On Monday evening I flew over to Guernsey for several days of on site consultancy with a customer. As per usual I was accompanied by my trusty iPhone 3GS to service my communications needs. Not wishing to incur the prohibitively-expensive costs associated with data roaming, I always have “Data Roaming” set to Off. As a matter of course I also disabled the automatic fetching of new data (Mail, Contacts, Calendars etc).
Upon arrival I powered the phone up, and after the customary wait, began to receive cellular service – this time through Airtel-Vodafone. Unbeknownst to me however, the iPhone was quietly utilising roaming Internet data… My first indication of this was whilst browsing my previously-downloaded emails through the Mail application – I saw the cellular network activity icon spinning and the prompt update to say “Checking for Mail”, followed by “Updated”. Sure enough, several new messages were now sitting in my Inbox – all with received times from after my plane took off!
After a long day on site with the customer I felt it only sensible to check in with Vodafone and see what their take on the matter was. I initially spoke with a rather helpful person who understood the issue and assured me that they would handle the billing implications of it. So far so good!
They transferred me to a guy named Shareef in the iPhone second line support team (based in Egypt). He was extremely helpful and quickly got up to speed on the query. He was intrigued by the issue and conducted extensive checking into the problem. He noted that I was indeed roaming and using data on his system. He explained that he had seen other instances of this, with particular reference to Ireland. The prescribed advice was to perform a hard reset (Home + Power buttons until the device powered off) and provided me his extension number.
With that I proceeded to carry out the hard reset and tested for erroneous connectivity once complete. Again I found that the iPhone was still perfectly happy to access the Internet despite the negative setting of the “Data Roaming” option. I attempted to reach Shareef again but was stone-walled to an extent. Eventually I managed to convince the young lady to put me through to Shareef – her argument was one of it being necessary to erase the APN settings to not use data while abroad!
Once again I was conversing with Shareef. He shared my concern that the “Data Roaming” controls remained ineffective after the hard reset. I agreed with the short term workaround to “fudge” the APN settings until I’m back in the UK with the promise that I’ll be kept in the loop regarding this shocking problem.
As a matter of completeness, my (non-jail broken) iPhone is running the latest official Apple firmware (at time of writing: 3.1.3), with the official Vodafone UK carrier settings (version 5.1).
At a time when the European Union is moving to prevent mobile phone users receiving “shock” bills through Internet data usage whilst roaming, I hope Vodafone takes action against this problem.
I must add that everyone I’ve spoken with at Vodafone has been extremely helpful and for that they deserve to be commended.
Looking at this from a technical perspective, it seems at least conceivable that the fact my roaming network (Airtel-Vodafone) contains the string “Vodafone” perhaps causes the iPhone believe it’s still at home…
UPDATE: Whilst enjoying snowboarding late last year in Val d’Isère the “Data Roaming” switch did indeed prevent mobile data usage… I’m fairly certain that none of the networks I was roaming on there contained Vodafone within their names however. Surely if there is a bug here I can’t be the first person to observe it?
I’ve now received a rather nice email from Jenny in the Vodafone Web Relations Team
Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve tried to contact you today and I’ve been unable to reach you.
I must admit that reading your post was very interesting and you have most likely stumbled upon a possible roaming issue.
Therefore, I’d firstly like to thank you for bringing this to our attention. I personally haven’t come across this before and will ensure it is investigated further.
My current thoughts are as follows:
Guernsey is a British crown dependency in the English Channel and although the defence of the island is the responsibility of the United Kingdom, it is not part of the UK but rather a separate possession of the Crown.
It seems to me that the iPhone, although connected to a different network, still believes it’s in the UK, which is why the data roaming control didn’t have an effect.
I have passed this on for further investigation because if this is the case, it’s something that will need to be resolved as soon as possible.
Regarding your charges, I will of course be happy to credit your account to cover any data roaming charges that may have been incurred whilst in Guernsey. As roaming information/charges can take up to 30 days to show on your account, I would ask that you reply to my email once you’ve received the charges and I’ll then be able to apply the relevant credits.
If you have any further queries in the mean time, please get back to me and I’ll be happy to help.
All the best
Web Relations Team