O2 ask iPhone users to use wi-fi instead of 3G - are apps killing the network?

A couple of shortcomings (as highlighted in our review on Monday) and the £10 monthly subscription aside, the Spotify iPhone app seems to have been well received.

Unlike the excellent WunderRadio and other streaming apps, Spotify has received a massive amount of mainstream attention - it's a rarity for a single app to be discussed on breakfast television or appear on the front page of the BBC News portal - not unless in involves shaking infants to death. The onslaught of attention has seen the app sit pretty at the top of the iTunes chart since it was released; although plenty of iPhone users will download it without being aware of the subscription barrier, a modest proportion will have been converted to paying customers.

So what do O2 make of all of this? After all, they won't have been involved in the negotiations between Apple and Spotify, and now they're having to service a popular app that is eating up a massive amount of 3G bandwidth - the app only needs wi-fi to cache offline playlists, but it can stream constantly over a 3G connection. That's potentially a lot of bandwidth usage by a single customer, isn't it?

This morning we received an email from Bitterwallet reader Lewis:

"After Spotify came out on Monday for the iphone I have been using it a lot - I've probably used about a gig of mobile data in the few days since release. Today I got a text from O2:

"Get the most out of apps and the web by using Wi-Fi, at home or out and about. It's quicker, especially for apps like video, and really easy to set up. Tap the link and we'll take you through the steps. http://shop.o2.co.uk/update/wifi.html

"I checked with a colleague who is also with o2 and has an iPhone but has not been using Spotify and he didn't receive the message."

I downloaded the Spotify app on Monday to review it for Bitterwallet, but I haven't used the app for streaming, just for caching offline playlists using wi-fi. I received the same text on Monday night. And we weren't the only ones; a quick check of Twitter shows other Spotify users received the same text:

Bitterwallet - O2 suggests Spotify users use wi-fi

Everyone's first thought concerned a grand conspiracy involving O2 keeping tabs on exactly which apps we'd downloaded. However we've checked with over a dozen other owners - it's hit-and-miss whether they received the text, regardless of whether they use Spotify or not.

The timing is significant though. Spotify is arguably the highest profile iPhone app to be launched so far in the UK, and those keen enough to pay the subscription will hammer it. Absolutely hammer it. Then you consider the dozens of apps that stream, upload or download audio and video, and all the other functionality that can be carried out as easily over 3G as it can over wi-fi. O2 have been hit by a series of minor outtages in recent weeks, and now are suddenly very keen to push iPhone customers away from using 3G wherever possible, or as one customers put it on Twitter: "they might as well be begging us not to use the network too much".

Are O2 simply trying to better manage their users, or is the iPhone and the likes of Spotify squeezing the life out of their service?

[UPDATE - O2 have been in touch with our friends at TechRadar to tell them that sending a text suggesting people use wi-fi within 12 hours of the Spotify app launching was entirely coincidental: "We regularly update our customers with service messages. We have recently had an increase in calls into customer service about setting up Wi-Fi so we decided to send a text to our customers giving practical advice about setting up Wi-Fi on the iPhone. We appreciate many customers already know how to do this and apologise if they felt the message was not relevant to them." So it was for the good of the customer after all, and O2 in no way benefits from their customers sucking up less bandwidth. There you go.]


  • The B.
    Nope, I use Wifi all the time, don't use Spotify and I've just had that text from O2 too.
  • spongebob
    I have recived text too which i believe has been sent or is getting sent to all users not just those who use spotify or 3g a lot.
  • Herb K.
    Hi Paul, 3g networks getting choked with so many Internet devices which is why AT&T in US have bought so many hotspots. O2 clearly having same problems. My guess is that they're really starting to freak with how much demand they're getting via 3g. Here's one post that discusses this at least in part.. http://gigaom.com/2009/08/18/how-smartphones-are-making-wi-fi-hot-again/ Herb
  • k_fed
    Same, I got the text this morning but have never used spotify. I am also constantly using my wi-fi at work/home.
  • F.D. A.
    O2's is caught in a vicious catch 22. Try to force your customers to give up network-choking-but-popular streaming activities and they could tell you to p*** off.
  • Matt
    Hilarious - we will sell you the said product but don't dare to use it in the way thats advertised! Nice one O2.
  • Paul S.
    Herb - thanks for the link. Good article (although a little odd that he's managing to stream Spotify in San Francisco, since it isn't available in the US...). The problem with hotspots is that unless the transition from 3G to wi-fi is fluid and seamless - so no need to go into Safari, then register or log-in, assuming the login page bothers to display at all - then it's far easier to continue using 3G. There's a great issue here too, for Apple, Android and every app store already online and planned - where does the service provider figure in any of the submission guidelines? It doesn't.The service provider currently gets no say in whether it's prepared to manage the demand, regardless of how much bandwidth an app sucks up. Something is going to have to give at some point - do the various app stores impose streaming limits or do service providers charge a premium themselves for specific apps?
  • TFEB
    This is pretty clever from O2 actually. No they wont be monitoring what apps ppl are downloading but they will be able to pull reports of say the top 10,000 or even 1 mil data users a certain billing platform and target those users with a generic text. Your very naive if you think O2 doesnt keep a track on the data useage of its customers. All the networks do it
  • Alex W.
    O2's data network is always going tits up- www.theregister.co.uk is full of reports of downtime for everyone, not just jesusphone users.
  • MrRobin
    I got the text too. I haven't downloaded Spotify. Perhaps they are just sending it to higher than average 3G users, presumably it's pretty easy for them to identify that. Having said that, although I do use many apps that make connections, I often wait until I'm in a WiFi spot as the data speed is usually rubbish. I have my iPhone set up to connect to WiFi at home, work, my parents place, my girlfriend's parent's place, several friends' houses, shopping centres and train stations etc etc etc so yeah thanks O2 but next time tell me something useful, like you're upgrading your 3G server capacities or something.
  • Paul S.
    Yeah, I think it's more likely they're sending the text to everyone, regardless of usage. I guess the question is - are they sending it because care about your user experience, dear customer, or because everyone is screwing their service and they can't cope?
  • WHennessy
    Must be a slow day at Bitterwallet...
  • bykergrove
    well that's what they get for monopolising the iphone on their network from release. shame!
  • scottish b.
    www.bbc.co.uk/news *******news in real time***********
  • Dai G.
    @Paul Smith - "are they sending it because care about your user experience, dear customer, or because everyone is screwing their service and they can’t cope?" Maybe it is because they cant cope due to overuse, so are trying to improve the average user experience by getting people to use wifi where possible to lessen the demand on 3G, which ideally would be a win - win situation?
  • Paul S.
    I'm not sure how a customer can "overuse" 3G on an "unlimited" data plan. Maybe if O2 stopped shrouding their tariffs in nebulous marketing, they'd be able to better manage customers and ensure they didn't "overuse" it. The mobile company create the problem, which they attempt to solve by telling the customer how they should use their mobile. Brilliant.
  • numberwang
    If in doubt, write about said phone.......... you don't have any facts apart from that people are getting texts making explaining wi-fi to them??? some guess work of a story, not that I think BW started it that is you guys just get the dregs
  • lewiso
    Finally a name drop in a Bitterwallet story. I can stop the relentless onslaught of photographs of trolleys and pointless news and get on with my life! Thanks Paul. Made my Bitterwallet day. Lewis
  • numberwang
    /\ *making? wtf
  • Unabletopublish
    It isn't unlimited. Look at the terms of the contact: it's fair usage. If you are using gigabytes and degrading the service for other considerate users, expect consequences.
  • Samantha K.
    I wonder if this will exhume any changes with O2's plans? If their Data-Services cannot handle the load, it surely must be safe to assume that if it continues, O2 will have to do something to kurb the use of extensive 3G data... Price rises anyone? Either that, or they'll have to extend their existing services to handle increased consumer-demand.
  • m0ka
    I, rather annoyingly, received the text at almost half past midnight last night when I had just fallen asleep. Since I use my phone as my alarm, the volume was on. Not very pleased with 02 this morning, but not for the same reasons as everyone else... :o) I use WiFi whenever I can, and don't have Spotify, so I think it's just a general text to everyone (although probably as a result of the network being hammered since the Spotify release). I wouldn't say I'm a heavy data network user at all twitter for about 10 mins during my commute to work is about it, so I don't see how I would end up even in the 'top 10,000' data users. Oh.. and I remember too that I got the same text last night at around 7.20pm on my 1st Gen iPhone with PAYG sim card (so absolutely NO data usage on that phone).
  • Gaz
    Don't really see the problem - o2 tells customers they can use WiFi and get better experience. In doing so they reduce the strain on the 3G network. Now tell me what the problem is? If you have wifi, you have to be an utter goon not to have it set up on your iPhone.
  • gooner
    i dont even use web using credit just use it on a wifi connection and got a text saying you have used 450mb of your 5000mb allowance and its £3 per MB if you go over 500mb....hmmm
  • gooner
    500 MB not 5000 MB DOH
  • Exclusive: m.
    [...] A number of O2 customers who downloaded the Spotify application - which uses 3G to stream songs direct to the device - said they had received the following service text, according to website Bitter Wallet: [...]
  • Brian2
    I've not received a text message, i feel left out now!!
  • Maude
    @ Paul Smith 'Herb – thanks for the link. Good article (although a little odd that he’s managing to stream Spotify in San Francisco, since it isn’t available in the US…).' You can use Spotify anywhere in the world with a Premium subscription. http://www.spotify.com/en/products/premium/

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