Stung by the mobile network data mafia

I accidentally churned up 50MB, charging me $50 in one hour. Thankfully it could have been worse, but do you have a data charge horror story to share?
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

I have been with my mobile network operator, O2 UK, for more years than I care to remember. They've always been good to me in terms of pricing and coverage (unlike many of my friends here at university), and I even took out a home broadband account with them.

Last year I bought a BlackBerry Curve 8900 with the corresponding BlackBerry Unlimited tariff, allowing account holders to use more data through the obvious email and application usage without racking up unnecessarily large bills. It works well, actually.

Today, however, I received my monthly bill and saw a huge jump in what I normally spend in the average month, with £31 ($47) being spent on data in a single hour. As you can imagine, I investigated.


I spend £35 ($50) a month which lasts for 18 months, expiring October this year, and has included since 2008 a free bolt-on to allow unlimited BlackBerry service. But this is the key point: it allows unlimited, free data sent to and from a singular BlackBerry device, without taking advantage by using the device as an external modem.

As you can see below from my bill snippet, any data transferred through blackberry.net which can only be done from a BlackBerry device, is free. Any data transferred from a non-BlackBerry device goes through mobile.o2.co.uk, and this will cost you. It means although you can use your BlackBerry Unlimited SIM card in a non-BlackBerry phone to make phone calls and send text messages, you must be careful of the data you use.


I didn't exactly realise this when my BlackBerry broke and was temporarily replaced by a cheap Nokia phone. I set up my Exchange email account on the device and started synchronising it. However, this goes over the air through mobile.o2.co.uk and accesses my email account directly through IMAP, whereas BlackBerry email goes through blackberry.net to download from their own servers.

This was my downfall.

In the space of an hour, I had unknowingly churned up around 50MB of data; an amount I didn't even know you could do in that time-frame on a mobile connection. Had my phone been compatible with the university wireless network, I could have found some reprieve.

The terms and conditions do explain the charges of using a non-BlackBerry handset and data charges, but this is something the vast majority of people overlook. Nobody usually needs to read the fine print, that is until something goes wrong. This entire problem was my fault, though at least I can hold my hands up and accept responsibility for it.

So, there are two lessons to learn:

  • You'll only find out after being burned: you won't get any warning about the data use most likely and will unwittingly churn up the data charges without even knowing. It is the user's responsibility but the networks should put in place procedures to ensure that this and similar stories are avoided.
  • Read the terms and conditions: though they may be boring and lengthy, you will no doubt end up saving yourself from a lengthy bill by familiarising yourself with them.

Have you got a data charge horror story to share?

Editorial standards