O2's iPhone tethering charge: Ofcom want to hear from you

16 June 2009

Last week we pulled apart O2's case concerning tethering charges for the iPhone. The fact of the matter is that while O2 maintain an excessive usage policy when it comes to unlimited services like data transfer, they don't have it written down anywhere and can't send you a copy. It's a curious state of affairs when you have to sign a contract and abide by policies you're not allowed to read.

If O2 told customers how much data they could use a month, then customers could have the choice of either using that data for their iPhone or for tethering. It wouldn't matter how the data was used - once the limit was reached, the customer could either pay per MB or pay for an additional data bolt-on. But O2 won't state what their excessive usage policy is, and so if you want to use your iPhone for tethering, they're going to charge you £15 a month for data you're already contributing towards.

Plenty of you aren't happy about the fact, including Bitterwallet reader Andy, who phoned up O2 for an explanation:

My call to 02 was by my choice a quiet and reasoned call. I wanted them to explain to me why I was going to be charged an almost 50% premium on my monthly tariff for tethering.

At first I was told that certain settings needed to be changed on my account. I responded by stating that changing settings did not justify the cost. At this point the customer services rep talked to his manager - he came back to say that O2 has never before offered tethering as a option. I queried this and he explained that O2's terms and conditions forbid tethering. I pointed out that 02 has not restricted customers from tethering their phones for years - the practice is well established and their terms and conditions would not hold up if challenged.

I asked him if he could explain to me why I could download a 500MB file to my iPhone and then move it to my laptop, but not tether and download it directly without paying a premium. He said he couldn't, and nor could he not put me in touch with anyone who could.

Andy then took matters one step further, in a direction that may develop into potential action if it receives enough support. Andy contacted Ofcom about the matter:

After navigating their automated system I reached an operator who listened to what I had to say. He said at first glance he was unsure why O2 was levying an additional charge. He explained this was the first time anyone had brought the matter to Ofcom's attention and encouraged me to write to O2 and follow it up.

He also said that any action Ofcom might take (he was not explicit) would not occur without further calls to them about this issue. He gave me a call reference number and ended by telling me that if I do not receive an adequate response within 12 weeks then I then would be in a position to contact Otelo, the telecommunications ombudsman.

So there you have it. Of course there's no promise of action, but at least Ofcom are prepared to listen. Their number in case you want it, is 020 7981 3040 or 0300 123 3333.

TOPICS:   Mobile


  • acecatcher3
    paul u love the iphone so much
  • Pure-Klenz
    iPhones rule peni!
  • eacecatcher3
    oh man, you receive free unlkimited browsing on the phone now you want free unlimted browsing included in your phone plan for your laptop browsing as well get real for fucks sake why would anyone bother with a broadband connection if unlimted tethering was free exactly? fucking morons
  • acecatcher3
    u b pinching my name :@
  • N20Y1D
    iPhone owners are a precious bunch arent they, i expect they want 3 hot meals a day delivered to there doors as well, if you want a mobile dongle get one. Why dont you iMan up a bit.
  • Namer
    iPhone users who want to tether are not asking for anything other than what they are already paying for, so it shouldn't be charged extra.
  • joylove
    @N20Y1D Dial Up Networking (as tethering used to be know before apple came and put a fluffy name on it) used be be a whole lot cheaper than £14.99 per month for 3GB, which is what 02 are now offering. 02 themselves charge just £4.90 a month for 3GB using their USB wireless card. OFCOM should be investigating this rip off pricing.
  • Pure-Klenz
    N20Y1D your a spacker - why pay extra for a service your already paying for now go iFackOff somewhere
  • Alex
    I don't have an iPhone (got me a stellar instead) but O2 don't include tethered access on that either. The Register is full of people (mostly yanks) being charged $30k+ on a monthly phone bill for using their 3G handsets as a modem.
  • Alex
    "02 themselves charge just £4.90 a month for 3GB using their USB wireless card. OFCOM should be investigating this rip off pricing." I can't see this on the O2 website- you can get O2 Home Broadband for an extra £4.90 when you spend £14.69 a month on 3gig of data using the USB dongle?
  • veedubjai
    Why would O2 want to offer iPhone for tethering? What about other O2 non-iPhone handsets like O2 XDA series handsets that never offered tethering included as part of their monthly contract data allowance? This is called O2 Web Max & charged extra at £30.00 p/month for 3GB if you really wanted to used your mobile phone as a modem with a laptop. iPhone monthly contract users are no different to other non-iPhone monthly contract users. What make iPhone users so special then? What about O2's own Mobile Broadband services? Do you not even to think about this service would compete against offering iPhone for tethering as modem. iPhone users are just so fickled as well as too demanding. I WANT IT NOW! I WANT IT NOW! iPhone users are already getting The Cloud services & from BT Openzone for Unlimited WiFi, so you lot, don't be a fcuking greedy tosser. Pay for what you get. Get real. O2 are here to make profit, not give out free charity. And Yes, I do work for O2. O2 is the biggest UK mobile network, so the customer numbers speak for themselves at over 20 million customers.
  • veedubjai
    @joylove, “02 themselves charge just £4.90 a month for 3GB using their USB wireless card. OFCOM should be investigating this rip off pricing.” Where is this info shown on O2 website? Please carify? I would recommend you check these data plans first before giving infomation like that to anyone. This is how rumours spread like wildfire & get out of hand. New UK Business Data for Individuals: http://www.o2.co.uk/corporate/tariffs/o2businessdatatariffs/businessdataforindividuals/newbusinessdataforindividuals Existing UK Business Data for Individuals: http://www.o2.co.uk/corporate/tariffs/o2businessdatatariffs/existingukbusinessdataforindividuals O2 Data Cards: http://www.o2.co.uk/corporate/tariffs/o2businessdatatariffs/existingukbusinessdataforindividuals [Be advised that O2 Web Max & charged extra at £30.00 p/month for 3GB is for Consumer voice tariffs & NOT for Business voice tariffs.]
  • Alex
    O2 is really just a brand name for Telefonica now days though, and considering how much more sensible things are in Spain, its a shame they still decide to rinse the UK population simply because they can.
  • Stuart G.
    @veedubjai Would you care to tell us your real name and the department in O2 you work? I'm sure management would be delighted to know their employees are calling their customers fcuking greedy tossers. The issue is, we were sold a contract promising "Unlimited Data". If this is the case, then there should be no extra cost for tethering. If the truth is that unlimited means "not unlimited but we hoped you wouldn't notice" then that is a breach of contract or, at the very least, deceptive marketing and if O2 are forced to admit they actually do have a limit then is would be a substantial change in the terms of the service and would be cause to terminate the contract.
  • veedubjai
    @Stuart Gibson, Would you care to tell me your bank details, address, DOB & online account username/password? I'm sure you are not any under obligation to let me know this for reprisals. Hmmm...ID Theft. Data Protection Act. Did you know that tethering was only OFFICALLY added as a feature from iPhone Version 3.0 since today 17/06/09 hence saying that you were sold a contract promising "Unlimited Data" prior to the official release has no relation this tethering would be included on your existing tariff contract. So this service would still be charged extra for iPhone users. This also applies to other non-iPhone users who want tethering would still have to pay for it. No favouritism here. As I said before, iPhone users are already getting The Cloud services & from BT Openzone for Unlimited WiFi as well. End of. Maybe since The Cloud services & from BT Openzone for Unlimited WiFi are available for iPhone users, The Cloud, BT Openzone & O2 should offer 100% free access to other data related products & services for a iPhone monthly tariff because someone was sold a contract for "Unlimited Data" & expects when new services are available to include this? Dream on. What kind of numpty would offer this when there is business to me made? O2 do not have to offer tethering included as part of the tariff so that is the end to it. Offering tethering would compete against O2 Mobile Broadband Services. O2 did not spend time & money devising O2 Mobile Broadband Services to allow another product/serivce to compete against it.
  • ak
    veedubjai. only a year ago you could by 'netshare' from the appstore, this enabled tethering until the providers turned the screw and had it removed. so in reply to tethering only being available as of today.. Codswallop!!!!!!! O2 are greedy. end of!
  • Thechad
    So does this mean that the o2 unlimited data bolt on that I use on my xda with a browser set to identify itsself as a desktop computer running IE is somehow different to my actual desktop running IE??? Looks like the same data to me. I now stand totally confused, luckily a call to o2 seems to have clarified this for me... "Well if it is working for you sir then it is happy days"
  • O2 M.
    [...] you, and if enough people complain they will be forced to do something about it. Read about it on bitterwallet and make that call if you’re in the [...]
  • Phillip M.
    I think that you guys are missing the point entirely. iPhone users pay for data, regardless of if this is downloaded via the phone to the laptop or just to the phone. Let me give you an example to explain: You all pay for water in your homes, yes. Do you get charged more if you use the water for a bath then for a shower. At the end of the day, they are taxing o2 users for something they have already paid for in another capacity. iPhone users wont be teathering and using there data plan at the same time... Imagine if Telewest charged you more if you wanted to use your wifi on the Xbox 360 instead of the PC.
  • Lumoruk
    Having been with O2 many years and having kept up to date with their t&c's I can inform you that tethering was allowed until they started selling USB modems. I have the Web bolt on for my N95 8GB. The T&c's allowed me to use it on my laptop to connect to the internet, then came the condition that you can't use a laptop with the service..later on came the condition that you couldn't use the service to stream, use P2P software on your phone or use it in any way that could affect performance for other users.
  • veedubjai
    O2: We'll disconnect 'free' iPhone tetherers Don't try to bypass tethering charges, warns network O2 has responded to reports that users have been bypassing the forthcoming iPhone tethering charges by stating it will disconnect or charge offenders. The internet is rife with reports of a site hosting a file for your iPhone that configures the device to act as a modem, using the free data allowance included in the monthly contract. However, O2 has smartly responded to the news, telling TechRadar that it will come down hard on such users: "Internet rumours suggest that some customers have modified their iPhone to enable Internet Tethering without the purchase of the Internet Tethering Bolt On. Any use of this particular feature without the purchase of the Bolt on is specifically prohibited under our terms of service. Disconnection and option "Under those terms we reserve the right to charge customers making modem use of their iPhone or disconnect them. If customers wish to use the Internet Tethering feature on their iPhone 3G or iPhone 3G S, we recommend taking the Bolt On which is available from Friday 19 June." We're still waiting to find out exactly how O2 will know the difference between data on the mobile and on a laptop, although simple usage graphs would show a sharp increase in data consumption. However, whether this is enough for the network to prove tethering wrongdoing is also unclear, so we're still waiting for clarification on the subject. By Gareth Beavis http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/o2-we-ll-disconnect-free-iphone-tetherers-609253
  • Atomic
    If I need to teather, I could always take my SIM out of my iPhone, put it in the lump of sh*te O2 sold me last time known as an XDA and use the internet sharing app. Alternatively, I could use the vodafone usb modem work provide, and not have to deal with the fact that the data connection on O2 is on a par with communicating via carrier pigeon Either way, I'll be working over Citrix from the comfort of the pub :-)
  • Chilternian
    Moving onto the iPhone was great, moving to o2 certainly isn't. My service quality is not good where I live. Anyhow, when I moved to the iPhone, I lost the free modem capability available with my Sony-Ericsson on Orange, this was a bitter price to pay for switching to the iPhone. I don't mind paying a little extra for tethering, but the £15 charge is ridiculous compared to the normal mobile broadband charge which is much lower (50%?) and which includes the cost of an additional dongle. I feel milked. And without adequate service in a lot of my local area. Not only that, but upgrading to the 3GS is prohibitively expensive. I remember this kind of thing for a long time, when I get the opportunity to switch network and keep my iPhone, I can promise o2 I will be switching!
  • Peachy
    I just registered a complaint with Ofcom, to a guy who really didn't seem too interested. He said it was "A commercial decision from O2" and wouldn't be starting a case until they get more people complain. LET'S NOT GET COMPLACENT PEOPLE. If, like me, you feel like you're being charged twice for the same thing, CALL OFCOM! We will only get an investigation if a few more of us call. Time to abandon the typical British apathy! Viva La Revolution!! Peachy =)
  • DDaek
    Thank you for the article and the Offcom phone numbers. Me and many of my work colleagues who have bought an Iphone last year are not happy about the ridiculous prices for tethering and we all made the call and registered our complaints to Offcom. We also asked other friends to do the same and hopefully when enough of us have registered the complaints Offcom will decide to act on it. Good luck to all and by the way if it wasn't for the Iphone i wouldn't be on O2 which is the worse mobile network i've ever been on in 10 countries so far.
  • Nick
    I think people need to put this in perspective. An iPhone utilises only a small amount of bandwidth compared to a Mac running youtube etc. The business planning for the iPhone will have only costed a certain amount of bandwidth for each subscriber. In their network this has to be supported by costly systems. In addition Apple have a % of the revenue from all iPhone data traffic, so if you run a Mac tethered through an iPhone then Apple get paid. I don't see an additional tethering cost being the problem - what I see being the problem is that the cost is far greater than the equivalent mobile broadband dongle. However it sounds like that Apple get paid but O2 get stiffed hence the cost increase but that doesn't get O2 off the hook for being muppets when negotiating the iPhone. contract terms with Apple. So why don't O2/Apple provide a tether option that also includes WiFi access from Starbucks etc too?
  • Nick
    Oh and the fact that a contract term exists without a definition means it's unusable in court. Infact I can hear the laughter from here.
  • David
    In repsonse to Nick, BT Openzone have taken over Starbucks Wifi and my local Starbucks has free wifi now for all.
  • Jude
    I had the O2 Web bolt on and was able to use my Nokia N95 8GB to connect to the internet and download just fine. I rarely downloaded anyway, except the odd song from itunes here and there. I'm not happy that I now have to pay £15 to do what my Nokia was doing before. Solution? Dug out my Pay & Go sim, stuck it in my Nokia, topped it up with a £10 and got the web bolt on for Pay & Go. Exactly the same bolt on I had on my previous contract. As long as I pay £7.50 on that phone a month, I'll be able to continue using my Nokia as a modem and surfing for cheap. O2 have greatly disappointed me. They've undone the semi-decent reputation they had with their failure to work out decent tariffs and data plans for the iPhone. Also: Found out today that Vodafone will be offering the iPhone from December. Methinks I might just buy out my ridiculous contract with O2 and switch at Christmas, depending on the data plans for the Vodafone tariffs
  • msun
    O2 are ripping off their customers. this issue of charging for tethering is not just an iPhone issue; it affects users of Phones such as the Nokia N95. We should all complain to ofcom and get a ruling. I agree with all the sensible people who argue that whether you connect your phone to your laptop to use the internet or whether you use just the phone or both on one contract should be a user choice; It costs O2 no more to allow a phone to be used as a modem, then it does to use just the phone itself. If you have unlimited data, the connection type should be irrelevant.
  • msun
    One more thing ;Lets all change our O2 contracts to another provider as soon as we can ; They really lost my support over this tethering issue. I actually have four contracts with O2 and I will be cancelling them as soon as the term is up (or earlier if I get the chance). Vote with your money ; take it where its appreciated!
  • Damien
    This is an out and out disgrace. It is reasonable for a mobile use to assume 'tethering' - is included in the bundle. The customer should be entitled to use the data as part of the bundle and be charged for anything in excess, or that violates the 'excesssive usage policies' that btw do not actually exist. So what the carrier is doing in effect is passing on the cost of them not having the capability to regulate your data plan.... This basically amounts to charging twice, regardless of whats in the contract. Aleady raised the issue with Ofcom... don't let companies walk all over you TB
  • Damien
    Nick, You may be right... But the consumer should be be made to pick up the tab for their bad capacity and revenue planning, its almost equivalent to government stealth tax. Legally it would seem it is reasonable for a mobile user to asssume they will not be charged extra, as is the case with all other providers.... It does not help when agents are misrepresenting the contract in the Stores also... 'yes of course you can tether....' without mentioning the charge. TB
  • Joshua
    Mobile phone carriers have been allowing tethering for years. Most older series 60 nokia phones with bluetooth can be used to share their connection to a PC via bluetooth, and I've been doing that for the past 6 years with my Nokia phones. In the past, carriers in the UK have charged per-MB and have not offered any "unlimited" plans, so the ability to tether was considered a bonus for them, since you would tend to use more data when using your PC than when on your phone alone. Later, the first "unlimited" data plans came out -- first for the 3G PC dongles which were intended only for connecting laptops, and only later for mobile phones. They priced those two (essentially identical) products differently (with the PC dongle plans costing much more) because they predicted usage would on average be higher for the laptops This is what is fundamentally wrong here -- they should not be allowed to sell "unlimited" plans that are, in actuality, limited to some arbitrary amount of data traffic, or to sell technically identical service contracts for different prices. Certainly, there are some PC dongle users who use more internet than some iPhone users, yet they have to pay far more for their internet. I had an original iPhone with O2, and though I was not able to tether my iPhone to my computer (because Apple did not offer that function at the carriers request -- it was technologically easy to do), I could (and did) take my O2 SIM out of my iPhone and put it in my old Nokia phone, and use that to access the internet to my heart's content. Later, when my iPhone broke, I used my old Nokia full time until the 3GS came out and I upgraded to that. In the few months between, I enjoyed the convenience of being able to occasionally use the internet on my laptop via my Nokia, and when I got the 3GS, I was dismayed to see that they had disabled the tethering functionality unless I was willing to pay a huge monthly fee for the convenience of doing what I could already do for free. The fact is that the tethering bolt-on does not provide you with more service or with any useful product. Apple put the tethering functionality on the phone, and the carriers insisted that they cripple it with an off-switch that could only be flipped by the carriers. For your £15 a month, O2 does nothing but send a single "on" instruction to the phone (in the form of a downloadable profile) that allows it to do what it can already do. They do not change anything in their network and they do not provide you with a higher allowance (you cannot have "more" of "unlimited"). OFCOM should take notice and force an end to these deceptive marketing practices. It is O2's business to provide me with communication services. They are calling part of that service "unlimited" (qualifying that with a vague "within reason" clause), and I should get to "spend" my "unlimited" allowance of data any way that I like. This is exactly the same as if Virgin Broadband tried to tell you that you needed to buy a separate contract for _every_computer_ in your house (many broadband providers tried that in the beginning but were forced to concede they didn't have the right to do so). Now we are free to connect NAT devices or wireless routers to our home internet connections without needing any permission from the company. That is fair and right -- if they want to sell a limited service, the _only_ fair way to do that is to limit the actual service provided (whether by limiting bandwidth or the amount of data transferred) and applying that policy equally to all devices. What O2 is doing here is exactly what has been suggested -- O2 is charging extra for a service they have already agreed to provide, and that they already in fact do provide (in that the SIM you have can be used with a PC directly when removed from the iPhone). An analogy drawn from the non-communications world could be if a certain bus network offers a monthly bus pass that provides unlimited access to all of its routes. I buy the monthly pass and go along quite happily using it until one day the bus driver notices that I'm carrying a laptop and refuses to let me ride the bus unless I pay for another pass that allows me to carry a laptop while traveling -- you see, the bus company has noticed that passengers with laptops tend to ride the bus farther and in general make more use of the bus routes than other passengers, so they've decided to discriminate against laptop owners by charging them extra. They are not saying that it is because my laptop weighs more and thus costs more -- they still allow passengers with loads of shopping bags to board -- they are saying that just the mere fact that I have a laptop with me puts me into a class of people who they have decided cost them more on average, which justifies their discrimination against me (and anyway, people with laptops have lots of money and thus will probably be able to pay the extra charge). O2s policy is unreasonable and should be deemed illegal by OFCOM. We should have the right to use the service they provide us with any devices we choose. If that means that "unlimited" plans have to be limited to a set amount of usage, then so be it (though they will have a tough time doing that when all of their existing iPhone customers have purchased the phones under "unlimited" data contracts.
  • Bristolbulldog
    I have two phones. Both on o2 and both with unlimited data. My old htc, which I am using right now as a modem for my laptop and work phone, and my iPhone 3gs which I cannot use as a modem (personal phone). Indeed I now read my work emails on my iPhone as it's faster and easier. How come two near identical contracts have two completly different uses in the real world. I also used tethering back on my first xda, through to my xda 2s, so this is nothing new. Why are 3g dongles cheaper? Because they don't offer near the functionality of a phone / 3g combo. This is such a blatant ripoff of customers trust I intend to jailbreak my iPhone, and refuse and additional charges. I will only unlock the feature that apple has specified already exists, and when o2 take me to court for failure to pay charges they will land themselves in very hot water indeed.
  • wolvesiphoneuser
    Well guys, I have just read a frightening fact that will make your toes curl... O2 are writing to all of their customers in October, telling them that they will not be unlimited any longer, and that all 'unlimited plans' will be pulled and all those on them will be limited to 500mb of data traffic via the network. Check your T's and C's now... there should be a clause that if they change your tarriff to your detriment, you are entitled to cancel without further charge... i'm also sure that you could recover all money paid under the contract... but don;t quote me on that and get some legal for that point.
  • phone b.
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  • finix
    i have been tethering my phone for at least 5 years - i have had successive contracts with 3 when i first asked about tethering charges years ago the 3 operators had no idea what i was talking about and no charges ever appeared all my phones (nokia, sony and nokia) have had connection as an available option in the pc software now when i tether the software tells me how much the session has cost me each time - thats fine by me as i always knew they would charge in the end but it comes off my data allowance as far as i can tell i would never bother buying a dongle as i have always used the phone to connect when away from home at home i have virgin medias UNLIMITED cable bb which is actually unlimited if i go to download an app from ovi my network provider - 3 - suggests i use my home broadband rather than my download allowance - good advice and you might notice theres no question of home isp's charging for wirelessly connecting any device including mobiles hence any separate charge for mobile tethering would seem like a complete rip off to me and i strongly suggest you vote with your feet !!

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