back to article Vodafone customers moan about sluggish data abroad

Vodafone customers are complaining their data is being throttled while on hols, with supposedly 4G services dropping to sluggish speeds of 2Mbps. One affected customer, who has been with the UK-headquartered telco for around a decade, moaned he experienced problems with data roaming in the Netherlands and Cyprus recently. The …

  1. wolfetone Silver badge

    "We don't throttle data and we are not aware of any overseas providers, who we partner with, intentionally reducing speeds."

    Ah, that sweet moment when you see the disconnect between the tech team, the marketing team, and the PR team.

    The arse doesn't know what hand the brain has decided to wipe with.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Vodafone's Backhaul...

      So today we learn Vodafone's Backhaul is nowhere near as large as Kim Kardashian's, yet Vodafone is the one managing to break the internet.

  2. ARGO

    "We don't throttle data"..

    ... but we might have forgotten to upgrade our connections to overseas networks to deal with all the extra traffic now that roaming is free.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "We don't throttle data"..

      See I don't think this is the case particularly. I'd be very surprised if the roaming network is routing all the data requests back the UK providers network (VPN'ing essentially) - it would be remarkably inefficient if so, just originate the data and route as if it's part of the roaming network. The reason I think that is I've struggle to access iPlayer on a roaming network..

      The likely impact of that is, the roaming network may well be throttling the data (possible), it might be deprioritising it over its own customers' data (likely), or it may just be congested in general (very likely).

      1. ARGO

        Re: "We don't throttle data"..

        "I'd be very surprised if the roaming network is routing all the data requests back the UK providers network"

        Prepare to be surprised then - in most cases, that's exactly how it works. Yes, it would be more efficient to route only the billing signalling back home. But it's simpler to design and test a system that home-routes everything. It also means customer billing is not dependent on what an overseas operator's systems say.

        There's a nice side effect - in certain countries, roamers get the full internet while locals get what their government allows.

        I've never had trouble with iPlayer (or various other location restricted services) when using mobile data roaming, but they are invariably blocked when using the local wifi.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "We don't throttle data"..

        "I'd be very surprised if the roaming network is routing all the data requests back the UK providers network (VPN'ing essentially) - it would be remarkably inefficient"

        That's how it works. All data is brought back to your home network via in IPX network. A great way to access BBC IPlayer when abroad.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "We don't throttle data"..

        You would be surprised and wrong... That's exactly how data roaming works, all data comes back to the UK and only enters the public internet from the UK

        Search for GPRS Roaming Exchange (GRX) on wikipedia... It's like a private internet for Mobile Operators.

        And I have used iPlayer many times whilst abroad with no issues. Nobody other than your Mobile provider is able to see that you are abroad, to any website it will look like you are in the UK.

        What I think people don't realise is that the capacity issues may be local (on the foreign country), even on the radio network. Nothing to do with throttling or the international connectivity back to the UK

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: "We don't throttle data"..

          >That's exactly how data roaming works, all data comes back to the UK and only enters the public internet from the UK

          So come September when UK residents return to the UK and the kids are back at school, we can expect "normal" roaming service to be restored.

  3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Blame placement

    People are blaming Vodafone for this, as that's who they have their contract with, but I wonder if the problem lies with the in-country network provider whose services the customer is using.

    Presumably there are economic factors in play which mean that because the end customer isn't paying handsomely for roaming, then the in-country provider isn't getting a handsome amount of Euros paid to them by Vodafone.

    Result, give roamers a rubbish service. After all, it's not like the in-country provider is p***ing off their own customers.

    1. ARGO

      Re: Blame placement

      But in a lot of cases the roaming network is the local instance of Vodafone, so that doesn't seem a wise strategy from a branding point of view.

      It is technically possible to steer traffic to a better roaming network, but that would require some commercial will. Which is unlikely if your group owns the crappy network.

      1. m0rt

        Re: Blame placement

        Yet poor performance happens in blighty for 4g and 3g, too. So is this not just a case of the area going through the usual issues that affect cells?

        Chances are this is just a non-story until someone can show a side by side comparison of two phones connecting via the same tower, yet one is indigenous and the other roaming.

    2. DaLo

      Re: Blame placement

      Three did the same thing a while back. Three's 'At Home' service worked great for a while but then it slowed to a crawl. Even loading a page of Google search results was unusable.

      After quite I did quite a bit of testing - 6 different countries, hundreds of different cell towers, multiple foreign telcos the results were the same. A local SIM had no problem and a roaming SIM from a different network had no problem. It was HTTPS page that were being crippled along with high-bandwidth pages like streaming video. So worked fine but as Google defaulted to HTTPS it didn't.

      Even with this 'evidence' Three stated it was the local providers who may have poor data throughput but Three weren't doing any throttling. They obviously were - due to not being able to see the traffic in SSL secured streams they must have taken the decision to throttle it to unusable levels. So transferring money from your bank account when you realised you needed some more while abroad wasn't possible until you got onto WiFi. It eventually resolved itself!

      I suspect a similar problem.

      1. Berny Stapleton

        Re: Blame placement

        I told them that I was able to download updates from the Google play store at multiple MB/sec but downloading a song on spotify took and hour, they fessed up.

        I also still have a pre "free roaming" plan with Vodafone that says I get 4GB of roaming data that I'm not letting go of till they sort this mess out.

      2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Blame placement

        Even loading a page of Google search results was unusable

        There was a time when loading the Google home page was a good basic test that you had network coverage and data services. Nowadays, sadly, it's more like a speed test. Load up the Google home page and do a 'view source' on it...and that's just the page itself, nevermind the other files it then drags in its wake.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Blame placement

        I had similar with 3 in New York last year; unusable service whilst the previous year all across the southern states it was excellent.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Blame placement

        And also if you are in a location that isn't part of 3's Feel at Home the costs are ridiculous.

        In Canada for instance 3 Charge £6,144 per GB of data! Yes that is not a typo, that is genuinely the cost per GB. On a modern smartphone which you may leave data roaming on due to travels around Europe this could catch you out quite badly.

        1. gryphon

          Re: Blame placement

          Same in Dubai.

          Which caught my wife out when we were passing through. Had left her phone in data roaming mode when leaving Australia and when she turned her phone back in at Dubai all the background apps such as suckbook must have gone wild.

          £46 down the drain before she managed to turn the roaming off. :-(

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Blame placement

          How were you going to pay £6,144 or anything like that when Three cap data at £42.50/month?

          We've also set up a worldwide data roaming limit of £42.50 per month to stop you spending too much. We'll send you texts to let you know when you've reached 80% and 95% of this £42.50 limit.

          I was at the end of my Three contract earlier in the year and looking at a new one especially as I would be travelling to the US shortly after. My local shopping centre had all the major operators virtually next to each other so seemed like a good place to start. The obvious choice was going to be stick with Three and use Feel at Home but I wanted to double check. I only really need the phone to work for voice as I've mostly got data through wifi when abroad.

          Anyway I went into Vodafone first and the nice salesman took me through the offerings they had and then said sign up with us and it's just £5 a day to use your allowance of data, voice, SMS on your phone abroad. I said that was excessive as it added £70 to a two week trip and could they do anything about it? No sadly they can't so I rule out Vodafone.

          O2 said I didn't need to pay anything extra but calls would cost me £1.10 a minute to make, 90p to receive, sending a text was 40p per message. Data would be capped at £40 a month but £6 per MB. They also had higher cost sim only plans which I found too high so together they killed off O2.

          EE said that they didn't charge if I went with the Max Plan can't remember the cost but it was at a premium to other plans. It came with a ridiculous amount of data and I also needed to buy a new phone with them which I didn't need (and doubtless contributed to the cost. Didn't fancy that.

          So I stuck with Three which wasn't bad all round.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Blame placement

            That is the cost per Gigabyte, it is a rate not a flat fee. The amount you use will be pro-rata. So you use 7Mb (a couple of photos syncing to the cloud and there goes £42).

            In this age that is extortionate. GiffGaff were a fraction of that price.

  4. chrismevans

    Throttling exists

    Without a doubt the network providers throttle when roaming. It may not be the home provider doing it, but it could be the network on which you're roaming. I travel to the US regularly and either every US network is terrible everywhere, or Three/AT&T/T-Mobile are throttling.

    The mobile networks need to wake up and realise that they are actually just ISPs these days. Voice/texts are irrelevant as customers mostly care about data. However we're stuck in a cycle of cheapest being perceived as better by our network providers rather than focusing on value and service quality. How long will it be before the likes of Apple bring out a native SIP-enabled iPhone and start eroding the need to be on one network or another? I know we can do a lot of that today.

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Throttling exists

      I find it hard to believe that there isn't some kind of traffic management at play at times.

      When the network reaches capacity at peek times, and someone has got to lose out, who will a network provider in Spain have as its priority to keep happy? Their direct customer who pays them money every month, or some sunburnt and slightly drunk tourist who's never given them a penny and is going to clear of home in a week anyway?

      Obviously when the network isn't at capacity there should be no need for any piggies to be more equal than others.

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Re: Throttling exists

        Well, in my case I have a Virgin UK SIM and a Spanish Voda SIM. When I use the Voda SIM in the UK, it struggles to even get 3G, whereas in Spain it gets 4G, and puts the Virgin broadband to shame! The Virgin SIM sends to get equal service at both ends.

  5. david bates

    Alan Sugar complaining about poor service and things not performing how one had expected them to... Who'd have thought....?

    1. ~chrisw

      But as every fule kno, local wifi's usually better. Alan should have taken his E3's USB WiFi dongle with him...

  6. sleepycat

    Not my experience

    I had excellent performance from Vodafone on 4G in the alpine regions of France, Italy and Switzerland in early July and the performance then was at least as good as back home in UK. Clearly no throttling going on then. My wife on O2 had a less good service.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Not my experience

      Do you own shares in Vodafone?

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Not my experience

      I was recently in France myself. I have a German white label provider (not Vodafone) and performance was very, very patchy but seemed very much like a case of the local provide doing or throttling or even not even allowing data. My girlfriend has German Vodafone and she had a much better data connection.

      I guess we'll have to wait and see how the various networks manage this and whether anybody can be bothered monitoring them to make sure customers get reasonable service. I can personally understand a certain degree of traffic management on host networks — they have an incentive to prioritise their own customers over perceived freeloaders — but it should work both ways.

      My provider still sends me text messages telling me data will cost even though it has managed to update the price schedule confirming that data abroad will be free as it is at home.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not my experience

      'excellent performance from Vodafone' - I think that's the first time I've ever seen those words put together in that order. Vodafone are unmitigated shit any time I've used them not in a city centre.

      Typical speeds where I live:

      EE: 100Mbps LTE

      3: 80Mbps LTE

      02: 10 Mbps 3G

      Voda: ~1kbps 2G

      Unless you live in a town centre and never want to have usable data anywhere else, don't use Vodafone.

      1. Baldrickk

        Re: Not my experience

        Well, I don't live in a town centre, but there is a 4G mast operated by O2 and Voda right across the street.

        When I joined Vodaphone, it was because O2 were not willing to do a decent offer on a new phone, and Vodaphone were happy to beat the rest of the competition at the time.

        Their slightly flaky network at the time has only improved since then, and I personally don't have any issues unless in the heart of say, the Peak District, amongst the hills, where a) I had better signal than my Father who is on 3, and b) I had brilliant reception once at the top, away from the ground clutter.

        There may very well be places where Vodaphone's network isn't as good, I can't try it everywhere myself, but I have no problems with it.

        Not being a shill here, but they have always done a good service for me, at a good price, and across moving from one corner of the country to two others, visits to family spread out all over the place, plus holidays here and abroard, I have very rarely been lacking in signal when others across a whole range of networks had it.

        If this changes, I will be happy to jump to another provider, like I left O2, but I at least am very happy with the current state of affairs as I fit into it.

        Note: I currently live in a small town in the South East, but fairly regularly go to the North and the West, and have been on holidays around Europe and Wales, The Peak district, the Lake district, along the South Coast and through the New Forest, and more, providing a decent set of data samples.

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Not my experience

        excellent performance from Vodafone' - I think that's the first time I've ever seen those words put together in that order.

        It surprised me too — I'm not fan of them — but maybe it's because it was Vodafone Germany roaming on SFR?

  7. Asylum_visitor

    Well they've still got to pay Martin Freeman's fee for that advertising campaign. So cuts had to be made somewhere :P

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Martin Freeman's fee

      Has to be a lot less than EE stump up for Kevin Bacon?

      OR does he do it for free....?

      1. robfaulkner76

        Re: Martin Freeman's fee

        He gets paid in unlimited data when hes abroad lol

  8. roger 8

    Im often in Turkey and holland on vodafone. I have never had an issue. just back from turkey. and where was the WIFI was crap but my 4G was spot on. plus with my overseas package. no extra charges..

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slow DNS?

    Never sure what the cause is, but I suspect DNS response times or the peering arrangements are to blame. Whenever I experience slow browsing abroad, I connect to my VPN server back in Blighty and all is well again.

  10. Valerion


    I'm on Vodafone, and whilst in Toronto last week, the Rogers network was almost unusable. Whilst around other parts of CA and also the USA on the same trip, I had no issues at all.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    They don't know they're born

    2Mb/sec sluggish?

    When I were a lad we cheered if we got 2 bytes a second.

    Doubly so the glorious day it happened more than once in the same minute.

  12. ITBloke was giving me 36MBPS over vodafone in Palma last week, that was consistent and never seemed to falter. I don't think it is a great deal different to anywhere in the UK, there are massive swathes of Wales and Scotland and even England where speeds across all networks will be pants due to lack of coverage. If it was Alan Sugars money, would he fund the erection (ahem) and maintenance of a 4g mast to support a community of only a handful of folks or would he deem it non-profitable. Even in towns, blank spots are inevitable as we all know too well.

  13. Maddler

    I'm on Vodafone IE and had quite a few issues while in Italy, to the point that the max speed was only a few KBps! Situation was just slightly better while in the UK, but far from getting good speeds.

    Been asking them multiple times if they were throttling my connection but always denied doing that.

  14. djstardust

    No issues here

    I'm in in Los Alcázares at the momet. Vodafone 4G is working fine, even using maps on the motorways is no hassle at all. Streaming working fine too.

  15. Feival

    I am in Spain right now with an EE SIM and a T-Mobile UK prepay SIM (i.e. 3G only). Both have been excellent throughout with absolutely no issues. when I tried Three SIMs in the last couple of years on their roam like home tariff the experience was awful. I travel a lot for work and honestly never find any issues with EE. I simply do not think that they throttle traffic at all. I suspect after this summer when they see how big their roaming bills are from their foreign network partners they might start to do it!

  16. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    "We don't throttle data, we just put you on a 3g-equivalent speed, so it's 'roaming on 3g' in intent and in effect. The 4G symbol on your phone is a figment of your imagination".

  17. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    Vodafone AKA

    Random Number Generator - at least is the unending stream of comments about their billing and customer service on Social Media is to be believed.

    A couple of family members have had to endure the unmitigated disaster that is Vodafone. Based on the evidence so far I believe the throttling is yet another manifestation of Vodafone's barrelling incompetence, rather than malice.*

    I thank $deity of choice that i am not with them myself.

    * though I wouldn't put it past them to be dabbling in that as well.

  18. Huns n Hoses

    "Lord Sugar"

    Who tf makes their social media profile like that?


  19. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So whilst you are in the UK you are only able to use your own network... Why do you think you are entitled to use every network in a given country when you are abroad? Makes no sense... Or do you complain that as a Vodafone customer in the UK you can't use EE or O2 or Three?1?

      Every Mobile network uses steering of roaming platforms which allows them to ensure that you use their preferred provider in each country. This is the only way to keep costs down for consumers and avoid things such as bill shock.

  20. Nimby

    4G is EDGE, right?

    As a Vodafone customer in Deutschland, in the last month my formerly reliable phone data is presently barely limping along, when it works at all. Some days it won't even do data, just voice. Other days it only connects at 2G/EDGE for data. I haven't seen a proper 3G connection in weeks. 4G data rates? As if! Whatever Vodafone is up to, they have sorely broken things recently. You know things are bad when you're resorting to picking up a prepaid SIM from a competitor for better service. I am wondering at what point crap service constitutes a breach of contract to get out of one.

    1. Aimery de Malet

      Re: 4G is EDGE, right?

      It sounds like you are experiencing the same issues I was having in Denmark for the last 3 months whereby I was only ever able to roam onto their prime roaming partner (not all the other 'partner networks') as well as restricted to 2G/3G roaming.

      I called customers service who told me that they were unable to log such a fault and did the usual blaming of partner networks. I then got in touch with our corporate contact who helped me to log a ticket with the networks team. Low and behold, a few days later 4G appears for the first time in 3 months and everything is flowing nicely again.

      Unfortunately in the last 2 weeks, something appears to have changed again. Whilst I get 4G, the roaming speed has dropped like a stone.

      Assuming you are on a Corporate deal, suggest you get in contact with your internal contact who manages the account and request they log a ticket with the networks team. That should resolve your 4G roaming issues.

      FWIW, I did not experience this weird bug in Sweden nor Norway, so it feels like it is specific to certain countries.

  21. jerehada

    As far as I can tell they all have some throttling

    EE do something with video, O2 throttle last time I looked. Remember this is backhaul between networks so maybe some limitations there also.

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