EU’s ‘roam like home’ law be­ing stran­gled by slower ser­vice

Irish Independent - Business Week - - BUSINESSWEEK TECHNOLOGY -

NO­TICE that your mo­bile phone now gets painfully slow when you’re trav­el­ling across the EU? You’re not alone.

More and more peo­ple are find­ing that what should have been a great step for­ward in con­sumer rights is be­ing stymied by weaker, slower ser­vices.

In par­tic­u­lar, trav­ellers are start­ing to find that their ser­vice is be­ing ‘ throt­tled’ when they visit other EU coun­tries.

Where you might get a nice, fast 4G mo­bile speed here in Ire­land, it ap­pears to be pared right back in France, Ger­many or other EU coun­tries so that you only get a slow 3G ser­vice (or worse).

This saves the mo­bile op­er­a­tor money as they don’t have to pay as much in data fees to the lo­cal op­er­a­tor within the coun­try you’re vis­it­ing. And if that means that you can’t use sites you nor­mally would at home on your phone, such as YouTube, Netf lix of mes­sag­ing ser­vices, hard luck on you.

This goes against the spirit (and pos­si­bly the let­ter) of the anti-roam­ing law brought in by the EU ear­lier this year. That law was sup­posed to en­shrine the prin­ci­ple that you would get the same ser­vice abroad as at home, with no ex­tra charge. How­ever, some Euro­pean op­er­a­tors ad­mit that they do, in fact, throt­tle user speeds for cus­tomer trav­el­ling abroad. In July, Bri­tain’s O2 was forced into re­veal­ing that when its cus­tomers visit Ire­land, the op­er­a­tor re­duces their mo­bile ser­vice from a nor­mal 4G speed (around 20Mbs) to a sub-3G speed (0.5Mbs per sec­ond).

“Data roam­ing sur­passed all ex­pec­ta­tions,” said the com­pany in July. “We there­fore have put tem­po­rary mea­sures in place to pro­tect the ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence for cus­tomers roam­ing in our Europe zone.

“These fire­walls are tem­po­rary and we are work­ing to have these con­trols re­moved within the com­ing weeks.”

Of­fi­cially, Ir­ish op­er­a­tors deny that they per­form sim­i­lar throt­tling ex­er­cises when Ir­ish peo­ple travel across Europe.

How­ever, many Ir­ish peo­ple have com­plained about far slower speeds when trav­el­ling abroad, some­times di­min­ish­ing through the day to zero by late af­ter­noon.

My own ex­pe­ri­ence in re­cent months in­di­cates that mo­bile per­for­mance can vary vastly to the ex­pe­ri­ence on the home net­work in Ire­land. In the UK (Lon­don) and Ger­many (Frank­furt and Ber­lin), I found that mo­bile speeds slowed to around 0.5Mbs com­pared to av­er­age speeds of be­tween 15Mbs and 80Mbs in Dublin. I used two net­works: Voda­fone and Three. Both were er­ratic and of­ten be­came un­us­able due to slow speeds.

It must be said that other Ir­ish users have some­times re­ported com­mend­ably fast speeds they get when abroad. Dis­cussing the is­sue on so­cial me­dia re­cently, one per­son dis­played a screen­shot of over 60Mbs achieved when roam­ing in Seville. So what’s going on? In the­ory, it is unlikely that lo­cal Euro­pean op­er­a­tors would throt­tle the vis­i­tors’ speed as they earn a larger amount of money for ev­ery gi­ga­byte used by a vis­it­ing tourist from an­other EU coun­try than they do from their own do­mes­tic cus­tomers.

It is still pos­si­ble, how­ever, that lo­cal net­works can be over­whelmed if an un­usu­ally large num­ber of peo­ple try to use the net­work at once. This some­times hap­pens at events such as con­certs or sport­ing oc­ca­sions where large crowns gather and try to con­nect on­line at the same time.

When that hap­pens, op­er­a­tors seek to man­age the de­mand placed on the net­work by slow­ing ev­ery­one’s ac­cess a lit­tle.

This is where a po­ten­tial grey area in the EU leg­is­la­tion comes in. Be­cause op­er­a­tors are given lee­way to man­age their net­work speeds based on de­mand, there are no hard and fast rules about ex­actly what speeds a roam­ing vis­i­tor should be en­ti­tled to when vis­it­ing an­other coun­try.

How­ever, when you go from 80Mbs to 0.8Mbs – as I did re­cently when switch­ing from cen­tral Dublin to cen­tral Ber­lin – there is ar­guably more going on than natural net­work man­age­ment.

(Speed test apps can some­times be mis­lead­ing, it must be ac­knowl­edged. How­ever, my own tests were on sev­eral dif­fer­ent speed test apps and var­ied the servers to off­set po­ten­tial dis­crep­an­cies in tech­ni­cal test­ing.)

It is fair to say that mo­bile op­er­a­tors have been less than en­am­oured with the EU law to do away with roam­ing charges. It is cer­tainly cost­ing them money.

And for all that we give out about mo­bile op­er­a­tors here, we get a rel­a­tively good deal on mo­bile data com­pared to some other Euro­pean coun­tries and the US –€20 for 60GB of monthly 4G data, as is widely avail­able in Ire­land, is un­heard of in the US, it costs three times that price.

Roam­ing charges have been a way for op­er­a­tors to keep do­mes­tic prices like data ac­cess fairly low.

So it is fair to ac­knowl­edge that mo­bile op­er­a­tors have a chal­lenge to make up that lost in­come when roam­ing fees are taken away from them.

How­ever, the law is the law. It makes no sense to pass EU leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing ‘roam like home’ when op­er­a­tors are al­lowed to stran­gle your ac­cess when you try to use the ser­vice abroad.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is fairly bask­ing in the glow of hav­ing re­duced roam­ing charges for EU cit­i­zens. It may well be that the job is not yet fin­ished and that mo­bile op­er­a­tors will need to be brought to task for deny­ing cus­tomers ef­fec­tive ser­vice abroad.

Some Euro­pean op­er­a­tors ad­mit that they do throt­tle speeds for cus­tomers trav­el­ling abroad

Ir­ish get a rel­a­tively good deal on mo­bile data when com­pared to other coun­tries

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