Orange and T-Mobile launch “Smart Signal Sharing”

April 29th, 2012

In the latest phase of the merging between T-Mobile and Orange’s mobile networks, customer’s handsets will now automatically select the strongest signal.

“Everything Everywhere” is the joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile.

Since Orange and T-Mobile merged to form “Everything Everywhere” in 2010, the two networks have been working to gradually consolidate and to merge their mobile networks. The latest phase of this has seen the launch of “Smart Signal Sharing” whereby Orange and T-Mobile handsets will now automatically connect to the stronger of the two networks. Having launched quietly over the past few weeks, “Smart Signal Sharing” should lead to better coverage and improved battery life for both Orange and T-Mobile customers. However, teething issues have included the loss of internet connectivity for consumers whilst roaming.

What is “Smart Signal Sharing”?

“Smart Signal Sharing” is the new network sharing arrangement between Orange and T-Mobile (both brands of the company “Everything Everywhere”). Now available throughout most of the UK (excluding South West England), handsets on both Orange and T-Mobile will automatically check to see which network offers better coverage and will automatically switch to that network. The roaming is seamless and 3G-capable so should happen totally transparently – the only thing you’ll notice is that the network name displayed on your handset will change more often.

The benefits to end users should include greater coverage, the potential of improved download speeds and the potential of improved battery life (signal strength is a major factor in determining in your handset’s battery life)

How does this differ from Orange and T-Mobile’s roaming agreement in the past?

Orange and T-Mobile merged on the 1st July 2010 to form “Everything Everywhere”. Part of the business plan of the newly-merged company was to gradually combine the two networks together.

To this extent, Orange and T-Mobile originally made their second-generation 2G mobile networks available to each other from October 2010. T-Mobile customers who lost signal on their phone would roam on to Orange’s 2G network and Orange customers who lost signal on their phone would roam on to T-Mobile’s 2G network. This roaming arrangement was “non-seamless”: rather than your handset automatically selecting the network that gave the best signal, your handset would only connect to the roaming network in the event that no coverage was available from your home network. Furthermore, the roaming arrangement was limited to 2G meaning that download speeds were limited to 80kbit/s. It was also not possible to switch between the two networks mid-call.

From October 2011 onwards, the two networks were re-configured to support 3G roaming. This was great news for smartphone owners: in the event that no coverage was available from your home network, HSPA+ download speeds of up to 21Mbit/s would also be available on the roaming network. However, this was still a non-seamless process: rather than your handset automatically picking the strongest signal, it would only fall back onto the other network in the event that coverage was lost.

The new “Smart Signal Sharing” arrangement that launched in early 2012 means that both networks are now sharing their 3G networks fully with download speeds of up to 21Mbit/s available to customers of both networks. Rather than the old “non-seamless” roaming whereby preference is given to your own home network, handsets will now automatically pick the stronger of the two networks. This means that from now on, the “Orange T-Mobile” message will become a more familiar sight to Orange customers as will the “T-Mobile Orange” message for T-Mobile customers.

How can I tell which network my phone is connected to?

If your phone is currently roaming on an Orange or T-Mobile mast, your phone will display the name of both networks:

  • Orange customers roaming on T-Mobile will see the network name “Orange T-Mobile”
  • T-Mobile customers roaming on Orange will see the network name “T-Mobile Orange”

When connected to a “home” mast, your phone will simply display the name of your network as before.

Have there been any teething issues with the new “Smart Signal Sharing”?

Yes. Since the launch of “Smart Signal Sharing”, we have heard various reports from readers who have been unable to access the internet on their phone whilst roaming. We have been able to reproduce this issue with a T-Mobile handset roaming on Orange 3G – whilst an icon for HSPA+ connectivity was shown on the handset, it was not possible to access the internet from it. We hope that these issues will be resolved over the coming weeks.

Are there any additional charges associated with roaming on an Orange/T-Mobile mast?

No. There are no additional charges associated with the new roaming arrangement. Regardless of whether you’re connected to an Orange mast or a T-Mobile mast, your calls and texts will cost the same as before and will come out of the same airtime allowances. There are only additional charges for roaming when you go abroad.

Will a call between Orange and T-Mobile still be charged as a cross-network call?

A call between Orange customers and T-Mobile customers will still be billed as a cross-network call.

My phone is displaying warnings about “Data Roaming”. What does it mean?

Data roaming is free within the UK but can cost up to £8/MB outside of the UK.

Many smartphones are set up to display a warning when you use data/internet over a roaming connection. This is a useful feature because traditionally you only roam whilst abroad and using the internet abroad could cost up to £8/MB (see our guide to what MBs means in terms of web pages, emails, etc).

Typically I advise users to disable “data roaming” on their phones. This prevents you from running up a large bill from using your smartphone abroad – however the side-effect of this setting on some older handsets is that it may also disable data roaming within the UK across the Orange and T-Mobile networks (this data roaming has no additional charges). The workaround to this issue would be to enable “data roaming” – however great care must be taken to turn it off before you leave the UK in order to avoid additional download charges.

How can I check Orange coverage or T-Mobile coverage where I live?

You should use the Orange coverage checker and the T-Mobile coverage checker.

Where can I find out more about “Smart Signal Sharing”?

You can find out more about “Smart Signal Sharing” on the Orange website or the T-Mobile website.

    

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About Ken

Ken Lo

I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.

Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 4 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Jenny said:

    This signal switching is a nightmare in central Libdon. I constantly lose network lose calls cannot access wi fi hotshots. It changes constantly from orange to tmobile and Back again without a full subal on anything. Canno switch off automatic to stop it changing. Rubbish have to get phone unlocked so I can use a different neerwork.

  2. Alexander said:

    This is a good thing as I've just started an Orange contract this week, although the T-mobile signal is stronger where I live so I've noticed my phone is on T-mobile most of the time at home.

  3. Phill Sheasby said:

    well to get around all this nonsence i set my mobiles to WCDMA in network mode, so i have superfast h+ and better battery life as its not switching between 2g and 3g. i just have it on 3g.
    im t-mob contract and its actually better to be WCDMA only were i am in leicestershire

  4. ozen78 replied:

    dito, I will be buying out my contract to the tune to 200£ just to get off this slow-throttled, supposedly unlimted data, battery sapping merry-go-round. Back to o2 or even 3.

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