Three admits it slows data for roamers, so where do we go from here?

Earlier this week, I brought up the subject of using data abroad not being like using data at home as a Three customer.

I am so happy to have received many comments on my site, and on Twitter, from people who have the exact same experience. The common theme being that certain services simply don’t work at all abroad.

I must make it clear that I have not removed any comments, for anyone wondering if I’ve been selective and deleted anything that was contrary to my own experience (or that of the many others who have taken the time to comment).

Now, perhaps more importantly, comes the confirmation from Three that people can be slowed down, so as to offer the best experience to the ‘majority’. This also proves that customer services has been wrong in the past to say there is no throttling in operation.

The latest Tweet from Three UK perhaps summarises things best of all, and was sent on Tuesday afternoon:

ThreeUK: We have put a number of steps in place to ensure the majority of customers are able to fully enjoy the most popular services when on holiday abroad on their handset like Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps and web browsing. Hopefully that clears things up 🙂

You can see the other responses in my original article, including the official Three response.

Part of this was a reminder that it’s clearly stated in the terms and conditions, but I don’t actually think it is made clear. Especially when streaming is not possible at all.

All of this might mean Three has no intention of changing things, but at least users can now be fully aware of what they can, and can’t, expect from the service – or when buying a Euro Internet Pass.

With this in mind, we can then agree that as long as you don’t expect the exact same service from Feel at Home as actually being at home, you can still save a packet compared to travelling abroad on other networks – for voice and text in particular.

If you need to do more with your phone when travelling, you may however need to look elsewhere.

For now, it seems that Vodafone is offering by far the best deal for anyone wanting unhindered data access abroad, even though you will almost certainly be paying more for the privilege. The dilemma then is that you may have a poorer experience when in the UK compared to Three, as Vodafone is still playing catch up on building a solid 3G (and now 4G) network.

So why is Three having to do this when other networks do not?

The main problem for Three is that it is offering unlimited access, albeit subject to a fair use policy (that is still extremely generous).

As such, if everyone going abroad took full advantage of data like they might do at home, there could be a heavy impact on the local network, and the cost to Three for allowing such usage.

For Feel at Home, Three must have negotiated very good (commercially sensitive) deals with foreign networks, and not just its own as with the original 3LikeHome scheme that worked only on other Three networks.

Like all-you-can-eat data being offered at home, Three will be gambling on some users using a lot, and many using very little. And hopefully a lot more of the latter, although Three has the highest data usage per customer than any other UK network.

Three’s own VPN allows for almost limitless traffic management, including throttling and blocking some services completely.

Services that consume large amounts of data, like streaming music and video, downloading apps and games, downloading, or uploading (for example, backing up all those holiday photos and videos to the cloud) can all take their toll, so maybe it’s understandable that Three has a ‘number of steps’ to ‘ensure the majority of customers are able to fully enjoy the most popular services’.

Hence Three is controlling what we can, and can’t do, when abroad -whether using Feel at Home, or paying £5 per day for a Euro Internet Pass.

By comparison, other networks only allow you to use a limited amount of data that you have already paid for (plus a daily fee, which allows for a similar approach; some will use more data than others, and it balances out).

If you have a larger allowance, such as 20GB for example, you’re paying more to have that, so the impact is lessened once again.

Alternatively, you might be asked to buy a specific amount of data when travelling, until you’re cut off again before paying more. Both of these methods mean the network gets more money the more data you use, which makes sense, even if it doesn’t sound as good as ‘unlimited’.

(There’s also the ordinary pay-per-megabyte pricing model too, but only a fool would pay this way as costs can quickly rack up even for the most minimal of usage)

Clearly Feel at Home sounds great, and for some people (the ‘majority’ that Three refers to) it is, but it’s not the same as being at home, where data is truly unlimited and generally works brilliantly on 3G or 4G.

What can Three do to make it right?

These days, it’s becoming increasingly common for establishments offering Wi-Fi to offer different levels of service. Free Wi-Fi with restrictions, and with a charge for the all-singing, all-dancing, service that may offer higher speeds, and no data usage limits.

Perhaps that’s something that Three needs to do with Feel at Home?

Firstly, start by making it clear the things you can do when on holiday, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email and accessing the web (or using Google Maps, a service some commenters have stated they also have issues with).

Then make it clear that it’s not intended for using with Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and others. State these as actual examples in the terms and conditions, not a vague note about streaming possibly being slower (it’s not just slow, it doesn’t work!).

Especially when using a VPN, which Three has said you are allowed to use but may be slower, will usually bypass the restrictions and operate at full speed.

Secondly, introduce an optional add-on that lifts the restrictions for a fixed period (e.g. one day), so you can enjoy those extra services if and when you want, and help Three cover the cost of allowing it.

Thirdly, now tethering can be managed via Three’s separate Personal Hotspot APN, it also makes sense to consider a daily/weekly tethering add-on that gives a set amount of data for sharing with a tablet or laptop.. Again, the charge will cover the cost of providing the service.

Fourthly, how about starting to negotiate some 4G roaming deals? This is the least important, but I’m just throwing it out there as something else to consider. After all, EE now offers 4G roaming in over 60 countries, and Vodafone has topped 70, with more to come.

Actually, I can think of a fifth option too. As with many other networks abroad (including other Three networks) there’s the option of still offering unlimited data, but with a certain allowance at full-speed, before dropping markedly afterwards to discourage abuse.

Of course, we can argue about whether taking advantage of unlimited data can ever be considered abuse…. Let’s just say that in the UK, Three has always been proud of having NO physical limit on its AYCE data offering (besides a 1TB fair use policy) and maybe offering unlimited when roaming is just not appropriate, until such time that it can be offered without the need for traffic management to satisfy the majority.

And what about the other networks for roaming?

I contacted the other main UK networks to ask how they do things for customers using data abroad.

Unfortunately, some responses seemed to talk more about data usage with regard to cost, than actual usage, but here they are anyway:

VODAFONEAll of our price plans come with generous data allowances and we aim to notify customers when they reach 80% and 100% of their inclusive data allowance. The alerts also advise them of the additional cost of extra data. However, it is the customer’s responsibility to monitor their own data usage and they can to this by checking online, by using the My Vodafone app, or by ringing 44555. 

For customers travelling abroad, we offer some of the most competitive plans to manage data spending. These include Vodafone EuroTraveller and WorldTraveller which – from just £3 extra a day – let customers take their UK minutes, texts and data abroad with them to over 60 destinations across the world. There’s no charge to receive calls or texts and customers only pay for the days they use their device overseas.

For customers who decide not to opt into either Vodafone EuroTraveller or Vodafone WorldTraveller, we have a data spending cap of £36.39 whilst overseas. The cap is automatically applied to all customers. Customers are sent free text alert when they reach 80% of their monthly spending limit. Once the cap is reached, they will not be able to use the mobile internet overseas for the rest of the month unless they contact us and request its removal.

EEEE’s standard roaming data add-ons get you connected at the fastest available speed including superfast 4G on over 60 networks in over 45 countries.

With Euro Pass and Euro Data Pass, the first 100MB of data each day is full speed and customers can then use another 400MB of slower speed data to keep browsing, messaging and using social media at no extra charge.

O2We do not block websites or determine how customers use their data when roaming.  Pay Monthly customers who use O2 Travel get a days’ worth of data for £1.99 when travelling in Europe.  In line with our fair usage terms, if they exceed 100MB of general data or more than 50MB of streamed video or audio data in a day, then they can experience slower speeds for the remainder of the day.

More information on O2 Travel can be found here – https://www.o2.co.uk/shop/international/using-phone-in-europe 

Customers who do not use O2 Travel or roam outside of Europe will not be restricted in any way.

Once again, please share your comments below.

28 thoughts on “Three admits it slows data for roamers, so where do we go from here?

  1. Just been using it in the USA and I must say it’s working better than before – speeds still not great, but at least semi-usable and the big difference is my phone doesn’t overheat and have a massive battery drain like it used to!

  2. I recently spent a couple of weeks in France and ended up buying a free.fr SIM card as feel at home with my three SIM was so pitifully slow as to be unusable (I couldn’t reliably search for an address on google maps or waze as it often timed out, and forget trying a very frugal 24kbps internet radio stream)

    The interesting thing is that the free.fr SIM was valid for a month so I wound up testing their roaming outside of France… What a revelation! I experienced full 3G speeds with zero throttling in Germany, Belgium, back in the UK and in South Africa! I could also tether my computer for no extra charge whilst roaming. I could directly see the throttling in action with my free.fr phone alongside my three phone roaming in Germany and Belgium on the same networks. The three phone remained unusable with enormous latency and sub 10kbps speeds on average whilst the free.fr phone loaded pages at the same full 3G speeds (4-8Mbps) as a local phone.

    Free.fr do have a lower usage limit when roaming of 5GB vs the three 12GB roaming allowance but I’ll take the lower limit any day for an actually usable service. The higher allowance with three is a joke any ways as the aggressive throttling ensures no one could ever get anywhere near it.

    I think this goes to show that there is really no reason at all other than greed preventing three from offering a proper feel at home service. Free.fr are a far smaller company than Hutchinson, only operating in France at present yet they manage true “feel at home” roaming.

  3. https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsThere’s been mention of VPNs being used to free up the “throttling”. I’ve tried vpnuk and I can tell you it doesn’t help. Is there really a vpn that does work for this situation?
    Three must use a VPN anyway because the IP address of devices on roaming are on a London server.

    1. I must say I’ve never found a VPN helped with speeds when roaming with Three (sadly!)

  4. I was in the USA earlier in October for 10 days. Having had a bad experience with FeelAtHome in New York earlier this year, I decided to try using a US sim – something I haven’t done before. Having first got my phone unlocked I bought an AT&T ‘GoPhone’ sim on the afternoon we arrived (in Washington DC). Altogether it cost me just over $50 which I suppose is quite a bit of money, but that gave me lots of minutes for calls (I think I made 1!), lots of texts, and up to 3Gb of data, for a month from the date of buying the sim. This was the $45 a month deal, plus $5 for the sim, plus a bit of tax.

    It worked perfectly in my iPhone 6 – very good data, with fast 4G all the time. There were one or two times when there was no signal at all, but given that these were when we were out in the country, e.g. on the Skyline Drive which runs along the top of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia, I’m not going to complain…. Certainly whenever I needed data, for Google Maps, social media, and general browsing it was there and very fast.

    As I say, it cost me a certain amount of money. However it was still much cheaper than the roaming cost would have been with my UK provider (EE). More important, however, was the fact that I quickly gained confidence that it would work. Given that we spent 6 days of our holiday on a road trip around Virginia during which we might have needed to deal with emergencies, this was reassuring. It was also reassuring that we knew we could be contacted in the US – we emailed family members in the UK with our US phone number as soon as we knew it.

    The experience was so positive that I’ll do this again the next time I travel outside Europe, rather than mess around with roaming. So my conclusion as to “where do we go from here?” is: buy a local sim. Swallow the cost, use it, and relax knowing you’ve got good connectivity.

  5. I’m sat on a train between dusseldorf and cologne right now.

    I can’t stream a Spotify song for more than 2 seconds without it cutting out and pausing for up to 10 seconds.

    I’m supposedly getting 16Mbit down, which to me seems pretty damn clear I’m being throttled.

    Pathetic and upsetting. This isn’t mentioned anywhere in the terms and conditions and to openly lie about it infuriates me. Especially for over 50 quid a month.

    I have 2 contacts with 3 but after this I may leave and get a Vodafone contract like you. I’d rather pay and have some sort of service than get one for free that simply doesn’t work.


  6. I would like to know if any one else has been treated unfair concerning feel at home! Is it possible for three to block you being able to call your other three account when they are tired of you complaining. I can not call my three number in Indonesia or text they can call me but not text me. No one can call my 3 number in Indonesia.

    A technician told me they probably blackballed my number. IS THIS POSSIBLE!

  7. Jonathan – thanks for the articles. I have been suffering with Three for years, I tour the eu a lot in a motorhome.

    I came across this outfit recently, who claim to offer unlimited roaming data for £90 a month, which is a lot if you say it all at once, but at £3 a day is not unreasonable. But does it work? their website is a bit light on technical detail.



    1. I don’t know anything about this company and I’d want to know if the unlimited data was really unlimited, or subject to restrictions (like throttling to 2G speeds as is common in the US on unlimited plans, and was on EE with its daily plan until earlier in the year) but on the face of it, it sounds pretty good.

      I will try and look into it more and see if could get one to try out, although I don’t have any foreign travel planned for a little while now.

  8. Exactly the same experience in Berlin (July) and Greece (Crete) right now. The REALLY weird and unforgivable thing is that it’s Google Maps and Google Translate that work REALLY badly – sometimes as if the routes to those services have been blocked or are dropping almost all packets – whereas most other services work ok, if sometimes slowly and with latency. Weirdly, Twitter images (but not twitter itself) is also REALLY slow, but not acting like it’s almost blocked… A different sort of broken compared to google maps/translate.

    Both YouTube and Spotify appear to completely block streaming.

    Presumably all data is hauled back to/from three in the UK before being routed out to the Internet? Until I found this article I was beginning to think they’d completely cocked up their routing tables. But this article would suggest something more sinister.

    What a shame. Their UK service is great. Such a pity that their roaming (£5 Euro pass in this case) is so aggressively and deliberately crippled 🙁

  9. Guys vote with your feet and change to the new Vodafone Red plans with unlimited European roaming. I found ‘Feel at Home’ such an impediment that I ended the contract early. Best £50 I’ve ever spent.

    Sent from the beach in Mallorca at 40Mbps UNTHROTTLED bliss…

  10. I spend more and more of my time in France . I’ve had a dual SIM phone for years with a French sim and a Three sim.
    I don’t use the three sim a lot but need a UK contact number that people can reach me on.

    Last week Three cut my SIM off in Francewit 48 hrs notice . When I rang customer services I was told I’d exceeded the two month limit .

    I asked about standard connection rates whilst abroad and wsa told that they don’t offer them . once your two months is up that’s it , there’s no fall back plan !

    On return to UK mythree SIM didn’t work ; I had to spend 30 mins with three service to get it back into operation !

    Not impressed !

  11. So how do you use the VPN to increase speed abroad? Surely this would be just as slow as the rest of the traffic barring certain applications e.g. Facebook, Instagram etc.

    1. VPNs will generally slow your connection a bit, but here it works by stopping Three from blocking specific services. This is why you can get a great speed test result, but then hardly any data for downloading an app or using YouTube. With the VPN, you will get a slower speed test but that’s not really a problem when for most of my own tests, I’ve had speeds in excess of 10Mbps most of the time – which is ample.

  12. Thank goodness I’m not the only one!! I’ve had atrocious speeds with Three in both the USA and France, pretty much unusable much of the time. Occasionally switch data off and on will allow it to work temporarily. It definitely feels like 2G speeds at times. However (I think probably linked to this) the bigger problem I have abroad is battery life – it is drastically worse than at home and the phone becomes appreciably warm. It’s a Galaxy S7 and normally has pretty decent battery life, has anyone else had similar issues?

  13. three roaming is awful unable to use even google maps abroad. no issue with Vodafone.

  14. While roaming in the US, I even had trouble with Three’s own app (“My account” section) timing out… I didn’t feel at home. The bandwidth was laughable.

  15. For the past two years when holidaying in France I have been very disappointed with the speed of Three’s data offerings. As described streaming has been impossible. This time I bought a data sim (Pochette prêt à surfer) from an Orange shop in France and used it in my the Huawei mifi unit I had purchased at home. It worked perfectly providing full speed wifi to all our holiday devices for the three weeks of our holiday.

    1. I am a regular visitor to France to visit family and spend two months at a time there. I have a mobile 4 G hotspot with 15 Gb of data per month which drives several pads and phones. Initially last year during september i was getting reasonable speeds of 1 to 3 Mb/s then in Feb 2016 i was getting very low speeds less than 1 Mb/s and always 3G data NOT 4G. More recently in early June 2016 i was getting even worse data speeds and the device would switch to 2G which was almost unusable! I the went for a short break to Venice in June, and could not use my device at all.
      However, I have to say my data speeds in UK are amazing, often exceeding 40Gb/s so very happy with that side, but surely it ought to be possible to get reasonable speeds abroad. How about it Three?

      1. Two months at a time and you wonder why you are throttled ? Talk about the few spoiling it for the many ffs

  16. I endured the same miserable experience with Three FaH as everyone else – pitifully slow often totally unusable data while roaming in France and Spain over the past past year. I regret being a bit of a cheapskate, and would pay more for a useable service.

    One big question remains: when roaming fees are abolished from June 2017, what difference will this actually make for people across the networks? It would be naive to assume that it will level out costs and speed up data… Throttling will be permitted and it looks like the ‘use your plan allocation abroad’ fees (where charged) are not limited. Local data bundles can be priced at any level so these might go up, and the networks could try introducing an unthrottling fee, or some other way of sidestepping EU legislation on this.

    Then of course, in the event of a hugely risky Brexit, roaming charges can’t be capped and will skyrocket at some point during the resulting turmoil.

  17. I find that my office Outlook account is rendered almost useless by the slow speed. I keep getting “could not download from server” messages. This is both for FAH and euro pass. I think that an option to pay for fast (and by that I mean 4g) access would be a good idea. I agree that on the whole Three are brilliant but I find the speed when abroad really frustrating. Thanks for an excellent article.

  18. Well at least they are admitting it now, but they need to clearly state which services are restricted and drop the feel like home slogan. Also maps needs to be unblocked as it’s essential whilst away.

  19. I would have thought that twitter and whatsapp fell directly in the category of “popular services” that Three mention, but I have been absolutely unable to use them at all in Ireland and Denmark. Don’t have an issue with them making sure we don’t bankrupt them, however “at home” data should be just that – maybe with streaming excluded to keep the cost to them down


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.