After Steve Jobs' announcement at the "iPad 2 Event" that the Personal Hotspot feature will be available in iOS 4.3, people have been wondering if their mobile carriers will allow the feature to work, and how will these carriers charge for the usage of this feature on their network. Like these users I wonder about it for my current mobile carrier, Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) in Hong Kong. So right after the iPad 2 Event I posted a question on Smartone-Vodafone's Facebook Page asking them to comment on the feature's use on their network and the charges if any. All SMV has to say is "We do not have any information regarding Personal Hotspot at this time, please stay tuned".

Fortunately Apple made iOS 4.3 available a day early (March 10th) since my bill-cut-off date is the 11th. I installed it right away and tried the Personal Hotspot feature, only testing the speed of the connections of devices connected to the Personal Hotspot host. Because I have yet to confirm with SMV the charges relating to Personal Hotspot use. I waited all weekend and Monday for my March 13th bill to be available online, and it was finally available a few hours ago. As I have expected, SMV is able to distinguish the Personal Hotspot traffic from other data use, just like regular Tethering via USB, but unlike regular Tethering over Bluetooth. Apple probably provided the carriers a mean to identify Personal Hotspot traffic, since carrier partners are given the ability to turn on and off Personal Hotspot for individual subscribers on their network. The Personal Hotspot connection I tried was via WiFi, I'm sure the results will be the same through Bluetooth and USB.

Also as expected, my Personal Hotspot usage was "FREE". I have SMV's HKD389 iPhone Plan with unlimited data, which also comes with a handset rebate, giving me a monthly bill of HKD259 (USD33.24).

In the past month (30 days) SMV's bandwidth had dropped dramatically. On average it had fallen more than half as compared to previous measurements. I'm sure SMV is monitoring Personal Hotspot usage to see if it further congest their network. Fortunately, I currently also have access to the CSL 1010 3G network, and it is indeed much faster than SMV's 3G network at all locations: Wanchai, Central and Admiralty, I've tested. In most cases it is faster by 50% - 100%.

Smartone-Vodafone logoPCCW LogoCSL LogoEarly this year both PCCW and CSL launched their HSPA+ network. As a result improving the speed and capacity of their respective networks. Offering a theoretical downlink speed of 21Mbps and uplink speed of 7Mbps. On Wednesday, November 4th Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) launched their HSPA+ upgrade to their 3G network.

The difference between SMV's announcements and the others, is that SMV also released a document to clarify the theoretical speed of HSPA+. Where as other mobile carriers in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world, only focused on marketing the HSPA+ networks' capability of 21Mbps speed, leaving the actual ability to achieve 21Mbps as small prints in their promotional materials. Such practices of these other mobile carriers are very misleading for layman consumers. I will attempt to explain further, to help clarify this theoretical speed of HSPA+ for layman consumers.

The ability to achieve a downlink speed of 21Mbps on any HSPA+ networks depends on many uncontrollable factors. Not to mention the availability of client devices that are compatible with HSPA+ networks. The user with the HSPA+ compatible device will need to satisfy all of the follow:

  • The user be within a very close proximity to the cellular antenna; well within half the distance to the cell edge.
  • There are no one else connected to the cellular antenna other than the user.
  • The edge server of the carrier has no other users.
  • The server hosting the web site has no other users accessing it.
  • Lastly there are no other users using the connection between the mobile carrier's ISP and the web site in question.

speedtest-screenAs you can see from the above it is impossible to achieve such a scenario in real life.

In an effort for SMV to be transparent and honest to its customers they lay out the explanations for this theoretical speed in a web page on their web site, The truth about broadband speeds.

I will give SMV HSPA+ network a try in the coming weeks and will report back after I do.

In the mean time I have already noticed improvements on the SMV 3G data access speed in the recent days. This is most likely due to the additional capacity gained by the HSPA+ upgrade.

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

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.

iPhone 3G imageRecently a friend of mine commented that my articles (posts) on the iPhone and its usage in Hong Kong are very helpful, but they are a bit technical for layman user like himself. So, for the sake of helping as many potential iPhone users understand what's involved before committing to a purchase of an iPhone in Hong Kong, I decided  to summarize some key points here.

  1. All iPhone sold in Hong Kong are "carrier unlocked". That means you can take the iPhone purchased through legitimate channels1 straight out of the box, place a carrier SIM2 card in the phone and the it will work.
  2. You should not use any "carrier unlocking" software (like Yellowsn0w from the iPhone Dev Team) on iPhone 3G sold through legitimate channels in Hong Kong, because of point #1.
  3. When the say "iTunes" this is the application that manages the synchronization of your iPhone with your computer and all your music. Where as "iTunes Store" is the online store where Apple sells3 music, videos, audiobooks and iPhone applications. The section that sells iPhone applications is called the "iTunes App Store".
  4. All iPhone 3G sold in Hong Kong requires activation, this is accomplished by connecting it to iTunes, and logging into iTunes Store. So a free iTunes Store Hong Kong account is required. No longer requires an iTunes Store Hong Kong account.
  5. Even if you do not want to pay for any iPhone applications from the iTunes App Store you will have to provide a valid Hong Kong credit card to create an account in the iTunes Store Hong Kong.
  6. All carrier plans have limitations on the type of data traffic included. Therefore you need to be very specific with the sales person when choosing your data plan. For example, Smartone-Vodafone "IOM Value Pack" data plan only covers "web browsing traffic". It is hard to know what they mean by "web browsing", but it does not cover traffic generated by the built-in iPhone Mail application, and 40% of the traffic generated by iPhone 3rd party applications. Details of choosing a plan can be found in my post Is Smartone-Vodafone’s IOM Value Pack Right for iPhone?
  7. Unlocking and Jailbreaking software are easily available from iPhone Dev Team for FREE. At this stage, because the procedure is so simple, I would not pay anyone to do either for your iPhone (whether it is a 2G or 3G version) purchased outside of Hong Kong, unless you really have a phobia of technology.
  8. Jailbreak means to hack the iPhone so that you can install Apple unauthorized iPhone applications onto the phone. Jailbreaking does not include unlocking.
  9. The term "Carrier lock" means the iPhone is only usable on a particular mobile phone carrier's network and SIM card. So "Unlock" means to remove this restriction, and performing an Unlock will include Jailbreaking. Also see point #2.
  10. All iPhones sold outside of Hong Kong usually requires a 2-year contract commitment with the Apple's carrier partner. In most cases if an iPhone is not activated within 30 days the difference is charged to the purchaser's credit card. So you should think twice before asking a friend to purchase an iPhone for you overseas.

1 Legitimate channels as of this writing are: Three ("3") carrier outlets, or Apple Hong Kong Online Store. [Update: February 28, 2009] All Apple Authorized Resellers.
2 The mobile SIM card needs to support GSM frequencies 850, 900, 1800, 1900 or 2100MHz
3 iTunes Store in Hong Kong only sells iPhone Apps as of this writing.

Smartone-Vodafone logoAs I still found my Smartone-Vodafone charges too high, I decided to look for alternatives, including those from competitors, like: PCCW, Three and People. For those of you who've been following my ideal iPhone tariff plan search in Hong Kong, you will know that I had been using Smartone-Vodafone's 3G voice plan (HKD128/month) + Internet Browsing (HKD38/month)+ Data plan (HKD118/month), giving me a total monthly bill of HKD296/month (including the MTR and administrative fees).

What did these combinations of plans gave me? I will only focus on the features that matters for an iPhone user.

Smartone-Vodafone (Option 1):

  • 1200 minutes of talk time outside of the Smartone-Vodafone network
  • 800 minutes of talk time within the Smartone-Vodafone network
  • Free SMS within the Smartone-Vodafone network
  • Voice mail, Call forwarding, Caller number display, Call waiting and Conference call
  • 20MB/day of Internet browsing (HTTP traffic)
  • 20MB/month of Data traffic (all traffic except HTTP, ie. POP3, IMAP, etc.), extra usage will be at a rate of HKD0.01/KB

I looked at my bill from September and notice that I had approximately 8MB of data usage outside of the HTTP protocol. I used approximately 700 minutes within the Smartone-Vodafone network and 130 minutes outside of the network.

I then looked at PCCW's "Web + Talk" HKD98/month tariff plan, to see if it is something more appropriate for my usage habits. I found that for HKD98/month, there is no contract commitment. Plus the plan gives you the following.

PCCW "Web + Talk" (Option 2):

  • 600 minutes of talk time outside of the PCCW network
  • 600 minutes of talk time within the PCCW network
  • Free SMS within the PCCW network (the sales person told me there was no free SMS, but their web site claims there is)
  • Unlimited use of PCCW WiFi hotspot
  • 60MB/month of data usage (the sales person claims this is HSDPA, but the web site claims it is GPRS), any extra data traffic will be charged at a rate of HKD10/10MB, with a maximum of HK298

Basing on my September usage, I use on average 18MB per day of data traffic, I am expected to pay and extra HKD298/month to cover the extra data usage. Giving me a total cost of HKD98 + HKD12 + HKD298 = HKD408/month.

So I decided to give Smartone-Vodafone's new Internet Browsing plan a try. Starting on November 12th, I am using their new Internet Browsing Plan, "IOM Value Pack" for HKD136.00 per month + HKD12.00 for MTR and Administrative charges = HKD148/moth.

Note that the HK96.00/month and HKD116/month plans require contractual agreements of 15 months. As many of you know I am against committing to any contracts for mobile tariff plans, as these prices usually drops within 6 months time. Due to the heavy competition in Hong Kong's mobile market.

Smartone-Vodafone "IOM Value Pack" (Option 3):

  • 600 minutes of talk time outside of the Smartone-Vodafone network
  • 600 minutes of talk time within the Smartone-Vodafone network
  • Free SMS within the Smartone-Vodafone network
  • Voice mail, Call forwarding, Caller number display, Call waiting and Conference call
  • 600MB/month (20MB/day) data usage.

The thing about Smartone-Vodafone's data allowance is that it only covers HTTP traffic, or in their words "web browsing". They really should be more specific than calling it "web browsing". I understand that anything more technical may be confusing for the average user, but they should clarify what "web browsing" mean in a footnote, detailing the Internet protocols. For the moment I can only deduce that "web browsing" covers any traffic using the HTTP protocol (ie. HTTP GET, HTTP POST, HTTPS activities).

Any extra data usage over the 600MB/month (20MB/day) or outside the HTTP protocol will be charged at HK15.00/15MB. Given my September month's usage (8MB of data usage outside of the HTTP protocol and less than 20MB/day HTTP traffic) I am expected to be charge an extra HK15.

This gives my monthly bill under the IOM Value Pack plan to be HKD136 + HKD15 +HKD12 = HKD163/month.

So my options are:

Option 1 Option 2 Option 3
HKD296/month HKD408/month HKD163/month
Smartone-Vodafone PCCW Smartone-Vodafone

I will report back in a month's time to see if my new plan choice is the right one for an average iPhone user in Hong Kong.

Apple HK made the iPhone 3G available to everyone with a HK shipping address via Apple Hong Kong's online store. This made Hong Kong the hub (and "source") of iPhone 3G that are free from the shackle of the money hungry, backward thinking mobile carriers. As of the writing of this post Apple Hong Kong's online store shows a 24 hours delivery time and free shipping. I am certain when news spread of this availability, the inventory will go quickly.

I was always against the idea of having to commit to Three HK for a 2-year contract just to gain the privilege of purchasing an Apple iPhone 3G. Now I have less of a barrier to bring this great device to the mobile carrier of my choice ("Smartone-Vodafone").

Ah... my first generation iPhone worth even less now. Them are the breaks, especially with technology devices.

Is this move by Apple a sign of things to come for other (47) iPhone selling countries? Is this Apple's way of changing their strategy to put as many iPhones in the hands of consumers as possible? This has always been one of the pain points of critics.

In hindsight, did Apple make the right move, by first capitalizing on the revenue gain from the few carriers reselling iPhones, Apple not only stir up the excitements for the device, but was also able to string the carriers along with the privilege of exclusivity.

Steve Jobs always says that Apple is a software company focus on delivering the best, complete user-experience to the end-users. Assuming this action in Hong Kong is indeed a change in Apple's iPhone strategy, this means they are indeed focusing more on what one can do with the iPhone rather than simply selling iPhones. You can say it is a means to an end.

As a result more focuses will be placed on the AppStore in iTunes Store, and the debacle approval process that Apple had employed thus far for 3rd party applications. If Apple really going to focus on what one can do with the iPhone; aka software, then Apple will need to improve the development process, making it much more seamless and less of a walled garden.

May be Apple should consider the Mac OS X and Darwin approach, where it takes an open operating system like FreeBSD created Mac OS X and then released a version of it as Opensource called Darwin. Imagine Apple taking something like Google's Android, transform it into a new version of Mobile Cocoa and then contributing back to the Opensource Android platform.

With this proposed approach Apple will differentiate itself among the handset manufactures in terms of design, which Jonathan Ive consistently delivers. And on the great user experience of the Apple version of the Android compatible mobile phone.

Back when Apple first announced the availability of the iPhone 3G to 73 countries around the world, with many of those having more than one carriers receiving the privilege of selling the phone. I had predicted the plan of Apple is to introduce the iPhone through exclusive carrier to build up the hype. Then it allows certain countries more than one carriers to sell the iPhone so that consumers receive a choice, but when the carriers not able to differentiate themselves among its competitors, Apple steps in and say, "you [the carriers] cannot say we did not let you try.", they had for a year and a half. Now [the end of 2008] they take over and sell the phone independent of any 3rd parties and no one can complain they did not give them a chance.

If my analysis is correct, you may not want to rush out and get the iPhone 3G from Apple Hong Kong's online store. That is because the third phase of Apple's iPhone strategy will happen in Hong Kong when Three ("rumored") looses its exclusivity late October. Just in time for Apple to lower the price for the Christmas shopping season.

Most people; especially the critics, need to remember that Steve Jobs manages Apple like a chess master, he is always thinking many moves ahead of all of us. So don't be so quick to criticize his decisions. Over the years [24+], being a user of the Macintosh and making it my computing tool of choice, I have learnt to accept the fact that Apple; particularly Steve Jobs, knows better.

Three HK logoThere was a report last night that the iPhone 3G sold by the carrier, Three, in Hong Kong is unlocked; meaning it is not tied to a specific carrier. This news was a bit hard to believe as news from other countries like US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, the iPhone 3G sold there are all locked to the respective mobile carriers.

Therefor, if you do not want to stick with Three's service you now have a choice, but the cheapest choice is:

HKD4680.00 + HKD188 x 24 months + MTR Fee (HKD12 x 24) = HKD9480.00 - HKD1742 = HKD7738 (including the rebate you will receive over 2 years)

Three HK Tariff in HKD

Now I have first hand confirmation from a friend who purchased one of these iPhone 3G at Three HK. He was able to put in a PCCW SIM card while having full access to all functionalities of the phone including EDGE and GPRS functions.

Is this really worth it. I say not, especially if you already have an iPhone (1st generation). Wait for the other carriers in Hong Kong; namely PCCW and/or Smartone-Vodafone receive the rights to sell the iPhone 3G.

Apparently the highly anticipated Apple iPhone 3G will only be available to the selected few, at least in Hong Kong. Yesterday, O2 began announced that their pre-orders for the iPhone 3G had been filled and ask interested customer to return to their web site on July 10th to find information on new inventory and next availability.

Similar situation in Hong Kong with Apple's partner carrier, "3". I have inside sources informs me that their initial inventory of 500 Apple iPhone 3G had already been sold out 2 weeks ago. There was no limits placed on the number of phones each person were allow to purchase. Therefore, some of the selected few were able to purchase a dozen iPhone 3G, while the rest of us, under privileged in the eyes of Li Ka Shing's mobile carrier "3", will not be able to get an iPhone 3G on Friday, July 11th, even if I am willing to change carrier and choose one of the high tariff plans offered. Of course, I am not, so I am not too concern.

For the rest who are already a 3 customer or willing to switch carriers, I think this is very unfair and Apple HK should have been managed the situation better. Although, this sort of insiders privilege is a common occurrence in Hong Kong, Apple HK should have imposed a maximum purchase quantity so that as many individuals can share the Apple experience and privilege of owning an iPhone 3G on July 11th.

As with everything that Apple does in the past 24+ years, everyone tries to copy what they do. We saw it with the removal of a floppy disk from a computer (1990s). Initially the critics were criticizing Apple for removing the floppy disk being a stupid idea. Then manufactures begin to imitate what Apple does. Eventually we saw the death of floppy disk and drives.

Apple added Firewire (IEEE 1394) ports (late 1990s) to all their computers and "uneducated" critics thought that it was a proprietary port that Apple force upon consumers and was a waste.

Apple promoted the use of CD-R drives on all their computers, again critics claims that that was a stupid idea as CD-R media was too expensive and say that no one will need such large amount of storage for personal use. Apple does not listen and sent out all their Developers Program media on CDs only.

Apple took the MP3 player, redesigned it and released the iPod in 2003, the same critics come along and claim that Apple is just imitating manufactures like iRiver and others who had MP3 players in the market for years. What Apple did instead was reinvented the mobile music concept with the 3-prong team of the iPod, iTunes audio jukebox and the iTunes Music Store.

Competitors try to imitate what Apple had done, by coming out with what they claim "iPod killers", which are devices that look like the iPod superficially but does not have the usability, nor do they have iTunes or the iTunes Music Store.

Others also try to over throw Apple's lead in the online music retail by launching their own online music stores to compete with Apple's iTunes Music Store, but again they do not have the iPod or the iTunes music jukebox.

In 2007 Apple released the iPhone 2G and changed the mobile phone industry. What they had done was to push the envelop of mobile phone design. They did not try to just create an extraordinary mobile phone, they also wanted to create an ultimate mobile connected information device. In doing so caused all the competitors to rethink their own mobile phone design directions.

Some critics criticizes the fact that the iPhone is not comparable to most high end smart-phones from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG, HTC, etc., but what these critics keep missing is what Apple claims the iPhone 2G is capable of and that Apple is using the iPhone 2G as the first-device for the platform.

Can you remember what the iPod was like back in 2003? Could you have imagine the "3rd generation iPod nano" or the "2nd generation iPod Shuffle"? Can you image what the iPhone will be like in 5 years?

Over the years Apple had mostly been successfully in setting the expectations of their customers and audiences for Apple products and services. With the launch of the iPhone 2G on June 29, 2007, Apple released numerous amount of information; including videos, of what the iPhone is and the various things one can do on it.

Similarly, AT&T wanted to do the same expectation management with the launch of the iPhone 3G, and created the AT&T iReady program; including videos. What the iReady program and accompany videos did was to highlight the complexities of purchasing a mobile phone from a carrier and how poor a shopping experience it is.

Apple iPhone 3GAn hour ago Apple's co-founder, CEO, Steve Jobs, announced the highly anticipated Apple iPhone 3G during the keynote speech at the WWDC 2008 in San Francisco. It will be available July 11, 2008 in 70 countries around the world. The announcement had some surprises; confirmation of built-in GPS. All in all were information that many of the rumor sites had already published: 3G radio, longer battery life, multiple colours (Black and White) and lower price. What was missing, that I had hoped for was video conferencing or Mobile iChat. Well there is just over a month before the actual release date, may be there is another higher version at the USD399.00 price point: more storage 32GB and video conferencing to be announced before the date.

Yes, Apple lower the price of the 8GB version to USD199.00 and the 16GB version to USD299.00. Making one to speculate there may be yet another model at the original USD399.00 price. I think I may hold out for that.

The most interesting is that it showed up on Apple HK's Store, but when I try to follow the "Find a store" link within the page, it gave me a "Page Not Found" error. I guess Apple forgot to put up a "Coming Soon" page for this. As Hutchison Telecom had already announced last week that it signed an agreement with Apple to sell the iPhone 3G through is "3" mobile brand. I just hope that it is not the only carrier that will carry the iPhone 3G in Hong Kong.

During the keynote, Steve Jobs failed to offer any details of Apple's business arrangements with these mobile carriers in the 70 countries. It is already know from the various mobile carrier press releases in the past several weeks, there are more than one carrier in a most of these 70 countries that will be selling the iPhone 3G.

The Apple Stock had a roller coaster ride during the 2 hours of the keynote, taking a dive of almost USD4.00 during the 3rd party application demos; which most have seen during the announcement of the iPhone SDK in January, then rising to a high of USD184+ when the 3G iPhone was ("confirmed") announced by Steve Jobs. It then drop a USD6.00 dollars when everyone realize there's no "Just One More Thing" announcement.

I think both the market and myself was expecting Steve Jobs (Apple) to detail their future business arrangements with the mobile carriers in these 70 countries. Being a shareholder myself (full disclosure), hopefully Apple will release more details as we get closer to the actual release date of July 11th.

The one other surprise and rumor confirmation was the announcement of MobileMe, which is the next generation of .Mac for Macintosh computers, Windows computers and iPhones. To put it simply, it is a Web 2.0 refresh of (the over due revamp) .Mac service. Although, given its compatibility with iPhones (equipped with 2.0 firmware), I may again have a use for this service. Given I can install version 2.0 of the iPhone firmware on my current hacked iPhone 2G.

[Update: June 10, 2008] Thank to the reader, AC, I just checked Apple's "Find a Store" link and it is now pointing to a page where it lists "3" as the mobile carrier to purchase the iPhone.

Apple Apple has composed a new page which list all the countries where the iPhone will be available after July 11, 2008.