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%.

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

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.

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 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

Has Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) finally listened to my reader's and my call in my Open Letter to Smartone-Vodafone? Along with the different tariff plans SMV releases for the iPad they have also released a "Tag-On Micro-SIM for iPad" plan for existing SMV subscribers. For an additional HKD128/month use of any voice and data plans with unlimited data can share the data usage with their iPad. It also includes unlimited free access to WiFi hotspots in HK. For anyone without unlimited data plans they can add an additional HKD88/month for the privilege.

This is definitely a step in the right direction. Please keep it up.

[Updated: July 23, 2010, 16:59] Well I may be a bit too hasty to compliment SMV. It has been confirmed via Smartone-Vodafone Facebook page that this new iPad plans do not include their X-Power service, which includes that ability to playback Flash and YouTube videos while the iPad is on the SMV 3G network. Not good!

[Updated: July 30, 2010, 11:59] I just confirmed with SMV that X-Power cannot be added to any of the iPad tariff plans for $48/month as previously thought.

Posted
AuthorVinko
CategoriesiPad

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

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

A few hours ago Smartone-Vodafone's (SMV) IOM Toolbar (the thick red bar at the top and bottom of browser window) returned to the Safari browser on the iPhone. I called SMV Customer Service and they say the issue has to do with a system upgrade which failed to honor the flag, "Disable IOM Toolbar".

This has to be the third time such issue occurred. I don't think any iPhone users will ever want the SMV IOM Toolbar occupying the valuable Safari browser space. So the correct way to disable the IOM Toolbar is to check the browser's User Agent rather than some flag in a customer's profile.

I agree that the IOM Toolbar may be useful for traditional mobile phones which do not have a full browser, but even phones using the Opera mobile browser will not need the IOM Toolbar.

For all "smart phone" users the IOM Toolbar should be opt-in rather than opt-out.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

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.

Another example of Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) careless execution today. After criticizing SMV over their strange handling of my overseas roaming data usage, then their attempt to be chic with the launch of the Zendgo thing. Plus writing an "Open Letter to Smartone-Vodafone"; without any reply, comments or action from SMV.

Today all of a sudden the silly WAP toolbar returned to my iPhone Safari browser when I visited any web page while connected to the SMV 3G cellular network. I first complaint to SMV about this stupid bar back in 2008 and was able to convinced SMV to add a new flag in their Customer Account Profile to remove it from any customers who requests it. Which I told SMV it should not be a flag in the Customer Account Profile but an automatic detection by the SMV 3G cellular network proxy. Given today's event it is obvious SMV did not listen to my suggestion.

SMV store staff explains to me that the reason is because the "IOM Toolbar" flag had been unchecked, this is due to they reset all Customer Account Profile to transition all existing customers of the HKD238.00 tariff plan to the new HKD238.00 tariff plan this afternoon. The sales staff then further attempts to tell me that this switch was for our [customer] benefit, to add the new "IOM Features" and "HD Wide" feature to my account for free.

This is fairly ridiculous since I always had the "IOM Features" in the previous 2 and the current tariff plans that I was on during the past 3 years. The "careless execution" is how could SMV change the customer account profile and ended up undoing something that should not have been touched. Now I wonder what else they had undone.

So if you now sees the appearance of the SMV WAP toolbar in their Safari browser, you need to call SMV Customer Service or visit the brick-and-mortar store to get them to remove it. The proper terminology so SMV Customer Service representatives know exactly what you're talking about is:

"I want to have the IOM Toolbar removed from my iPhone browser. Please disable this flag in my account profile."