Mobile Network Crossover Confusion

HTC Desire - The DesktopFor the last couple of years I’ve been a happy T-Mobile customer.

Despite working for one of the UK’s few Vodafone service providers, I have stuck to T-Mobile through most of my career in telecommunications.

Last week, T-Mobile and Orange, began sharing their 2G and 3G network with each other.  In layman’s terms, this means that the customers of one network can now roam, free of charge, on the other network.

This is great for me, my t-mobile coverage at home is patchy at best.  I get a great signal in the kitchen and parts of upstairs but almost nothing whilst sat on my sofa.

So when an Orange-using colleague alerted me that the service was live, I checked my eligibility for the service and signed up.

I read the blurb before actually sending off the text to sign up, mainly to check for hidden costs or any kind of problems that could arise.  I was pleased to see that T-Mobile had covered their backs with a whole host of disclaimers about potential glitches and messages that could arise.

Picking up Orange 2G signal is just the start of what we will be able to offer, and as we are at the beginning of this process, there might be a few quirky side-effects when you first start picking up Orange signal.

Most of the side-effects come because your phone thinks it is roaming internationally even though you are still in UK. We are working with all phone manufacturers on ironing these out, so keep an eye on our website for further developments.

Before I continue; I should mention that, one of my biggest telephony bug bears at the moment is OFCOM’s insistence, that we are all placed on (somewhat controversial) adult content bars by default.  The ruling is such that your mobile phone provider must verify that the user of the phone is 18 years of age or older to have the bar lifted.  Furthermore, the definition of “Adult Content” can extend to perfectly innocent websites and even web games, such as Farmville or Echo Bazaar.  (Of which, only the latter is of interest).

I primarily use my phone for internet use.  At home it hooks into my wireless network, elsewhere I use my 3G data connection.

On Saturday, I could not browse the Internet.  I could pick up google and such but many of my regular forums and so forth were blocked by T-Mobile as being adult content.

HTC Desire - Tricorder AppWords cannot express my rage.

6 months ago, I jumped through hoops to get the bar removed from my partner’s phone, which is on my account.  At the time, we had to actually visit the T-Mobile shop and convince them that we were both adults and that children would not be able to access our phones.  At that time I confirmed that my own adult content bar had been lifted.

Therefore Saturday, stewing with an inner fury, we visited the T-Mobile shop in Huddersfield’s Kingsgate Centre again.

After the obligatory 15 minute wait, one staff member broke off from the tedium of registering a new customer and offered:

Is it just a query? I can probably help you quickly if it’s just a query.

I explained my situation, controlling my anger well.

Actually, it’s a bit complicated.  I rely on my phone for Internet use and for some reason, you’ve placed my adult content bar back on.

The chap seems to agree that it is a little more than “just a query” and finishes dealing with his client.

When he eventually gets back to me, he postulates that the adult content bar can sometimes re-enable when a phone returns to the network after roaming away.  It doesn’t take a particularly high IQ to put two and two together; and so, as he logs into his PC to check my account, I ask:

I’ve just signed up to roam onto Orange, you know, now that you’re sharing your networks with each other.  Could that have anything to do with it?

He agrees, that could very well be the reason the bar has returned.  Still clicking through the various options on his PC he offers that the Orange sharing option isn’t really for Internet use anyway and that T-Mobile will charge me £7.50 per megabyte for roaming on Orange.

You did know that didn’t you?

Well I didn’t actually but standard the standard Englishman’s defensive pride had kicked in by then, so I respond with:

Well, yes… of course… durrr.

By this point, he is still tapping away through T-Mobile’s system.  I quickly disable data roaming and cross my fingers.

Well this is strange sir.  You already have your adult content bar lifted.

Tsk.  I offer out my HTC Desire and click the refresh link on the web page showing, Fallen London.

It loads, without message or error.  The data roaming option must have acted as an adult content bar as far as T-Mobile’s APN was concerned.

Sheepishly, I thank the chap for his time and leave the shop.

At this point, the burden of £7.50 per megabyte starts to sink in.  Wow.  I mean, I use a lot of Internet traffic on my phone and whilst I use wi-fi at home, if I’ve roamed onto Orange anywhere else then I could be facing quite a high bill.

Looking into it further though, these charges are not mentioned anywhere.  £7.50 per megabyte is the standard T-Mobile cost for any data that is roamed outside of the EU.  Additionally, all the details regarding the ability to roam onto Orange state that there will be no additional charges.

If I have to turn on data roaming will it now mean when I go abroad I might get charged to use the internet?

Yes, you will always be charged extra to use the internet when you are abroad.

If you’ve had to turn on ‘data roaming’ on your smartphone so you can pick up Orange signal in the UK, then you’ll need to remember to turn it off again when you leave the UK. Otherwise you’ll get charged, and if you’ve got an ‘always on’ smartphone, the charges could end up being really high if you travel outside the EU, so don’t forget!

Our costs for using the internet abroad are £1 for 3MB in the EU (with a Booster) and £7.50 per MB for the rest of the world. Find out more about EU Internet Boosters. We’ll text you when you land to remind you about the charges.

And even clearer:

I’ve got an iPhone or Android phone and keep getting a warning message about ‘data roaming’ charges, what should I do?

Don’t worry – you won’t pay any extra to use your phone in the UK.

When your phone switches to Orange signal, it thinks you’re abroad because that’s normally the only time it changes between signals. Android phones and iPhones have an ‘always on’ data connection, so if you were abroad, you would incur charges for this, which is what your phone thinks is happening. But don’t worry, you won’t get charged any more while you’re in the UK.

But remember, if you do go abroad, you will be charged so you’ll need to turn off data roaming when you leave the UK.

So I now think the chap in the T-Mobile shop was possibly incorrect.  I won’t know for sure until I receive next month’s bill.

So, I’ve disabled Data Roaming on my device but I can still roam onto Orange for voice and text services, which is handy.  The service is actually very good, although I would advise people to switch off data roaming, if only to stop their adult content bars from being replaced.

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