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.
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).