Orange and T-Mobile begin 3G network sharing

October 23rd, 2011

As of October 2011, Orange and T-Mobile are beginning to merge their 3G networks. Customers will be able to make phone calls, send text messages and browse the web on both networks.

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

At present, Orange customers and T-Mobile customers have access to each other’s 2G mobile phone networks through roaming. This means that when you don’t have any coverage from your home network, you’ll be able to roam onto the other network in order to make phone calls and send texts. From October 2011, this roaming arrangement is being enhanced with “seamless” roaming as well as the ability to roam for 3G services.

What’s the current roaming arrangement between Orange and T-Mobile?

Orange and T-Mobile first turned on non-seamless 2G roaming in October 2010. Non-seamless roaming meant that Orange customers could connect to the T-Mobile 2G network and T-Mobile customers could connect to the Orange 2G network. When roaming, download speeds are limited to about 80kbit/sec and it isn’t possible to switch networks mid-call. Hence an Orange customer who begins a phone call on the Orange network but loses signal from Orange wouldn’t have their call automatically switched over to T-Mobile: the call would drop instead. Under non-seamless roaming, your mobile phone will also select your home network over the roaming network whenever possible (even if coverage is much better on the roaming network).

What are the benefits of the new “seamless” and “3G” roaming arrangements?

From October 2011 onwards, Orange and T-Mobile are turning on seamless roaming for both 2G and 3G. This is a significant development for Orange and T-Mobile customers giving several key benefits:

  • Your phone will automatically pick the network with the strongest signal. If you had a one-bar Orange signal and a five-bar T-Mobile signal where you live, your Orange phone would still have picked up the weaker one-bar Orange signal under non-seamless roaming. Under seamless roaming, your phone will pick up the stronger five-bar T-Mobile signal instead. This should lead to fewer dropped calls and better battery life.
  • You can switch network mid-call. Under non-seamless roaming, it was not possible to switch network in the middle of a phone call without dropping the phone call. With seamless roaming, you will be able to continue your phone call regardless of whether an Orange signal or a T-Mobile signal is being used in the background.
  • Faster download speeds on the roaming network. Under the old roaming arrangement, only 2G services were covered. So an Orange customer could access the T-Mobile 2G network and a T-Mobile customer could access the Orange 2G network but isn’t possible to access the roaming network’s 3G signal. Under the new roaming arrangement, both 2G and 3G networks are covered. This means that when you’re roaming, you’ll get the same high-speed downloads that you would on your home network.

Do I need to opt in to the new roaming arrangements?

No. Unlike with 2G non-seamless roaming which launched last October, there is no need to opt-in for the new roaming arrangements. The roaming arrangements will be turned on across the UK region-by-region and you’ll receive a text message to let you know when it’s been enabled on your phone.

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. In order to determine whether you’re connected to a 2G or 3G mast, look at the indicator in your phone’s status bar:

  • G – GPRS (2G connection, up to 80kbit/s)
  • E – EDGE (enhanced 2G connection, up to 237kbit/s)
  • 3G – Basic 3G connection (up to 384kbit/s)
  • H – HSDPA (enhanced 3G, up to 7.2Mbit/s)
  • H+ – HSPA+ (evolved 3G, up to 21Mbit/s)

Can I still use my inclusive minutes and texts as normal whilst roaming?

Yes. You can still use your inclusive minutes and texts as normal whether you are connected to a Orange mast or a T-Mobile mast. Unlike international roaming, there are no extra fees associated with this service.

Are there any changes to the call charges or download limits?

No. You will be charged as normal regardless of whether you are connected to an Orange mast or a T-Mobile mast. Downloads on Orange masts and T-Mobile masts both count towards your normal monthly download limit.

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

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

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?

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 when abroad you pay up to £8/MB for data (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 means you won’t be stung with huge charges if you go abroad as your phone won’t use “data roaming”. The side-effect of this setting is that it may also disable data roaming within the UK across Orange and T-Mobile (which has no additional charges). The workaround is to re-enable “data roaming” but remember to turn it off before you leave the UK though or you could be stung with a huge charge.

I’m a T-Mobile customer. Can I now access services such as Orange Wednesday whilst roaming on Orange?

No. Orange services such as Orange voicemail and Orange Wednesdays are only for Orange customers. The important thing is which network you have an account with: not which network’s masts you’re connected to. The same goes for Orange customers and T-Mobile services.

Why has it taken so long for seamless roaming and 3G roaming to begin?

Virgin Mobile customers can benefit from 2G roaming on Orange.

It’s been a whole year since the launch of non-seamless 2G roaming on Orange and T-Mobile. The launch of seamless and 3G roaming was partly delayed by the Arqiva Ltd v Everything Everywhere Ltd High Court case which essentially revolved around whether combining the Orange and T-Mobile networks would breach existing contracts that the companies had Arquiva, a mobile infrastructure provider. Now that the cases have been resolved, we look forward to the launch of seamless roaming and 3G roaming on Orange and T-Mobile.

If you are interested in the technical details behind how seamless roaming and 3G roaming is enabled, see points 46-48 in the Arqiva Ltd v Everything Everywhere Ltd court document.

I’m a Virgin Mobile customer. How am I affected by these changes?

Virgin Mobile is a virtual network operator which uses the T-Mobile signal. From October 2011, Virgin Mobile customers will have access to the Orange 2G signal. Virgin Mobile customers can tell which network they are connected to by looking at the network name on their phone:

  • Virgin: Connected to a T-Mobile signal (Virgin with a capital V)
  • virgin: Connected to an Orange signal (2G only so slow downloads, virgin with a small v)

Please see the Virgin Mobile website in order to opt-in for Orange 2G roaming. Virgin Mobile customers will need to wait until 2012 before they are able to access a 3G signal from Orange.

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.

Why are Orange and T-Mobile offering this service?

Orange and T-Mobile merged in 2010 to form a single company “Everything Everywhere”. “Everything Everywhere” intends to maintain both the “Orange” and “T-Mobile” consumer brands but eventually plans to merge the two networks and to reduce costs by streamlining operations. In the long term, this may mean the withdrawal of certain Orange masts or T-Mobile masts where there is a significant overlap between the two.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 1 comment from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Dee said:

    I received roaming warning and called orange customer care for clarification. The good news is that there won't be roaming charge. The call centre guy was not so convincing though, I must add, I have just taken his word to be true.

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