The same high pressure atmospheric conditions that are affecting TV and radio reception in parts of the UK may lead to some mobile users receiving an unexpected bill.
Mobile phone customers near the UK’s coasts are at risk of inadvertently roaming on to a foreign network, potentially automatically triggering roaming charges, even while the phone is in a bag or pocket.
It’s recently resulted in some mobile phone users complaining to their network operator about roaming charges incurred while still firmly in the UK.
Lee reported receiving a ‘welcome to France’ text while in Dungeness in Kent on Vodafone.
Meanwhile, Josephine received notification of the Three network’s £2 a day roaming charge while in Hastings.
Why is this happening?
Tropospheric Ducting is the atmospheric phenomena behind the current issues affecting users of the electromagnetic spectrum, including TV, radio and mobile. It’s already been an issue for nearly two weeks under an area of high pressure close to the UK. Currently, viewers in the East and South of England may encounter issues with Freeview reception, as continental signals interfere with local services due to the same issue. The risk of signals overreaching will drop as weather conditions change, although some areas close to France will always have some risk.
Why is there now a greater risk of this happening?
During the past decade, mobile network operators have built 4G and 5G networks on frequencies previously used by terrestrial TV services. The frequencies are in demand by mobile operators because they’re good at penetrating further than other mobile phone frequencies, giving more coverage from the same mast. But during certain atmospheric conditions, this means your phone is more likely to connect to more distant – even foreign – mobile phone tower.
Inadvertent roaming happened before the recent build-out of 4G and 5G networks on lower frequencies, but for a time roaming charges were non-existent and didn’t affect users.
Originally the 900 MHz band (Band 8) was the lowest frequency band used by mobile phone networks and better at travelling a longer distance. Now, all major UK and EU mobile networks widely utilise frequencies in the even lower 700 and 800MHz bands (Band 28 and 20 respectively).
Additionally, a phone wouldn’t connect to 4G without a 2G or 3G signal from the same network to fall back on. This limited instances where users would accidentally roam on a foreign 4G network and be able to accidentally use much data. VoLTE, which allows users to make phone calls over 4G has changed this.
What can I do about inadvertent roaming?
Mobile network operators advise viewers turn off roaming or mobile data altogether if they are concerned about inadvertent roaming. Users should consult their mobile phone settings/manufacturer’s online support for more assistance for their handset.
Android phones will show ‘R’ next to the signal bars to tell you if you’re roaming at this point in time. If you’ve received a text from your mobile network provider and you’re not currently roaming, your phone may have briefly roamed while it was in your bag or pocket.
In Northern Ireland, roaming on to the Republic of Ireland’s mobile networks is more common. However, UK mobile network operators have retained free roaming in Ireland, avoiding surprise costs. Some operators charge high roaming fees for Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. And substantial roaming charges apply if your handset accidentally connects to ship-based mobile networks.
Of all the big networks, O2 still offers free roaming by default, so most users inadvertently roaming on O2 won’t face extra charges. However, extra charges apply if you’ve used up your roaming allowance (your bundle maximum or 25GB, whichever is lower). O2 pay and go users may incur roaming charges if the handset accesses an Isle of Man based network, for example while still in Cumbria or Northern Ireland. Isle of Man roaming is included on pay monthly plans.