Updated: O2 has admitted its 3G customers are limited to 128Kb/s connections, with business users being automatically upgraded to 384Kb/s if they are deemed to warrant it.
3G connection speeds are highly variable, so establishing that the network has imposed a speed limit isn't as easy as it might appear, even though O2 users have long suspected they are being restricted.
384Kb/s is the technical limit of 3G technology, without resorting to HSPDA, but topping out at 128Kb/s is something of an embarrassment for a 3G network. Not that using HSDPA will help the O2 customer, depending on the "profile" O2 has decided to assign to them they might still find themselves allocated only 128Kb/sec.
O2 hasn't been able to explain how they decide who gets which profile, but they did give us a statement explaining that "O2 provides data speeds of 128Kb/s as standard to all 3G customers. Profiles of corporate customers who require higher speeds are modified so that they can benefit from speeds of 384Kb/s." With HSDPA the top speed should be even faster, assuming one is in the right profile group.
The network operator is quite careful on its website to describe 3G as a "high speed network" and makes no promises about specific connection speeds. In fact, the company tells us, 128Kb/s is all punters can expect from 3G, with 384Kb/se being a premium service only available to a select few.
Customers wanting the higher speed connection can, apparently, simply ask for it when they buy their phone, or give O2 a call - though the company declined to provide us with a suitable number or procedure for changing, or finding out, one's profile.
The competing operators we've spoken to don't offer such a tiered service. Once they had stopped laughing at O2's stance they all agreed that 3G should mean speeds of up to 384Kb/s for everyone, and that's what they provide, dependent on network coverage and local environment.
News of the limit should, however, be welcomed by iPhone users. They have been much derided for lacking high-speed 3G technology, while in reality their Edge connections could easily be out-performing O2's idea of what a 3G network is capable of.
O2 tells us that customers get the speed they ask for, and those who find themselves capped at 128Kb/sec must be on a "lower-than-normal" tariff. We asked what constituted "lower-than-normal" and were given the example of a customer with a high-end handset paying less than 35 quid a month, apparently anyone on a £20-a-month contract is really asking for 128Kb/sec, everyone one else should be able to go faster - otherwise be sure to let O2 know.