to users for little or no money, armed with almost entirely data-based capacity.

“That was applying to the high-tech, highly affluent market, and they immediately dented telecoms companies’ revenues,” said Meijer.

Virgin is aiming at something broader than the highly affluent, though. Should instant messaging be the way to attract sufficient customers, then the days of paying for individual texts could also, perhaps, become a thing of the past.

WhatsApp and Messenger now included in Virgin UK deal. Image: quka/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic