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O2 UK Data Traffic 3G Throttling Slows EU Mobile Broadband Roaming

Wednesday, Jul 26th, 2017 (10:49 am) - Score 3,018

Mobile operator O2 UK has admitted that they are throttling internet data traffic on their 3G (Mobile Broadband) connections for pay monthly contract customers who go roaming around the European Union. Some operators also struggled to deliver a good 4G connection while abroad.

By now most people will be aware that the EU’s new “Roam like at Home” regulations came into force on 15th June 2017 (here), which means that anybody choosing to use their Mobile (SIM) to make calls, text or use data while roaming around the EU should be able to do so for the same price as they pay their UK operator (i.e. no extra roaming charges, albeit with a few limits on data use).

O2’s related Europe Zone bolt-on promises that “if you’re travelling within our Europe Zone, your minutes, data and texts will work just as they do at home,” except several customers have now shown that this isn’t entirely true (O2 Forum). One customer (Darren) decided to demonstrate this by conducting a series of tests across several mobile operators while roaming in Ireland (Dublin) and here’s a sample (spot the pattern).

1st Test Manchester Airport Terminal 3 (7AM)

O2 Contract        4G Signal              8.52Mbps Down, 7.19Mbps Up
Three Contact     3G Signal              Data did not work for 2 Hours being in airport
Vodafone            4G Signal              15.96Mbps Down, 10.44Mbps up
BT Mobile           4G Signal              4.81Mbps Down, 8.54Mbps up

2nd Test Dublin Airport Terminal 1 (9AM)

O2 Contract        3G Only                0.25Mbps Down, 0.30Mbps Up
Three                  3G Only                7.46Mbps Down, 1.07Mbps Up
Vodafone            3G                        6.07Mbps Down, 3.93Mbps Up
BT Mobile           3G                        3.16Mbps Down, 1.64 Up

3rd Test Centre of Dublin O’Connell Street (10.30AM)

O2 Contract        3G Only                 0.49Mbps Down, 0.58Mbps Up
O2 PAYG            3G Only                1.84Mbps Down, 0.44Mbps Up
Three                  3G Only                7.46Mbps Down, 1.07Mbps Up
Vodafone            4G                        26.30Mbps Down, 11.01Mbps Up
Tesco PAYG      3G Only                 2.09Mbps Down, 1.12Mbps Up
BT Mobile           3G                         4.59Mbps Down, 1.21Mbps Up
Asda Mobile       3G                         3.89Mbps Down, 0.46Mbps Up

Various other tests were also conducted and generally Vodafone came out best, at least for roaming around in Dublin where they often secured a 4G signal and usually delivered the best speeds. However the same could not be said for O2’s Contract SIM, which only ever made use of 3G and usually delivered download speeds that were pretty consistently below 0.6Mbps in nearly every location.

According to Darren, “O2 Contract is throttled beyond [belief]. You could see the phone trying its hardest and on many occasions starting the speed test I was getting 10+ Mbps, however throttling kicked in and it went straight to 0.50 mostly. I’m appalled that it’s still throttled badly and its shocking that 4G is still not available. What I can tell you though is that 4G is trying to Activate on O2, but it forces your phone back to 3G.” O2 has now confirmed to The Register that limits do apply, but not for much longer.

A Spokesperson for O2 said:

“We have put temporary measures in place to protect the service experience for customers roaming in the EU. We are working to have these controls removed within the coming weeks.”

The EU’s related regulations require that “the same tariff conditions apply for the use of mobile services while roaming abroad in the Union and at home” (here), although clearly O2 have not been keeping to the spirit of this. In fairness we can’t completely blame UK mobile operators for the performance of networks in other countries, although in this case O2 can exert control to restrict service speeds for roaming customers.

As usual there probably wouldn’t have been such a fuss about this had the operator mentioned such caveats when they adopted the policy, which of course they didn’t. At the same time the testing that has been conducted is rather limited and it would be good to see how different operators fair around other EU countries, but that would require professional testing as most people don’t carry multiple SIMs or visit lots of countries in a short space of time.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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