From January 31 - February 14 I travelled to three US cities: New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. As you all know I am a long time iPhone user, someone who is very familiar with the Internet and various technologies. Hence, I was surprised to received a SMS from Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) on Feb. 5th, while in Los Angeles (the second city of my trip), regarding my data roaming charges exceeding HKD1400.00. I immediately followed the instructions in the SMS and contacted SMV's Customer Service (CS) department to determine what had went wrong. Especially when at that point, out of the 6 days I had been away from Hong Kong I spent 2 of those traveling on air planes.

To make things worst the AT&T cellular network in Los Angeles is very unreliable and I had to call the SMV CS 3 times, at the end SMV had to call me back to finish the conversation. The SMV CS representative tells me there were several +2MB files download and that my iPhone is still using data connections while I was speaking to the SMV CS representative. This was impossible as I had turned off Data Roaming, all Push Notifications and any Email Fetches on the iPhone. So I ask the CS representative to immediately disconnect all data functions for my account until I return to Hong Kong.

Out Come

On Feb. 14th when I returned to Hong Kong, the first thing I did as soon as I am able to turn on my mobile phone was to contact SMV CS. They tell me that they can reactivate all data functions for my account, but for any further enquiry about the case I will have to wait until Feb. 17th, when the department that handled my case, while I was in the US, to return to work from the Chinese New Year holidays.

Today, I was finally able to see my SMV bill online. According to SMV, on Feb. 5th when they sent me the SMS warning, there was supposedly a 7.999MB data usage costing HKD1119.86 based on a rate of HKD0.14/KB in a period of 1 minute. As you can imagine this comes as a great shock to me, since I knew mobile carriers have outrages roaming fees. So I was very careful not to incur any data usage while I was overseas and only do so in a very controlled manner. I explained all this to the SMV CS representative but he insists that my iPhone had indeed used the said data and refused to do anything about the charge.

Over the past several years I had supported Smartone-Vodafone by recommending it to almost everyone I know, including writing about it compared to other Hong Kong mobile carriers. Mainly due to its obvious desire to do its best for its customers. I even supported them during the past several years when it is indeed inferior to other mobile carriers in Hong Kong. I even offer my personal time to help them test their network, to try to help them improve the quality delivered.

My mobile phone bill for the month came to HKD3153.12 and I am only disputing the HKD1119.86 charge for the 7.999MB data use, but the SMV CS representative refuse. Saying that I have to provide proof that I did not use the said data amount. How am I able to do that?

I am very surprise to find SMV to be so heartless and disregards all that I had done for its Network Team. I expect it to stand on my side and believe that I did not incur the 7.999MB data claimed on Feb. 5th. This incident had totally changed my positive opinions of SMV and will definitely think twice on any future recommendations for SMV. I will most likely look for another carrier when my current contract expires.

[Updated: February 23, 2010, 22:00] Smartone-Vodafone had paid attention to my situation and now they had done the following three things to help ease the charges of my February bill.

  • Credit me for the voice charges relating to the calls I made from LA in regards to this issue.
  • Applied a 20% discount on the roaming data charges upon complaining about this issue and after I published my post.
  • Applied a further 10% discount on the roaming data charges after publishing my post, generating discussions on Twitter and after several SMV departments were made aware of my complaint.

These actions on behalf of SMV is appreciative and discounts the title of my post "Smartone-Vodafone Heartless". Having said that, I believe SMV CS needs to reflect on the tone and attitude of the CS representative (Mr. Kong) who handled my complaint the second time I called after returning to Hon Kong. I do not believe that SMV handled this case correctly initially, they should be treating all their customers as valuable customers. It should not take someone complaining about the situation publicly on the Interweb to react.

I hope SMV had learned a lesson about handling customer complaints as I have regarding roaming with my home carrier.