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Frustration as Virgin Media UK Issue Invalid Mobile SIMs Again

Friday, September 4th, 2020 (8:43 am) - Score 8,979

Some of broadband ISP Virgin Media’s UK mobile customers are complaining after they were suddenly issued with a replacement SIM card that doesn’t work in their handsets, instead resulting in a “SIM not valid” message on the screen. The problem is mostly affecting those with older phones, many of which are elderly users.

Funnily enough it’s now been almost exactly a year since Virgin Media last got into trouble with customers for issuing a batch of faulty SIM cards (here), although the situation this time is a bit different but they’re both connected to the operator’s long-running SIM swap programme.

NOTE: Currently Virgin Mobile has a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) agreement to use EE (BT) and, prior to the recent O2 deal, they were due to switch to Vodafone at the end of 2021 (here).

The latest situation appears to have started gradually a few weeks ago and is now becoming much more noticeable as the volume of complaints rise. All of those affected recently received a replacement SIM (this was not requested by all customers, while others got it after an upgrade) and promptly attempted to install it into their existing handsets, which previously worked fine on Virgin Media’s mobile service.

At this point the dreaded “SIM not valid” message pops-up, while those who then attempt to seek support are often struggling to get a response (partly due to the impact from COVID-19). One notable commonality between most, but not all, of these complaints is that the customers are often from the older generation, or more vulnerable users, and thus tend to have older handsets that they may have used for several years.

Various complaints can be found littered across social media about this issue, as well as via Virgin’s own Community Forum (recent examples here, here and here). Some of Virgin’s letters also included an 8 digit unlocking code for the handset in case that was required, but for many people it doesn’t seem to work.

Sample Complaint 1 (Carole)

“I have no idea why I was issued with a new sim. If you go on the website it appears that many people, if not all customers/subscribers were. My handset is a very old one but I was given no warning of the problems I would have (Samsung GT S3100). My phone is now permanently ‘locked’ and I have lost all contact details.

It appears to me and other customers that it is old phones (and so older people) that have the worst problems. I have been given (if it ever arrives) a new free very cheap phone, but as I say have lost all my contacts. While this has been going on I have been unable to receive calls or make them. Not being able to receive calls is a big issue. I am 74 and have various hospital appointments and am concerned I am missing important messages.

Also to do this during this pandemic, knowing, as I believe Virgin did, it would cause big problems is … beyond words.”

Sample Complaint 1 (CRBrett)

“I see from these boards that many customers are being left stranded by Virgin. My parents, both in their eighties, have a basic Nokia mobile phone that fulfils their needs. They have just been told to install a new SIM card which, when it arrived, only produces a “SIM not valid” message on the screen. They have tried several times to speak to a human being to find out how to solve this problem, but have not succeeded in getting through. The help on the Virgin web pages gives no help, and the chat function is non-existent (I can’t find it if it does still exist). They have taken a bus into the local city where two Virgin shops are advertised, but both these have closed.”

Sample Complaint 1 (ter75)

“I have received a new sim for my old nokia model 1100 for a stated upgraded service This sim when installed gives the message ‘sim not valid’ . The help page says device not recognised. The old sim has been replaced in the phone where it works perfectly. What needs to be done to get the new sim working before Virgin disconnect the old sim as they have threatened.”

We raised this issue with Virgin Media and were informed that, prior to beginning their SIM swap programme, they had conducted several checks to help mitigate problems but may have been unable to determine whether or not some older handsets would actually be compatible (e.g. if the phone didn’t originally come directly from Virgin and the device is more than 10 years old).

In order to get around such problems the operator is offering a replacement handset (i.e. the closest equivalent to their existing device). Virgin Media also pointed out that they’ve been writing to inform their mobile customers about the new SIMs since the end of 2017 and expect to reach the end of that programme this year.

A Virgin Media Spokesperson said:

“As part of our journey to become a full MVNO we’re asking some of our customers to swap their SIM card. This update will enable them to access emerging features and technologies as we transition networks and will ensure they can continue to get the most from their mobile services. As always, our priority is to provide our customers with the best service possible.”

Suffice to say it’ll be interesting to see how they transition now that the operator has reached a multi-billion pound agreement to merge with mobile operator O2 (here), which should eventually enable them to become a full (instead of virtual) network operator. Historically major platform migrations between different networks have been fraught with difficulties (just ask TalkTalk).

Leave a Comment
30 Responses
  1. Avatar David says:

    I had the ultimate bundle when it first came out. I ran my year and moved to FTTP. My sim is still going to this day and despite 4 times me asking them to cut it off its still running. It’s a real shame they are going to o2 as at home it’s junk. So when they leave EE I will just go to EE instead.

    1. Avatar David says:

      I also had an invalid sim when I first started. They don’t have a clue sometimes

  2. Avatar AndyC says:

    Are these sims still made “inhouse” like the purple sims they sent out when 4g started?

    I went through 6 sims in the end till they got me one that didnt think i was “roaming” in the uk.

  3. Avatar Michael V says:

    I understand that a lot of users would like to keep their phone for as long as one can. But if I was in that position, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had issues with a phone as old as 10 years, or even 6.
    At least the Operator is assisting them in upgrading.
    As with Three, O2, Voda, EE… Most phones need to be bought directly from them in order for it to support all their networks – e.g. 4G voice/VoLTE, VoWiFi. + other features.
    Unfortunately the Operators don’t communicate this fully to the customers.
    Seems Virgin did a bad job at letting everyone know. But then how many people really read emails or letters from their Network Operator.

  4. Avatar CJ says:

    Presumably this is the same problem as before, the phones are locked to T-Mobile/EE and work with the old Virgin sims which were coded with that network but those can’t be switched to a different network. The new sims have a Virgin network code which won’t work in phones that are locked to T-Mobile/EE.

    If Virgin originally provided the locked phone they really should be able to unlock it, but this is a problem for older customers using an EE-locked phone given to them by a family member. Virgin may not be able to generate a valid unlock code for a phone they didn’t lock in the first place.

    For the phone that is ‘locked’ it’s probably worth trying a 99p EE pay as you go sim, which may get past the network lock.

    As for contacts, if they were stored on the old sim not the phone it should be technically possible to transfer them to a new phone but many people won’t know how to do that and it doesn’t sound like Virgin are doing enough to help.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I suspect you’re correct on this one.

    2. Avatar Stephen Wakeman says:

      What a good case against handset locking this is then. A standard industry practice for decades which is almost entirely unnecessary and highly anti consumer.

      And when it causes problems I’m not sure I or any customer should be sympathetic with the operator because they never had to lock the handsets. But they did and now there are problems.

      So it’s the least they ought to be doing to sort it out for customers with older devices who have remained their customers, seemingly for the entire period of time.

    3. Avatar Tom says:

      If you give virgin mobile a call all they need to do is trigger a network switch going from EE hosted to VM hosted if you have received the SIM card and it does not work

  5. Avatar David Chambers says:

    The main problem is these phones are network locked to what became EE. The new cards report a different network, hence the problem. Giving people unlocking codes is one thing but there is then the question of how they should be entered and there is no help there.
    I frequent the forum and I can say 15 to 20 year old phones is common.
    Virgin originally planned to dump PAYG but relented. Bet they regret that decision!

  6. Avatar Sandra Williams says:

    It’s really difficult now as there is no one to speak to and get help with Virgin as they are not opening any of their shop’s anymore. I used to go in if I had a problem and they were very helpful but now it is a big headache.

  7. Avatar James Lafferty says:

    Thought Virgin were leaving EE and going to use Vodafone 02 network in my area isn’t very good

    1. Avatar CJ says:

      They planned to switch to Vodafone from late 2021, but that may change if the merger with O2 UK goes ahead. It probably depends how much compensation they’d have to pay Vodafone to break the contract.

  8. Avatar Jack says:

    The mention of Virgin Mobile makes me repulsed. Use to be with them since 2002 when they actually had innovation in the market since 2013 its gone downhill so I left in 2016, what a faff! The people who work for them are awful. Rubbish data cost then they brought out them market busting packages a few years ago bit there are so many restrictions to stop you getting what you pay for. Im now with Smarty and I admit there signal is terrible and voice quality could be better but the amount im getting now is more than enough.

  9. Avatar MIA Jones says:

    I managed to get through to customer services after much difficulty only for them to hang up when I told them the problem. I rang back and got the same response from a different person.

    I tried the sim in two different phones and got the same invalid message that’s why I contacted them.

    I have decided the easiest option now is to by a new phone on a different network

  10. Avatar Nicholas says:

    I have the same problem trying to change my media package. Three times I got through and after explaining I am transferred with a long delay and then cut off. You have to get through to cancel so having had 20,000 in the last quarter they won’t let anymore cancel.

  11. Avatar Patrick Mcgeachie says:

    Ditch virgin mobile simple.. it’s easy to change service provider now..

  12. Avatar CHARLES CHEGE says:

    Virgin installed my broadband in Marsh this year and was promised that a seem card will be posted to me later. It is now past six months and no seam has been sent to me despite making several calls and speaking to different people who read from a different script. I have no word to Express my frustration.

  13. Avatar Jackie Aiton says:

    Husband has been with Virgin pay as you go for many years, however over the last few months has had a message to insert a new sim that would be in the post. This was never received, after many attempts to contact them he then received messages to change his sim as he would lose service if he doesnt within the next few days. Eventually after an hours wait he got to speak to someone who said he didnt pass the security questions and hung up on him. He has now lost his service and the money that was topped up on it. Disgusting service and will never use again.

  14. Avatar Jackie Baddams says:

    I thought I was going mad trying to get this new sim set up for my brother. He has a really old Samsung flip phone which he only uses for phone calls. It works perfectly with his old virgin sim but this new one comes up with a network lock message and can’t be used despite inserting the codes provided by virgin. I’ve tried texting them, ringing them and their website to no avail. I just want to speak to someone who can tell me what to do. Their letter makes it seem so simple and it really isn’t.

  15. Avatar Carole Read says:

    I object to the person who said basically ‘What do people expect if they have an old phone?’. Some of us use their phone mainly for calls, texts. The company gave absolutely no warning that there might be a problem with old phones. A responsible company would have warned customers so that we could at least keep info about our contacts and if necessary change our phone.
    But it is obvious from Virgin’s behaviour that the customer is least important. I can’t think of any other industry where a company could be either so incompetent, or so uncaring about its customers, to behave like this.
    I am left with a phone which is locked and have lost all my contact numbers and of course people cannot phone and people cannot phone me. Virgin promised to send a new phone, which, of course, has not arrived and no indication of when it will arrive.
    For various health reasons I need a working mobile to make and receive messages. I would have willingly got another phone if I had had any warning. Virgin should be stopped from trading given the complete immorality of their actions.

  16. Avatar Mrs Hammond says:

    Tom says “If you give Virgin mobile a call…” has he ever tried giving Virgin a call, impossible.
    I received a useless sim card too, it told me it was an invalid sim, I went on line and it asked me to register my mobile number then told me it was not covered.
    It seems strange that it was covered when it was taking my money, after that it shut me down, lost everything including just over £8 that I had on.
    Im well over 70 and my husbands well over 80 and I need this phone for obvious reasons.
    All I can say is that Virgin are incompetent theives, this should not be allowed.

  17. Avatar Charlie says:

    Although I realise Virgin Mobile were/are an MVNO on EE, if these old phones are locked to EE and no longer work now that VM has issued new SIMs with a different network code can’t EE help to unlock these EE-locked phones?

  18. Avatar Faith Caley says:

    I inserted the new sim in my old phone today it said sim was not inserted how silly where di I go from that next?

  19. Avatar Tim Bain says:

    I’m not keen on messing my phone up with the new SIM I didn’t want on one phone, but a good option I did on my other phone was just a new SIM from Smarty mobile, their plans are good, the swap is simple, and if like me you use little or no data it’s a fiver a month for plenty of texts and calls. I used to install for Virgin, they are cowboys who could care less about customers.

  20. Avatar Catherine Williams says:

    I have been recieving texts telling me to text my postcode so they can send me a new SIM, i now have only 10 days before they cut off the old one. My phone stopped sending texts a couple of years ago but i can still recieve them, i bought a new phone but still can’t send texts so the problem must be the SIM! I have tried phoning all the numbers they say to phone but get the same damn message sending me around in circles.I tried to do the online form to send them my postcode, i typed in my details the phone number and the other number they asked for, checked everything carefully to make sure there were no mistakes, but it wouldn’t accept it, i kept getting the message the second number they asked for was not recognised, well it’s on the bloody card they printed, i’m bloody furious!!! I eventually got their damn online live chat, wrong dept so was put through to the correct one, they insisted they couldn’t do it from there i would have to do it on line i already explained i’d tried that three times and it wouldn’t accept the form!!! I only have the damn phone for emergencies as i am caring for my elderly stepdad, i have more important things to do than go chasing after Virgin for a bloody SIM i never asked for, it’s change for the sake of change, nothing more!!!

  21. Avatar Elizabeth low says:

    I’m in the same position as everyone else help!!!!!

  22. Avatar Tom Winchester says:

    They can’t cut you off just because your not your not using the new sim,(which they haven’t sent..lol)
    It’s illegal.

    1. Avatar Mrs Hammond says:

      Illegal or not they do it.

  23. Avatar Peter says:

    BINGO I had the same issue with 7 days to go and after reading this item I had all but given up.I decided to put the new sim in an unlocked phone. I instantly got a reply ‘your new sim has been activated’. It now shows as Tmobile. I guessed this must mean the unlock codes from virgin must be for the phone but needless to say did not work. I searched the internet and found a free code for the old phone and with nothing to lose put it in. Success I now have the new sim in its original Nokia 1100. {Unlock code from unlocks.co.uk)

  24. Avatar John Lovesey says:

    Can no one offer help to resolve this ridiculous situation?

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