Monday, 25 August 2014

Roaming UK SIM testing

I was somewhat surprised to find that Worcester is a rather good area for testing UK roaming SIM cards, especially by the County Cricket Ground. This is largely because it appears to have crap coverage on pretty much every network. The locals say that mobile coverage is generally bad in Worcester, it seems.

I went up there by train for a school reunion, and the train from Reading to Worcester was, as expected, quite intermittent for mobile coverage.

I have one of our O2/EU roaming SIMs in my iPhone and iPad. These SIMs have two identities. One is O2, and that is the default - so it locks on to an O2 signal and if that is not available (as happened on the train) then after a couple of minutes it switches to the EU identity. This allowed it to use any UK network and I found it locked on to a Vodafone signal. After a little while it changed on to EE instead.

This meant my phone continued to have coverage for calls, texts and data, in spite of a very changing and intermittent signal. The only downside being a bit more expensive.

What I did notice is that it did not switch back to O2 just because there was an O2 signal, it stayed on EE for some time. The phone makes it pretty clear it is roaming on to other networks (more so when not using iPhones) so I know of the extra cost. It switched back once O2 was the best signal. Having roamed back on to O2 in the EU profile it then switching back to the O2 profile and back to the lower cost. I could also force it to switch back (on the iPhone) using the SIM application menu. Indeed, when the O2 signal was just about present but other networks were way better I could use the SIM application menu to force it on to the EU profile for a better signal.

During the evening I noticed that some times I had O2, but often I was on Vodafone or EE. Oddly I did not see it use Three at all. The phone and iPad would change identities and roam depending on signal. It was quite amusing. Sadly the data coverage on Vodafone and EE in Worcester is also poor, often ending up on GPRS not 3G, but it worked well enough most of the time.

This was my first real use of the UK roaming feature myself, as my usual haunts have very good O2 signal, and overall I am quite impressed. The switching of identities is quiet a neat trick. Obviously if I wanted to avoid this (with the few minutes it can take to decide to switch) I could just use an EU only SIM, but with the higher costs, as that would roam to find the strongest signal regardless. The fact I can force the profile to change on the O2/EU SIMs does help though.

I'd be interested to hear feedback from customers using these SIMs .

27 comments:

  1. Been using mine for about 10 days now and it seems quite handy to have the ability to roam to a non O2 network where O2 has poor coverage. I was in Sidmouth on Saturday and this was a good test for it as 02 seemed to have a very weak signal and luckily it switched to the EU profile using EE and I had very good 3g coverage on EE. Knowing that data is 10p per mb instead 2p (ex vat) I was careful to regularly check which apps were using data and I have disabled background data on some hungry apps. I did notice when I got home that it stayed on the EU profile so had to manually switch it back to O2, but that it sometimes switches back automatically. At least there is an "R" shown in the status bar so I can easily see its roaming.

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    1. I was in Sidmouth on Saturday too - still am for a couple of days... Three seems best here (at least in a seafront hotel), which is a good thing as far as my AA data SIM is concerned.

      I've been taking my test phone on a few steam railways over the past couple of weeks - Severn Valley, West Somerset & South Devon, all providing a good test with a challenging environment. I have found that whilst my test phone is fairly good at finding a network, it also sometimes goes to no network and stays there for some time - rebooting the phone brings back coverage.

      I do think there's a good market for roaming SIM with heritage lines; it helps a lot if the driver of a broken down loco can speak with a signalman! I've been toying with integrating a GSM modem+voice and a Rock7 (Iridium) M2M unit to ensure complete coverage of a line but not yet splashed out.

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    2. Hope you watched the fireworks and The Culprits - both excellent lol! My partner has a three payg sim and had very good reception but 02 was GPRS only - luckily I could roam to EE which has a very good signal. I can see that railways are a good test as they are often in remote areas, such as the WSR which I use quite a lot. Before getting an AA roaming sim I had an EE payg sim but I found that often it would have 5 bars but very poor data connectivity.

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  2. I have one of the EU/O2 SIMs as a backup for my iPad3. Normally I have a Three data SIM in it, costs £7.50 per month for up to 1GB of data which is vastly cheaper than any of the A&A SIMs. But it won't roam when abroad, and there are places with no Three coverage, so I change SIM. It's a pain, I wish the iPad had two SIM slots.

    Anyway, at my house I have coverage (just) on all four networks, though Vodafone only gets GPRS here. During testing the O2/EU SIM, using the SIM menus I could force it to any of the networks when in EU mode but it would not connect to Three despite the fact I know I have a good Three signal here. Are you sure it works on Three? Isn't there something about the network needing to have a 2G signal or the SIM won't connect to it? Or am I mis-remembering something else?

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    1. Interesting - I'll try Three. I think it should, and it does 2G and 3G. I did not find the SIM menu on an iPad though - where is that?

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    2. There is normally a very strong Three signal where I live and there is no way I can get it to connect to Three - it will only roam to EE or Vodafone (I have quite a weak Vodafone signal where I live but it will still roam to Vodafone if forced). Perhaps Vodafone NL do not have any sort of roaming agreement with Three in the UK?

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    3. I will check, as I understood it was meant to be all of the UK networks.

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    4. If you're in a "feel at home" country then the 3 SIM will roam onto the local networks. Data is throttled however, but still usable.
      Would be interesting if the roaming SIM is restricted in the same way in UK?

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    5. I think the iPad SIM menu was in the Settings app, Mobile Data, down near the bottom. I can't see it now as I've got the Three SIM in. I have iOS 6 still so the menu may have moved in iOS 7.

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    6. I can't connect to Three either - assumed it was a local problem but maybe it doesn't work with them.

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  3. Oh yes, on the iPad things are not obvious. I can't easily tell if the SIM has auto roamed, so I usually have roaming switched off and only turn it on when I put the SIM in and find there is no O2 signal (and by then I also know there is no Three signal on my normal SIM). Then I get a popup on the iPad telling me I've received some sort of message (I forget what), but it doesn't show me the contents of the message.

    Slightly off topic, but I really hate the fact Apple don't allow texting on an iPad. No phone calls I understand, but with all this screen real estate why can't I send and receive texts? (If the SIM fitted supports them.)

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  4. Two phones connected to Sipgate don't even ring each other. My uneducated guess is that it is a port problem between you and Sipgate. I guess I can just buy a number from A&A but that doesn't solve the underlying problem if you have other customers using Sipgate.

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    1. I am pretty sure we work with sipgate, but we can investigate in detail for you. Let support know the details.

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    2. Not a satisfactory outcome there I'm afraid ref: KZ14GM

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    3. I'll get that ticket escalated. Sorry about the delay.

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  5. Would be great if the issue with Voipfone could be resolved as I purchased a SIM to trial for our company. Something to do with sip2sim requiring CompactSIP support.

    I also tried to roam to Three today as the data on local 2G O2 cell was maxed out. The phone just replied ‘not allowed’ each time I manually selected Three.

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    1. Well, not SIP2SIM "requiring" it, more "The SIP RFC" requiring it. Anyway, the SIP2SIM is using the longer headers now, so do try.

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    2. Excellent thank you - now working perfectly with Voipfone.

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  6. With EE and Three sharing sites and backhaul through MBNL, but Three using the higher frequency, I suspect you might find any EE signal is almost always slightly stronger than Three's (same distance and terrain, but a slightly better frequency for propagation).

    At some point soon I want to get my hands on a Galaxy S5 Duos (the native dual-SIM variant). That should give relatively cheap data service on both Three and O2 when available, including overseas roaming to the Three Like Home countries.

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  7. Mine switches back to O2 automatically - in fact I find it hard to switch roaming on because by the time I've set 'european' mode in the sim toolkit and brought up the network list often the phone has found the (poor) O2 signal and reverted back to UK mode (partly this is the crappy network app on android - it can take over a minute to scan for networks.. I guess nobody normally uses it so it's bitrotted).

    I wonder if it's something to do with the 'Set Global Fallback' option - this doesn't appear to be documented anywhere but switching it off does seem to help with the above problem.. of course it may be causing others (eg. it may not roam automaticallly now..)

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  8. I going to Germany this weekend. If I leave it in O2 mode, does it roam with O2's partners in Germany? If so, is the pricing different from the European roaming mode?

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    1. The O2 mode is only UK (once Scotland for now)

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  9. I don't think it should work with Three - Three don't have a particularly large number of roaming agreements for inbound and I believe your "EU" profile provider has no such agreement so it has no way to "roam" on them.

    IME most foreign SIMS (the various pre-paid international ones etc) don't work on three. Personally as a 3 customer, I'm happy with that because I don't want anyone else using my bandwidth :-)

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  10. Could the lack of three be related to T/3's deal to share their network stuff via Mobile Broadband Networks limited?

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  11. I can't get on to the internet trough this shitty hotel crap so I thought I'd try making my iPhone a hotspot. "To enable personal hotspot on this account, contact vf nl". I know I am 61 and have had half a bottle of red, but does it have to be this hard?

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    1. Sadly that is apple being a pain. We have asked the carrier. Not sure if we can fix that.

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  12. Off course, blogger lost all the previous text as I signed into Google; good job I had copied it.

    I made some calls with the two sims and will send James the information as soon as I can connect my MacBook to the internet.

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