UK zero-rating arms race continues as Virgin adds free-tweets

No sooner does Three offer unmetered Netflix streaming for some mobile subscribers than Virgin Mobile throws Twitter into its zero-rating mix.

Virgin was one of the first UK MNOs to use zero-rating as a subscriber lure, announcing late last year that it was offering WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger use exempt from any use of data allowance. At the time this looked like less of a concession than it seemed as sending an IM is not a very data intensive thing.

Three raised the stakes significantly last week by zero-rating Netflix, TVplayer, Soundcloud and Zeezer on its ‘Go Binge’ tariff. This is a far more substantial concession as streaming services, especially video ones, are considerably more data intensive, so much so that most people restrict their streaming to when they have a wifi connection.

Virgin has wasted little time in responding by adding Twitter to its zero-rating mix. This is a step up as Twitter is more than just an IM service but once more each tweet consumes an insignificant amount of data so you would need to be a pretty compulsive tweeter to find this offer compelling. Furthermore Virgin is excluding live video streaming tweets from the offer which a) diminishes it considerably and b) has the potential to backfire via bill-shock from users presuming everything on Twitter is zero-rated.

“Our customers want more than extra texts and minutes – they want innovative new services that really make a difference to them,” said Jeff Dodds, MD of Mobile at Virgin Media. “We want to focus our services towards how our customers use their devices and live their lives, giving them value that they can see and understand.

“That’s why we’ve expanded our data-free social offering to include Twitter which, when combined with fast 4G and data rollover, is transforming the future of social messaging on mobile and ensuring our customers never have to worry about keeping connected to the things and people they love.”

While this latest Virgin Mobile offer again contains more style than substance it is clever use of limited resources. As video and audio consumption increasingly move towards the streaming model, Zero-rating of such things is likely to become a more central consumer requirement. Net-neutrality debates notwithstanding we’re probably headed towards a future when mobile data will increasingly be unmetered, but in the meantime there is probably some marketing capital to be earned from announcements such as these.

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