iPhone and Roaming Warning : When No Does Not Mean No

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A warning for those on O2 iPhones who are travelling : There have been many tales of woe regarding mobile smartphones and the curse of roaming data costs but my recent experiences suggest even switching off data roaming on your iPhone or iPad is not enough.

Travelling to the USA and onto New Zealand, I always make sure Airplane Mode is enabled when it should be, to comply with airline regulations etc. The prevalence of WiFi in US and Asian airports made it a snap to pick up my messages on layovers and stops. Always, always, always I am careful to make sure that the useful iOS setting “Data Roaming” is set to Off before I enable anything. Having heard horror stories of mobile bills hitting £1K plus, and having seen my corporate clients regularly clocking up £2-3K, its an area I am very careful to check.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered my emails were coming in thick and fast to my iPhone despite no WiFi coverage. I kept checking the Roaming settings and they were duly disabled. I assumed some magic was happening over 3G using push etc. and of course thought I was not going to be charged. I even took the step of showing the phone to some contacts on my travels so they could act as ‘witness’ to the fact that I had set the phone accordingly.

Sure enough, my operator in the UK had clocked up 6 quid’s worth of roaming despite the correct settings so I dropped them a line. The amount was gratifyingly small but clearly there was a problem. A quick bit of research shows that this is a known fault with O2 iPhones and has been in the wild since May. O2 were very apologetic in their response and a credit is apparently on its way. For those on O2 who are travelling with their iPhone, below is O2’s – rather extreme – advice on how to ensure Data Roaming is disabled. It involves removing the APN details – this is the gateway on the mobile data network which O2 provide to link customers to the internet. By removing its details, the phone is disconnected from the internet proper. It can be reinstated by re-inserting the APN name but is nevertheless a hassle. Recent articles suggest the known fault is linked to the Visual Voicemail service which O2 provide on the iPhone. No sign of a fix yet.

For those on O2 in the UK who are travelling with their iPhone, here are the sage words from the Telefonica Customer Service Team. Note that they suggest checking your ‘firmware’ but I assume that regular iTunes synchronisation will already put you on the latest iOS version and a fix is yet to be produced:

The only way to completely stop roaming charges while abroad is to
delete the APN. By deleting the settings manually you can avoid the data
roaming charges. To do this please follow the steps given below:

– from your home screen tap settings
– tap general
– tap network
– tap cellular data network
– tap APN and either delete completely or delete co.uk so that the
settings are incomplete.

Once the settings have been changed your iPhone will no longer be able
to connect to idata.co.uk

When you return to the UK or want to access internet again, simply
repeat the steps above and re-enter the correct APN : which is
idata.co.uk. You can also update your iPhone to the latest firmware to
avoid this. You may do by clicking on the link below:


I hope you’ll find this information useful.

O2 Customer Service

Happy trails !


daniSeptember 24th, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Feedback from O2: Please ensure that you switch your iPhone off and leave it at home while you are travelling .-)

SimonSeptember 25th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Thanks Dani. Interesting business model at O2 these days ! Bless ’em.

GeoffApril 30th, 2012 at 11:51 am

To be fair this sounds like an Apple bug not an O2 bug. I found this happened three times last week while not roaming in Singapore & Sri Lanka on restarting the phone. It only happened for a few seconds each time – as if the iPhone had finished loaded the APN settings into memory and duly was downloading data before applying the ‘no roaming’ option.