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.

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.


Smartone-Vodafone logoLast Friday I reported that I was stuck at a Starbucks that did not have a reliable WiFi connection, so I decided to give the iPhone tethering a try. That trial ended up lasting 4 hours of work on my Mac. When I decided to use it, I was not 100% certain how Smartone-Vodafone was going to bill me. I have one of their IOM (Internet on Mobile) plan that has since been discontinued, but very similar to the current "IOM Value Pack" except without a contract.

This plan comes with a HKD15.00/15MB rate for any HSDPA traffic outside of their "Internet Browsing" traffic. So I concluded that Smartone-Vodafone cannot tell the difference between regular local data traffic and tethered traffic from my Mac. Therefore and tethered traffic will be charged based on the HKD15.00/15MB rate (with a price cap of HKD298.00).

I received my bill yesterday and I was correct. The only extra data charges I have was lump into the other HSDPA traffic that Smartone-Vodafone did not consider to be "Internet Browsing". It came out to about 105MB of usage for the 4 hours of tethering.

Today I also received confirmation of how Smartone-Vodafone's billing system is distinguishing regular HSDPA local data traffic and what they considered "Internet Browsing". For the iPhone:

Any traffic through the Mobile Safari browser on the iPhone and any traffic from the use of the YouTube native application are all considered "Internet Browsing" according to the Smartone-Vodafone billing system.

All other HSDPA data traffic from any other applications on the iPhone will be considered extra data, and will be charged based on the HKD15.00/15MB rate with a price cap of HKD298.00.

Also, the HKD298.00 is a price cap only, that means HKD298.00 is the maximum amount Smartone-Vodafone will charge for extra data usage, but if you reach that amount the data usage is still usable past the 298MB.

I hope this helps clarify some of the questions people have with using the iPhone in Hong Kong on the Smartone-Vodafone network.

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.

Google softwareThere are now significant information to point to a first and new Android phone on Monday, September 22 on the VerizonT-Mobile network in the US. The reported Android based phone will be manufactured by HTC, and implies that it will support both GSM and CDMA network. But 3G communication will only supports the CDMA network (EV-DO).

So stay tune.

[Updated: September 19, 2008] Thanks to the reader, Travis, for pointing out my mistake. I stand corrected that it is T-Mobile in the US who will be releasing the first Google Android phone by HTC in early October to the general public.

CategoriesAndroid, Google