Saturday, September 18, 2021

O2 vs. T-Mobile (UK)

May 6, 2008 by · 17 Comments 

As some of you may know, I’ve had some issues with my current carrier T-Mobile. Not horrible issues, just annoyances that can sometimes make me wonder if the grass is greener on another carrier. These annoyances included delay in sms reception, coverage, and 3G downtime. However, the reason why I had T-Mobile in the first place was because a year or so ago, they were the only carrier with an “Unlimited” data option. These days, it seems most carriers have an ‘unlimited’ data option although they are not all created equal, for their fair use policies can vary from 200MB to 3GB.

I decided the easiest way for me to taste the waters of another carrier was to go for a SIM-only deal. Since I have an iPhone, I decided to choose O2’s Simplicity 25 pound tariff with the ‘unlimited’ web bolt-on instead of the default one. Because this plan is month-to-month, and allowed me usage of O2’s EDGE network, I figured I’d enjoy it the most.

So now to the comparisons:


Although I have never really had huge issues with T-Mobile on the coverage front, O2 is clearly superior. In some of my usual places like the supermarket, sometimes when deep inside the store, I lose signal with T-Mobile, but not with O2. Again, I generally have not had issues with coverage with T-Mobile in the places I’ve visited in the UK, but I live in London, so your mileage may vary.

Winner: O2

Data Network Speed-

Aside from SMS, I use data the most on my mobile devices. I don’t use other services that circumvent normal data usage such as the Blackberry service because I prefer to connect to my email directly via POP/IMAP (Google Mail has IMAP for free), so data speed and amount (because of attachments) is very important for me.

For this test, I limited tests to 3G (UMTS) and did NOT use HSDPA since it is the lowest common denominator and is more prevalent than HSDPA coverage.

My results were astonishing. EDGE on O2 is FAST, but O2’s 3G is not during mid-day hours, whilst T-Mobile reigns supreme in general. I did an additional test of O2 3G at 1:00 am to see if the speeds would improve, and they did, but the 3G connection reverted to GPRS (not sure if handset or network fault). All tests were done with the following site:

  • Four speed tests of T-Mobile UK 3G on a Nokia E61i: 151 Kbps, 180 Kbps, 182 kbps, 158kbps
  • Four speed tests of O2 UK 3G on a Nokia E65: 57 Kbps, 66 Kbps, 77kbps, 76kbps
  • Three speed tests of O2 UK 3G on a Nokia E61i: 115 kbps, 99 kbps, 38 kbps (dropped 3G and went to GRPS)
  • Three speed tests of iPhone on O2 UK EDGE: 128 kbps, 144 kbps, 108 kbps
  • Four speed tests of iPhone on O2 UK GPRS: 29 Kbps, 53 Kbps, 44 kbps, 46 kbps
  • Three speed tests of iPhone on T-Mobile UK GPRS: 41 kbps, 35 kbps, 39 kbps

Winner: T-Mobile


Although both services had reliable GPRS, and putting aside any issues regarding coverage, I have found the experience of O2’s EDGE very disappointing. Although T-Mobile’s 3G is sometimes down around where I work, it is, at most once every 2 months. O2’s EDGE network, by contrast, is spotty at best. I’m disappointed with this; I would have expected London to have been solid by now being a good while since the iPhone’s (and EDGE’s) release. I have not had any major issues with O2 3G (other than the transition from 3G to GPRS as noted above), but have not had it long enough to be able to comment on that since my O2 SIM has spent a larger part of its life in my iPhone.

Winner: Draw

Ease of understanding terms & conditions and their flexibility-

When I was looking for plans, the O2 Simplicity plan with the ‘Unlimited’ Bolt-On seemed excellent. I spent quite a while of time on the O2 website reading the terms and conditions that were linked from the Simplicity section and they all seemed to imply ‘unlimited’ as in unlimited… However, shortly after having received my SIM, by browsing endlessly on other websites (forums link below) I came upon the following link which states the Fair Use Policy is 200MB, HARDLY unlimited.

Compare this to T-Mobile’s generous 1GB, and the recent announcement of Vodafone’s 500MB included in people’s plans for free… seem’s O2’s 200MB is on the stingy side. In one month I use roughly 220MB, 20MB over (at 1 Pound a MB, my overage could come out at 20 pounds) but I just don’t want to feel restricted. It does seem, however, that O2 will not go ballistic on your overage, but may contact you and warn you. I hope not to find out, but I’m disappointed that ‘unlimited’ is hardly that on O2.

Winner: T-Mobile


Although I will be testing the O2 SIM for the rest of May, I’m really disappointed with the lack of uniformity of EDGE coverage and very sneaky use of the word ‘Unlimited’. If I were to buy one of those data dongle thingies, I think I’d go with T-Mobile.. if I were just going to call and SMS people, I’d go with O2, but for those in the middle, like myself, it’ll be a bit more difficult to choose.. I’ll keep you posted on my choice.

Comments are closed.