People overseas have asked if I can recommend a stored-value SIM package for them during their stay in Hong Kong, so instead of repeating my answer over an over I've decided to create a post. Before reading this post one needs to understand one thing about the mobile market in Hong Kong. It is very competitive and the rates and packages change frequently; around every six months. So aside from the following recommendations you should also verify my information when you arrive in Hong Kong.

Another thing to be aware of. Except for speaking to Smartone-Vodafone, don't use the phrase "Stored-Value SIM" to describe what you're looking for, as most of the other 6 carriers do not know what that means.

GSM Mobile without Data

If you're not using a GSM mobile phone with a micro-SIM card then you have many options. Any of the 7 carriers: PCCW Mobile, CSL's 1010, CSL's one2free, 3 HK, Smartone-Vodafone, China Mobile and China Unicom, in Hong Kong will have stored-value SIM cards for you.

GSM Mobile with Data

It appears that 3 HK and China Mobile are the only carriers in Hong Kong who are willing to serve overseas customers that want to use mobile data on their phone while in Hong Kong. With the former offering 3G Data connectivity.

GSM Mobile with 3G Data and micro-SIM

Even though Apple HK has three official carrier partners for the iPhone: CSL, 3 HK, Smartone-Vodafone, and a total of four carriers that sells iPhone 4 tariff plans, there is only one carrier (3 HK) that offers stored-valued SIM packages with micro-SIMs.

The type of SIM cards that 3 HK sells are those that can be either a regular mini-SIM or a micro-SIM (for the iPhone 4). Although, after you make the choice of turning it into a micro-SIM there's no way to go back.

Conclusion

Conveniently all carriers' store-value SIM packages are available at 7-11 so you can make your choice at the Hong Kong International Airport before you get onto the Airport Express for town.

Have a good stay!

Posted
AuthorVinko

Yesterday I reported Smartone-Vodafone's (SMV) tariff plans for the soon to release iPhone 4. Not long after my post was published the other competitors in Hong Kong also release their respective tariff plans for the iPhone 4. With the help of @abc1230 (on Twitter) I have created an English version of the spreadsheet (http://bit.ly/iphone4hkplans) comparing the tariff plan offerings from these carriers in Hong Kong.

As the pending arrival of the iPhone 4 next week (July 30th) and the re-availability of iPhone 3GS 8GB in Hong Kong, the Apple mobile carrier partners, 3 HK and Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) have began to compete in tariff plans.

The only difference between the two plan; from an iPhone user point of view, is the extra 100 free inter-network voice minutes that 3 HK includes in their plans. Both have a 24 months contract commitment.

One very important note to be aware of, is SMV's ability to transcode most Flash video to enable them to be playable on the iPhone while using SMV's 3G network. Such capability is not available to other carriers in Hong Kong.

Note: as a reminder all iPhone sold through official channels are SIM-unlocked, meaning SIM cards from any GSM carrier can be used inside.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

Several months ago a reader (Kit) told me about his ordeal with 3 HK; one of the 7 mobile carriers in Hong Kong. From my non-scientific analysis, 3 HK is disliked by many of its subscribers, many of them are friends of mine. Some of them even created Facebook groups, 聲討 3HK iphone 服務奇差 !!!, 3HK PCCW 李氏大財團屈錢噤住黎搶申訴專區, and I love iPhone but I hate 3HK !! to share their dislikes for the company and its service.

Now let me share with you Kit's experience with 3 HK. It started off with his purchase of the iPhone 3G in July 2008. He bought the subsidized iPhone 3G from 3 HK by subscribing to their most expensive tariff plan at HKD498/month, with a 24 months contract. This gave him a "free" ($0 payment up front) iPhone 3G.

When Apple released the iPhone 3GS in July 2009, he asked 3 HK to upgrade to the new model, 3 HK accommodated his request by asking him to extend his tariff plan contract for another 12 months for HKD398/month. Since his HKD498/month plan does not expire until July 2010 the new 12 months contract at HKD398/month does not start until then.

During this second year using the iPhone 3GS he experienced drop calls at his home (Hong Kong Island), at work (Kowloon tourist district) and during the MTR (subway) rides between the two locations. He complained to 3 HK about the drop calls issue over 5 times, each time 3 HK Customer Service's response is that they will get back to him after their technical colleagues investigate his complains. Of course, each time there were no call back from 3 HK Customer Service.

Kit finally proposed to 3 HK to allow him to drop to the lower tariff plan to reflect his lack of use of the iPhone, due to connectivity issues. 3 HK refused his proposal so Kit asked to be removed from his commitment due to 3 HK's failure to deliver the promised service. 3 HK again refuse but counter offer to discount his remaining months in his contract by HKD30/month. Kit did not agree with the counter proposal, but offered to pay the difference between the subsidized and non-subsidized prices of the iPhone 3GS so he can get out of the contract commitment, but 3 HK still rejected his request.

After being frustrated with the whole ordeal Kit decided to write a letter to Consumer Council for help. In the end with the assistance from Consumer Council, Kit was able to get out of his contract 12 months earlier by paying the difference between the subsidized and non-subsidized prices of the iPhone 3GS.

The lesson here is not to allow any corporation to push you around when you are not receiving the service or product promised. Be persistence in your search for a resolution and if needed seek Consumer Council for assistance.

Hong Kong mobile carriers are notorious for treating its customers poorly but among the 7 carriers there are a couple who have shown signs in the past several years to do better. I am sure by speaking to your friends you will know who these two carriers are.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

Like Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) last week, 3 HK also begins to accept registrations for the iPhone 4. Unlike SMV, 3 HK has the foresight to ask for more details from the potential iPhone purchaser. Like, colour and capacity of the iPhone 4 they intend to purchase. Not sure why SMV did not ask similar questions, since these information will give the carrier a much better idea of the different models of iPhone 4 to stock. It could also be the experience of 3 HK as Apple Carrier Partner for the past 3 years, but SMV had also became an Apple Carrier Partner in Hong Kong since earlier this year. Another reason SMV did not ask specific questions from its potential customers may be the limited supply of iPhone 4 Apple HK has prepared for the initial launch in Hong Kong. Given the high demands in the 5 initial launch countries and the number of countries (9) in the second phrase launch.

For either carriers there are no commitment on the part of the registerer to purchase the iPhone 4, so in anticipation of the high demand will people register with both carriers?

Remember all iPhones sold through official retailers in Hong Kong are SIM-unlocked. The iPhone 4 is expected to be the same, along with the iPhone 4 sold in Canada, France and UK.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

Recently you may have just purchased one of Apple's latest gadgets, the iPad WiFi+3G, from the 9 countries officially selling them, or plans to get one of the iPhone 4 from either Canada, France and UK. This is because all iPad WiFi+3G (except the ones sold in Japan) and iPhone 4 sold in Canada, France, UK and Hong Kong are SIM-unlocked. Meaning they will not be locked to a particular GSM carrier, therefore users can choose to put GSM SIM cards from any carriers into these devices and they will work. That's true with a small exception, these GSM SIM must be the micro-SIM format rather than the more commonly used "mini-SIM" among GSM carriers around the world.

At the moment micro-SIM cards are only available from 3 HK, but these cards are for data access only and does not include voice capabilities. For Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) and PCCW they both offer micro-SIM cards but only for customers who have subscribed to their data tariff plans and without voice capabilities.

So if you're looking for a micro-SIM to put inside your iPhone 4 from one of the Hong Kong carriers, you will have to wait until the official launch of the iPhone 4 in Hong Kong. Fortunately Hong Kong is one of the 9 countries in the second phrase iPhone launch initially planned for July 2010, but recent sales and high demands in the 4 initial launch countries may cause the second phrase to be delayed.

I had contacted SMV and PCCW and they both tells me that they have no availability date for micro-SIM card, only that both will have micro-SIM cards when the iPhone 4 is officially available for sale in Hong Kong.

If you cannot wait, the alternative is to convert your existing mini-SIM to a micro-SIM card. It turns out the contacts for these two types of SIM are the same. The only different being the dimensions of these cards 15mm x 25mm (mini-SIM) compared to 12mm x 15mm (micro-SIM).

The following step by step instructions are from iHackintosh.com and they are provided here for your convenient. There are no guarantee by iHackintosh.com or myself (Vinko.Com). Also note that most carriers charges a fee for replacement SIM cards.

What you you will need are: mini-SIM, marker pen, ruler, sharp cutter and filing tool (Nail File).

  1. Get a GSM mini-SIM card. Your existing GSM SIM card will do.
  2. Mark the mini-SIM with the dimensions of the micro-SIM card (12mm x 15mm).
  3. Make initial cuts along marked lines with a cuter, bend along the cuts and then finish with a scissors.
  4. Use the file to file down the conners and edges.

If you ever want to use this newly created micro-SIM card in a device that only accept mini-SIM cards like the original iPhone, iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS. You can purchase a micro-SIM Adapter from Vinko's Treasures for USD5.15 including worldwide shipping.

With the pending iPad official release by Apple Hong Kong some time in July, mobile carriers in Hong Kong have begin to release tariff plans designed specifically to target iPad owners. Among them only 3 HK currently has a data plan that comes with either a regular mini-SIM or the new micro-SIM. The rest of the carriers are offering data only 3G tariff plans that includes a free USB 3G modem. All of the plans also come with free WiFi network.

Below I am only focusing on the respective 7.2Mbps unlimited "local data" plans from each carriers. Each of the tariff plans requires commitments between 18 months to 24 months.

Carrier Plan Name Contract Commitment Price (HKD)
Smartone-Vodafone Power 7 Tablet Micro-SIM Data Plan 24 months 18 months $238 $198
PCCW Netvigator Everywhere Netvigator Everywhere for existing Netvigator Broadband Customers 24 months $328
3 HK Easyplus Data Plan x iPad* Unknown Depends on Usage

* I was not able to confirm with 3 HK the downlink/uplink speeds of their HKD188 Easyplus data plan.

I absolutely do not recommend using either of the CSL brands: 1010 or One2Free. Their web sites specify that their 3G networks support only UMTS 900MHz, which is not one of the 3G bands (UMTS/HSDPA: 850, 1900, 2100 MHz) that the iPad supports. Using 3G data plans from either of these two carriers will force the iPad to drop down to GPRS (2G) or EDGE (2.5G).

[Updated: June 23, 2010, 20:00] Thanks to the reader, Peter, for pointing out that CSL had upgraded their 3G network to support 900Mhz, 1800Mhz, 2100Mhz and 2600Mhz. Therefore iPad on the CSL network will not drop down to GPRS (2G) or EDGE (2.5G) network as I had previously said. Instead it will utilize the 2100Mhz frequency.

I tried to confirm this 3G band information on the CSL 3G networks, but there is absolutely no way for me to get any information from either of the CSL Customer Services hotlines: 1010 and One2Free. After connecting to both of them, and placed on hold for extended periods multiple times, the CS representatives hang up on me each time without answering my question. This recent experience further justify why I left One2Free 6 years ago after being on their network for over 6 years, and why I do not recommend them to anyone in HK.

The rest of the carriers: China Mobile and China Unicom, in Hong Kong do not have 3G networks. Therefore, if you must get a data plan for your iPad WiFi+3G your choice is obvious, Smartone-Vodafone is the one to go with, but you will have to cut the mini-SIM down in size to a micro-SIM form factor for it to fit in the iPad SIM slot.

[Updated: May 25, 2010, 15:53] As point out by @ThomasHK, 3 HK has non-contractual prepaid ("pay-as-you-go") SIM cards with 3G data for HKD28/day or HKD338/month also.

[Updated: June 23, 2010, 20:00] From a Twitter friend @jesschg who pointed out that since the writing of my post SMV had released their Tablet Micro-SIM Data Plan. I have since updated the table above to reflect this change.

I to have some concerns with SMV's marketing for this new tariff plan.

Enhances Facebook apps to enable them to display videos on Facebook

This is already a built-in function of the Facebook app 3.1.3 and later. Redirecting Flash video to SMV servers so they can transcode it to show on the iPhone is nothing new for SMV. This feature had been with their IOM ("Internet on Mobile") service for years.

  • Auto-detects & alerts you to RSS/Podcast content, for instant enjoyment
  • Helps you share webpages with others on Facebook or via email
  • Stores your bookmarks & 30-day browsing history online, for quick search & retrieval anytime, even if you lose or change device

Any users of "Tablets" with true browsers will not need help with any of the above 4 points, particularly iPad users.

What they did not specify prominently is the theoretical maximum speeds of this service, which they only sate in the small prints under Remarks

2-6Mbps download/500kbps-3.5Mbps upload

Although this is not the fastest speed available from SMV, iPad users will not care as the iPad will not be capable of taking advantage of speeds greater than 7Mbps downlink.

I expects other carriers will have updates to their tariff plans as we get closer to the official release of the iPad in Hong Kong.

As most readers know I conducted a joint test of Smartone-Vodafone's HSDPA network last week; which I now found out it cost me HKD60.00 in data charges, as I had detailed in my post, Smartone-Vodafone HSDPA Network Speed Tested. At the time Smartone-Vodafone technicians did not have the data correlated until today. SMV Network Test with SpeedTest These results are from running the SpeedTest iPhone application on each of the iPhones used in the test.

SMV Network Test with Websites These two data chart were provided by Smartone-Vodafone, so it has the tendency to show Smartone-Vodafone network as the faster network.

I would not have averaged out the speeds of the test on site by site bases, as we are talking about different locations on Hong Kong island at different time of the day. The better way to look at these data is to average out the browsing speed on a per site, per location bases. Below is the chart showing the speed in number of seconds to completely load the respective web page. SMV Location View As you can see from the chart above. It is not that web browsing speed of the iPhone 3GS on the Smartone-Vodafone network is always faster than the iPhone 3GS on the 3 HK network. The important thing is that the browsing speed is much more consistent for the iPhone 3GS on the Smartone-Vodafone network.

Having a consistent speed is much more important than having a fast downlink or uplink. I hope that this will provide consumers in Hong Kong a close to real life comparison of the two mobile carriers' 3G networks.

Smartone-Vodafone logoThe people at Smartone-Vodafone took notice of my post, iPhones on Two Different 3G Networks Compared, and wanted to get to the bottom of the cause of the slow down in their HSDPA network; especially compared to 3 HK (another Hong Kong mobile carrier). They began by acknowledging my claims, although they did not do what most other companies do; especially those in Asia, and simply claims that they had different results and dismissed our findings. Contrary they responded by saying they did not have the same results as we did and wanted to look into why we have different results.

They investigated the un-scientific test results I made and several days later contacted me to arrange a joint test. Today was the joint test at the three locations I had previously tested their HSDPA (3G) network:

  • IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong
  • Areas near Wanchai Computer Center, Wanchai, Hong Kong
  • Starbucks, Hysan Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

In this joint speed test we used the following web sites as benchmarks:

The latter web site was only suggested by me just before we began the test. We also use the iPhone applications SpeedTest to test the raw speed of the network with as little variable as possible.

The iPhone used for the test were:

  • iPhone 3GS running firmware 3.0.1 with a Smartone-Vodafone SIM card
  • iPhone 3GS running firmware 3.0.1 with a 3 HK SIM card
  • iPhone 3GS running firmware 3.1 with a Smartone-Vodafone SIM card

The latter is my daily iPhone with many of my 9 pages of applications installed. To offer a test closer to real life use, my iPhone also has Application Notifications turned on for 7 application and Push Notification for GMail and Google Calendar. The 2 iPhone 3G were restored to factory condition before the test.

Before each test of the above web sites we cleared the cache and cookies for Safari each time. At each of the locations we tested the set of web sites and run the SpeedTest application at least twice for each locations.

The results were not spectacular, but in most cases Smartone-Vodafone did load the set of web sites quicker compared to the iPhone on the 3 HK network. In cases where the iPhone with the 3 HK SIM was faster it only beat the iPhone 3G on the Smartone-Vodafone network by only a fraction of a second. In all cases, the iPhone 3G on the 3 HK network did not beat my iPhone 3GS on the Smartone-Vodafone network.

One thing I did notice from the results of SpeedTest is that the 3 HK network appears to be very inconsistent, where its latency, downlink and uplink speeds go up and down at the same location. Contrary the Smartone-Vodafone network was very consistent between tests at the same location.

As soon as Smartone-Vodafone send me the data from our joint test I will share them here with you all.

In conclusion, it appears that the mobile carriers in Hong Kong are making rapid improvements to their respective networks. These results may be evident to us end-users very soon. I believe no one should sign a new contract with any Hong Kong carriers at the moment. We should wait at least 2 months and see what each of them offer before we make that kind of commitment. If you are not in a position to wait, try to choose the cheapest and shortest contract commitment possible for now, and ask if you can upgrade to a new (higher priced) package during the life of the contract; be sure to have that in writing before you sign.

[Update October 8, 2009] Today a friend on Twitter shared with me that 3 HK is testing a much quicker HSDPA network connection in the MTR (Hong Kong subway) stations. He was able to achieve a sustainable downlink of 4Mbps between Wong Tai Sin and Diamond Hill stations. At one point he was able to achieve a downlink of 6Mbps at the Sham Shui Po station.

This is very significant since in the past when I tested Smartone-Vodafone's and 3 HK's HSDPA networks I was never able to receive a downlink speed past 2.6Mbps. This includes the times when I was doing the joint testing with representatives from Smartone-Vodafone.

I hope that this is an indication that HSPA (3G) network speeds will improve in Hong Kong very soon.

Note: the aforementioned downlink speeds of 4Mbps and 6Mbps were not speeds achieved within a browser.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

3 HK LogoSmartone-Vodafone logoToday a reader, Stephen C., sent me a video of a test he and his friend conducted ("un-scientifically) with two iPhone 3GS's connected to two different 3G networks on two (3 HK and Smartone-Vodafone) of six mobile carriers in Hong Kong.

The result are a bit surprising, especially for customers of Smartone-Vodafone. The video had been sent to Smartone-Vodafone Customer Service and hopefully we will receive an official respond.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns0DdKNee3E

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

3 HK LogoIn the past several days I had been trying to trouble shoot why a follower ("Ms. iPhone") on Twitter cannot get to iTunes Store from her iPhone. This was the iPhone 3G model on the 3 HK, Apple's carrier partner in Hong Kong, network. Ms. iPhone finally complaint to 3 HK Customer Service, and today she tells me what 3 HK Customer Service has told her:

All iPhones purchased in Hong Kong cannot access iTunes Store. The only iPhones that can access the iTunes Store are iPhones purchased outside of Hong Kong and hacked for used in Hong Kong.

What a ridiculous statement.

As many of you know Ms. iPhone's problem with her iPhone not having access to iTunes Store (music and movies) via the iTunes application on her iPhone is not because she bought her iPhone in Hong Kong. Ms. iPhone problem is that her iTunes Store account is with iTunes Store Hong Kong and iTunes Store HK does not have a music and movie section.

This sort of statements from people selling Apple products is what Apple tried to avoid with the establishment of Apple Store worldwide. Unfortunately, there is no official Apple Store in Hong Kong. Several years ago there was one Apple Authorized Reseller who take pride in delivering good service and doing it the Apple way. Their sales staff would never make up an answer to a customer to a question they do not know the answer to, but simply tell the customer they do not know and will get back to them after they seek out the answer. This sort of sales staff and companies are hard to find.

Aside from the above story, WinAndMac just posted another story about 3 HK that adds to the reasons we should not choose 3 HK as our mobile carrier.

The kind of statement from staff of 3 HK and tactics like those described in WinaAndMac's article are just two of the many reasons why I recommend people NOT to choose 3 HK as their mobile carrier in Hong Kong. People living in Hong Kong has 5 other carriers to choose from for the iPhone.

Frequent readers of my blog and anyone who have visited Apple Online Store HK will know that officially "SIM unlocked" iPhones are available directly from Apple there and all Authorized Apple Resellers in Hong Kong. All of these iPhones are capable of accessing the iTunes Stores they have access to on their personal computer version of iTunes.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesadvice, iphone

Smartone-Vodafone logoBefore you jump into a mobile tariff contract (for 2 years or 15 months) with your new iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS you need to understand that not all 3G (HSDPA) network are the same. This is especially important if you are going to buy a new iPhone 3GS. 3 HK LogoThe reason is because, unlike the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3GS is capable of supporting 7.2 Mbps downlink and 5 Mbps uplink speeds. At the moment as far as I know the 3 HK HSDPA network is capable of supporting 3.6 Mbps downlink speed at most locations and 7.2 Mbps at certain locations. Where as Smartone-Vodafone's HSDPA network is already capable of supporting 14 Mbps downlink at every location.