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%.

After I published the Open Letter to Smartone-Vodafone in April, I thought Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) finally understands the needs of its subscribers when they released the new tariff plans for the iPad in July. When the dust is finally settled I finds out SMV still doesn't understand what subscriber needs.

SMV restricts the availability of micro-SIM cards to only certain tariff plans; plans that SMV believes iPad or iPhone 4 users should be using. Even though SMV now have large quantities of micro-SIM cards. SMV sales representatives say their back-office system explicitly restricts activations of certain tariff plans for micro-SIM and others with min-SIM.

Aside from the SIM type restrictions the tariff plans are also restricted to particular devices that SMV believes the tariff plans should be used with.

Just to compete with other Hong Kong mobile carriers SMV follows with its own pre-paid no contract roaming tariff plans, but these plans are restricted to Internet browsing and Email access.

Why is SMV still trying to dictate how we use the tariff plans we subscribe to? I can understand having these restrictions on limited tariff plans or if micro-SIM supplies are very low. For unlimited local data there should not be either of the above restrictions.

Speaking of "unlimited data...", in many of the tariff plans designed for the iOS device, SMV explicitly restricts these so call "unlimited data" to Internet browsing and checking emails, and do not include traffic from apps on the iOS device. Do they know that majority of the people who uses the iPad spend majority of their times within Internet enabled apps rather than the browser (Mobile Safari) or email app (Mail)? So a warning to subscribers, you need to read the small print and choose the plans that is most suitable to your usage of the iPad or iPhone.

Of all the carriers in Hong Kong I thought SMV was the only one that is open minded enough to "think different" (think outside the box) but from these actions they appear not.

[Updated: August 18, 13:20] As suggested by the reader, Art, I will clarify a few of the points in my post.

When I say, "restricts the availability of micro-SIM cards to only certain tariff plans..." I am referring to SMV not allowing certain tariff plans to be issued with a micro-SIM. These plans are the Mobile Broadband: Power 3, Power 8 and Power 28, subscribers are not allow to request the issue of micro-SIM cards with these plans.

When I say, "tariff plans are also restricted to particular devices...", SMV is preventing the HKD198 iPad plan from being used on any other device other than the iPad.

As we are only 2 days away from the official iPhone 4 release in Hong Kong. One of the three Apple mobile carrier partners, Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) released their contract prices for the iPhone 4. Note that the only difference among iPhone 4 sold through mobile carrier partners, Apple authorized resellers and Apple HK store online is that the ones through the mobile carriers comes with a 24-month contract.

There are two hidden costs in the above tariff plans. One is that you must sign up for one or more of the VAS (value-added-service) valued at HKD36.00/month or more. The second is the HKD12.00 administration fee that all subscribers of any carriers have to pay.

Since the HKD12.00 administration fee is the same for all mobile carriers in Hong Kong. The actual price for these contracts are:

(all amounts in HKD) 100MB
Included Data
500MB
Included Data
Unlimited Data
Actual Cost $138 + $36 = $174 $248 + $36 = $284 $398 + $36 = $434
iPhone 4 16GB
Upfront Cost
$3480 $980 $0
iPhone 4 32GB
Upfront Cost
$4280 $1780 $580
Equivalent
Non-iPhone 4 Plan
N/A N/A $298
Actual Cost of
iPhone 4 16GB
N/A N/A ($434 x 24) - ($298 x 24) = $3264
Actual Cost of
iPhone 4 32GB
N/A N/A ($434 x 24) - ($298 x 24) + $580 = $3844

Also none of the above plans includes the SMV's X-Power service, this is a HKD36/month additional charge. So this can be the required VAS you add to your plan.

Although none of the plans states, according to SMV Customer Service, Tethering is included in all three plans. Of course the first two plans will have a data limit the subscriber keep an eye on.

[Updated: July 28, 2010, 15:05] Smartone-Vodafone now informs us that thee prepaid amount for the iPhone 4 are as follows: iPhone 4 16GB = HKD4480 iPhone 4 32GB = HKD5280

The differences between these prepaid amount and the "Upfront" amount mentioned above are rebated back to the customer through the terms of the 24-month contract.

[Updated: July 28, 2010, 20:00] Thanks to abc1230 (aka A網誘) on Twitter for putting together a spreadsheet to outline the different iPhone 4 tariff plans from 5 of the Hong Kong mobile carriers.

I have translated this spreadsheet into English (http://bit.ly/iphone4hkplans), but due to my limited Chinese comprehension there are still some work to do in the translation. Please feel free to contact me if you want to help complete the translation and or help update the information on the spreadsheet.

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.

As many of you already heard Phase 1 of Apple's iPhone 4 launch is planned for June 24th, and the initial demand at the phase 1 countries: France, Germany, Japan and USA, were higher than expected. So much so that AT&T and other resellers in USA had stopped receiving pre-orders. Hong Kong falling in the Phase 2 of the launch countries:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Hong Kong
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Apple has yet to announce an exact date for the Hong Kong release except July 2010, but Smartone-Vodafone is not waiting for the date to be announced. An hour ago it began accepting "registration" for an iPhone 4.

In this registration page there is no promise of receiving an iPhone 4 on any specific date, it does not contain any details of the available tariff plans, it does not contain any pricing for the iPhone, nor does it contain any details of the models and colours available for purchase.

Even though this is the case, I am sure SMV will receive many registrations as there is also no commitment on the part of the registerer. Not sure what SMV is expecting to accomplish with this exercise.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

As I stay in Shanghai on my 6th day I am staring to get Internet withdraws. It is not that I do not have access to the Internet. I do have access to my online store, my emails, my blog and some of my favorite sites. Although this is possible the mainland Chinese government has effectively killed my net social life. Access to Facebook, Twitter and all Google feeds for blogs are blocked. For the latter I have to figure out the original site, visit it's Home page and then locate the story I'm interested in. Yes, VPN is one way to get around the Great Firewall, but I am not that addicted to my net social life to pay for VPN service during my short stay in Shanghai, and the free services like Hotspot Shield is not helping.

For Twitter I use it more for sharing interesting finds on The Net and breaking technology related news. I hope my followers will not give up on me during my short period of hiatus. I guess I can only tell when I returns to Hong Kong.

I had always been a proponent for the use of OAuth, but another side effect from these Internet restrictions is my reliance on OAuth. Three of the providers I use are: Google, Twitter and Facebook, all except for the Google is totally blocked by China Information Bureau (CIB). In future OAuth and particularly XAuth implementations we should take this into consider.

Aside from these restricted accesses I'm also not use to having to first locate WiFi hotspots whenever I want to use the net connection on my iPhone. I had decided to give that up a year ago when I signed up for my first unlimited 3G network access with Smartone-Vodafone (SMV). Unfortunately SMV does not offer a roaming data plan while travelling, so turning my 3G data access on while in Shanghai will be costly.

Being always connected to the Internet is not only for the benefit of my net social life. It is also important for me to keep an eye on the emails relating to my online store, locate where I am in a foreign city, and find transit information. Fortunately, for the latter I had the foresight to purchase the USD0.99 iPhone app Explore Shanghai [iTunes link] before I left HK. This little app made me appear to be an experienced Shanghai subway user. Last night this app was updated to include the new subway (Metro) line (#13), just in time for the opening (May 1st) of World Expo 2010.

I understand China government's needs to control information dissemination. It is the one of the major way for a communist government to keep control of the country. Although the influx of foreigners in a cosmopolitan city like Shanghai; especially during a world event like The Expo, outside information and opinions will inevitably reach locals even with the heavy control of the CIB.

I hope the publishing of this post will not get my blog block within China as that is definitely not my intentions. I think that every government system in the world has its benefits and we cannot impose our own believes onto other countries. All I am pointing out with this post is that we are no longer living in an information deprived world, although information may not be readily available in certain part of the world, it will eventual arrive to those who seek it. Forcefully prevent the flow of information may not be the most effective way to control its flow.

Of the seven mobile carriers in Hong Kong: CSL's One2Free, CSL's 1010, Hutchison's 3 HK, PCCW Mobile, Smartone-Vodafone (SMV), China Mobile and China Unicom, SMV may be the one that tries to deliver the best quality of service the hardest. This is why I am writing this open letter to SMV, hoping that the CEO and others in charge see it and finally make a change.

Dear CEO,

I understand Smartone-Vodafone is a business that needs to make money, and your business is to deliver mobile communication and data connectivity to the people in Hong Kong.

The way I see it is that majority of your revenue comes from monthly subscribers and pay-as-you-go customers. With the sales of handsets and other 3G radio equiped devices rounding out the remainder of your revenue.

You currently have several voice only, data only, and voice/data combine tariff plans. All of these come in both contract and Flexi versions of the tariff. What I want to focus on are the data plans.

I'm sure you are happy to see that your existing and potential customers are surrounded with more and more devices equipped with 3G or better radios. I am also certain you will love to have all these devices connected to the SMV network and use paid data on it.

Given this situation many of your existing and potential customers are faced with the delima of whether to commit to multiple 3G contracts for their devices. Or choose which of these devices to allow to connect to the SMV 3G network. With the latter resulting in lesser revenue to SMV.

We both know that these 3G radio equped devices will be much more functional if they are connected, resulting in higher revenue per customer just because the devices are connected.

You may already see where I am going with this. For example if a customer have a MacBook, an iPhone and an iPad they will have to commit to a voice/data contract for his iPhone, a data contract for his iPad and one more for his MacBook.

The type of devices is not that important here, what is important is that this example customer above has to sign 3 separate contracts with SMV.

Not only is this costly undertaking, there must be extra administrative cost to SMV to maintain and serve this customer.

The Solution

What I propose instead may sound like something radical in the telecom industry, but in the long run it may increase the revenue of SMV per customer. While at the same time makes SMV looks chic enough to realize, carrier should treat mobile voice/data service as an utility, which everyone needs and not try to dictate how its customer use the service.

SMV should offer new voice and/or data plans that enable N number of devices to connect to its 3G network simultaneously. If the customer needs more simultaneous devices he can pay more.

I may be describing the needs of the advance users here but these are the users who will generate the most revenue and in turn help advance SMV's infrastructure.

Now that this Open Letter is published, I'm sure your 6 other competitors in Hong Kong will see it. With the pending arrival of the iPad and alike devices time is running short. So it is now up to you to stand out among your competitors and show us why we should be loyal to SMV instead of churning.

Look forward to your actions and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Vinko

I hope as many of you, who agrees or disagree with me, will contribute your opinion of my proposal to SMV in the form of comments below.

Let see if SMV reacts appropriately.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

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.

Smartone-Vodafone logoAll of a sudden I received the following cryptic SMS message from Smartone-Vodafone:

Voicemail system migration has been completed. Your greeting & PIN have been reset. To check messages before system migration, dial 138 & press 5.

The thing is that there was no prior message to say that the Voicemail system is to be migrated. Also what does the last sentence mean? Isn't this SMS to inform me that the said migration has already been completed?

Seeing that this Voicemail "migration" comes so close to the official iPhone launch by Smartone-Vodafone on the 23rd. Does it imply that I'm correct earlier about Apple's Visual Voicemail coming to SMV iPhone customers very soon?