Mobile customers still aren't 'roaming like at home' in EU

3 August 2017, 15:47   By Samantha Smith

MOBILE customers are still failing to "roam like at home" in the EU even after the abolition of roaming charges, with many complaining that their providers are restricting their overseas mobile usage.

mobile phone roaming
Credit: McLittle Stock/

The EU abolished roaming charges for citizens of its member states on June 25th, with many UK providers jumping the gun by providing free European roaming before this date.

However, after complaints from customers that their speeds were prohibitively slow, O2 admitted last week that they were throttling their network so as "to protect the service experience for customers roaming in our Europe Zone".

Yet given that complaints have also emerged from Three customers regarding their lack of 4G services while in the EU, and given that Virgin Mobile customers reported not being able to data roam while in Europe, it would seem that legally providing the ability to "roam like at home" isn't quite the same as actually providing the ability.

Virgin Mobile 'issue'

Related News
EU fair use policy favours provides
Operators say no to UK roaming
Digital Single Market plans announced
EE top network performance rankings

The problems first emerged at the start of last week when a number of Virgin Mobile customers reported that they were unable to use data roaming while sunning themselves in various European hotspots, including Spain and Italy.

In fact, such issues were still occurring a week later, with one less-than satisfied customer tweeting the following:

Virgin Mobile responded to such gripes by stating that the problems were limited in nature, with a spokesperson saying, "We are aware of an issue affecting a very small number of pay monthly customers who are required to activate their data roaming services. We are working hard to resolve this issue".

O2 throttling

Yet while Virgin Mobile's predicament appeared to be unintended and restricted in nature, it soon appeared that one provider at least was intentionally restricting the ability of their customers to roam as normal in Europe.

This was O2, whose holidaying customers began issuing similar complaints to those of Virgin Mobile's, although in their case they were affected by very limited speeds rather than a complete lack of a data connection.

Not only did customers complain, but one even went so far as to conduct his own private experiment, carrying out speed tests while in Dublin to prove that O2 speeds were significantly lower than usual.

The top speed he recorded was a feeble 0.5Mb, on a supposedly 4G service, something which ultimately guilted O2 into making a confession.

A spokesperson for the provider said, "Data roaming surpassed all expectations. We therefore have put temporary measures in place to protect the service experience for customers roaming in our Europe Zone".

For any customer wondering how long such measures would endure for, the spokesperson added, "we are working to have these controls removed within the coming weeks".

Three G

So far, there's no indication that they have been removed, and if the similar example of Three is anything to go by, they may not be removed for a while, or at least may not be replaced by a fully functional 4G service.

In the case of Three, customers have been complaining about how they could use only the provider's 2G and 3G while vacationing, and not a 4G network.

Responding to such complaints, Three gave the following kind of explanation:

They also told The Register that they have no immediate plans to allow 4G for those customers of their roaming in Europe and elsewhere.


Such explanations have understandably rattled a few customers, who feel that technically allowing them to roam while preventing them from enjoying their usual domestic service isn't at all in the spirit of the EU's recently enacted legislation.

Whether they're correct or not, the limitation of roaming services vindicates earlier predictions from certain analysts that free EU roaming would put an undue strain on mobile operators, who would be forced to lower their operating costs in response.

While said analysts predicted such things as reductions in network investment or the ending of subsidised prices for smartphones, it would seem in this case that some providers at least are simply taking shortcuts (intentional or otherwise) in delivering free EU roaming.

However, for any customer worried about their ability to use the most up-to-date service while in Europe, it's worth noting that Vodafone and EE don't appear to be limiting what their customers can do while in the EU, with both providing 4G data services as normal.

As for customers with other networks, they may have to wait a bit, until their providers realise that advertising the ability to "Roam like at Home" without actually providing it isn't perhaps the best possible practice.

Want the best deal on a new handset?

independent comparison

We are independent of all of the products and services we compare.

fair comparison

We order our comparison tables by price or feature and never by referral revenue.

charity donations

We donate at least 5% of our profits to charity, and we aim to be climate positive.

Get insider tips and the latest offers in our newsletter