A reader of my blog asked a series of good questions and I thought it may be something all readers will be interested in, so I decided to create a post to answer him. Jonathan asked:

If I simply buy the phone from the Apple store (unlocked) and then get the sim from vodafone (they have a deal on at the moment) will it be as simple as putting it in and turning it on, and I'm good to go? Also, is there anything I need to be aware of when I am choosing my contract?

Yes, all iPhones purchased legitimately in Hong Kong from the mobile carrier Three ("3") or Apple HK Online Store are full carrier (SIM) unlocked iPhone 3G, and will accept any SIM cards that support the GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz and/or GSM 3G: 850, 900, 1900, 2100MHz.

Since Apple's EULA for the iPhone 3G purchased in Hong Kong states that you are suppose to use the iPhone 3G in Hong Kong. I suggest activating the iPhone using a SIM card from one of the Hong Kong carriers and iTunes HK Apple ID, just in case Apple has some hidden way to check your compliance to the EULA.

After you have activated the iPhone 3G you can point your iTunes to any of the other country specific iTunes Stores you like. One thing you must remember is that the iPhone can only be associated with one iTunes and iTunes Store (Apple ID) account at a time. Any music, movies and applications purchase from a particular iTunes Store/account will not work if you are not logged into and your iTunes is authorized by the same account.

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I am against signing contracts with mobile carriers. Since mobile plans in Hong Kong changes (drops) every 6 - 8 months. Most of the carriers in Hong Kong have reasonably priced non-contractual plans except 1010 and One2Free. In most cases, the small amount of money you save each month is not worth the extra you pay over the duration of the contract.

No matter what tariff  plan you choose, you should pay attention to the type of data traffic it covers. Many of the data plans from Hong Kong carriers have very strict limits on the kind of traffic covered by the data plan. Any other type of data traffic will incur extra charges or not allowed. Example of the types of data traffic not allowed are VoIP and Bittorrent.

You can see examples of plans from different local carriers in my post New Tariff Plan from Smartone-Vodafone for iPhone the subsequence post Is Smartone-Vodafone’s IOM Value Pack Right for iPhone? will also be useful. Although, these articles are a bit dated it will give you the understanding necessary, to ask the right questions when you speaks to the sales people from the respective carriers. In most cases you will be more informed than the sales people, so make sure you read all the small small prints before committing. The one consistent exception had been from staff from Smartone-Vodafone. They seem to be very knowledgeable, but like any sales person, they may not tell you about certain points if you don't ask.

If you decide to jailbreak your iPhone, you should take a look at my post 7 Things You Love to Ask About iPhone Unlocking before you begin. At the moment there are only 2 applications that tempt me to jailbreak my iPhone 3G; they are BiteSMS and Qik. For the latter, the developers had said an approved iPhone App will be available on the iTunes Store, unfortunately that was over six months ago and we still have not seen Qik on the iPhone App Store.

When I had my iPhone (2G) I only had a few "unauthorized" iPhone Apps on my iPhone that I used regularly, but because it was an unlocked (hacked) iPhone, I took the opportunity to try many "unauthorized" iPhone applications over the year an a half that I owned it. Now I have an official unlocked iPhone with AppleCare I am more reluctant to jailbreak if I don't have to.

Having said that, my decision of not jailbreaking may change overnight, as great iPhone Apps; both authorized and unauthorized, are released almost every day.

I hope this helps clarify some of the uncertainties people have for buying an iPhone 3G in Hong Kong and most importantly the reader, Jonathan's, questions.

PS: there is always a chance that Three's contract with Apple will end soon, as a result Apple will finally lower the price of the iPhone to a more reasonable price and begin selling it at Premium Authorized Resellers in Hong Kong. Also Apple may lower the price of existing models to make room for a higher end model to be released soon (most likely June 2009).

[Updated: February 8, 2009]


You may have read in forums and elsewhere about the "iPhone Carrier Update" dialog presented by iTunes each time the iPhone is connected to iTunes 7.7 or later. In the past I had suggested that if your iPhone is "carrier unlocked"; not connected to one of the Apple carrier partners in your country, you should not apply this update when Apple's dialog comes up.

The reason is because the "iPhone Carrier Update" will update settings relating to the "carrier partner(s)" within your iPhone, and if your iPhone was unlocked and your SIM card is not from one of the "carrier partner(s)" the APN settings (data settings) of your iPhone will be overridden, causing you to have to update these settings each time.


Smartone-Vodafone logoOver a month ago I decided to switch to the Smartone-Vodafone "IOM Value Pack". You can read why I make this move in my previous post, New Tariff Plan from Smartone-Vodafone for iPhone. I had shared my experience here on my blog with my experience of using the iPhone in Hong Kong since June 2007. You can follow all of these posts by using the iPhone category.

Today is the last day of my bill cycle at Smartone-Vodafone, so I am now able to report if this "IOM Value Pack" is suitable for iPhone users in Hong Kong.

First I will provide some statistics on my iPhone voice and data usage in the past 30 days.

Internet Browsing as they called it = 27.378MB Data Usage = 4.373MB RSS Usage = 13.579MB POP Usage = 0.340MB

As the IOM Value Pack at HKD136/month includes 600MB/month (20MB/day) Internet Browsing, I am within the limit. The Data Usage, which is most likely the result of IMAP email and other application usage. The POP usage is from one of my email account that I grab mail from, and the RSS reader, these all total 18.292MB, Since the IOM Value Pack charges HKD15/15MB, the extra usage resulted in an additional charge of HKD30.00, giving me a final total of:

HKD136.00 HKD30.00 (extra data usage) HKD12.00 (MTR fees)

Total = HKD178.00

This is still cheaper than what I was paying prior to switching to the IOM Value Pack.

Smartone-Vodafone LogoWell not exactly... that are dropping POP3 in the list of protocol that comes free with their "Internet Browsing" plan. For those iPhone users in Hong Kong who followed my advice and subscribed to the Smartone-Vodafone's "Internet Browsing" and the GSM 2G/3G Data plans, you should have received a SMS from Smartone-Vodafone to inform you that they will be dropping the POP3 protocol within the "Internet Browsing" plan.

One less protocol in the already limited features list of this "Internet Browsing" plan; you can see my article, "iPhone Hacked in Hong Kong on Smartone-Vodafone", from a Smartone-Vodafone customer's point of view on using the iPhone in Hong Kong for my opinions on this plan.

I am not certain if this decision of Smartone-Vodafone is the direct result of too many Smartphone and iPhone users using the Internet Browsing plan for POP3 and IMAP access. It is very obvious that their Product Development department did not think clearly about this plan before they launch it, and now they are trying to recover by dissecting the features of this plan further. Spawning even more VAS from it.

If you are one of the many iPhone users who took my advise in the article, "iPhone Hacked in Hong Kong on Smartone-Vodafone", then there is no need for you to do anything. Unless your POP3 usage is so large that it exceeds your current 2G/3G Data plan monthly quota. In that case you may want to weight the benefit of upgrading to the higher 2G/3G Data plan of the new "POP3" VAS to the Internet Browsing plan.

Note: that Smartone-Vodafone only speak of POP3 and they did not mention IMAP, nor did they exclude any POP3 access over a VPN. So you should take these into consideration if you need to argue with them on your next phone bill.

Over the past 3 months in preparation of my eventual iPhone usage on the Smartone-Vodafone network, I began testing to see which is the best combination Smartone-Vodafone data plan to subscribe to. Prior to August of this year I subscribed to Smartone-Vodafone's "HKD118.00/month Data Plan", which gave me 10MB of usage per month and a HKD15.00/MB thereafter. While using my Nokia E61i at the time I frequently exceeds my 10MB allocation for the plan. I also did not use the GPRS access freely due to the limit imposed by the plan.

In August I found out about Smartone-Vodafone's "Internet Browsing Plan". With a 12 months commitment the plan cost HKD28.00/month and HKD38.00/month without a contract. Being someone who does not believe in signing any contracts I chose to pay HKD38.00/month.

This "Internet Browsing Plan" came with 20MB of usage per day. If the usage of any given day went above the 20MB limit, Smartone-Vodafone will automatically upgrade the plan to the Unlimited version for HKD78.00/month for the month in question. It will downgrade to the 20MB/day version on the subsequent month if the user did not cancel the plan.

I was very excited about this new "Internet Browsing Plan". I confirmed with the sales person at the Smartone-Vodafone store about the definition of "Internet browsing". They assure me it covered all browsing using my built in "browser" on my phone (Nokia E61i). I even confirm that it did not mean having to go through Smartone IN to do the browsing (via the Smartone-Vodafone WAP site), and they confirmed that Smartone IN is just one of the two methods where this plan would allow for "Internet browsing". I then asked them the ultimate question of why was there a "HKD488.00/month Unlimited Usage Data Plan", when it only cost HKD78.00/month through the "Internet Browsing Plan"? The sales person's respond was that the Unlimited Usage Data Plan is an old service offering.

So I cancelled my HKD118.00/month Data Plan and subscribed the new HKD38.00/month Internet Browsing Plan. At the end of my bill cycle for the month of August, I found that Smartone-Vodafone was charging me HKD119.00 for "extra data usage". To say the least I was upset and confused.

I contacted Smartone-Vodafone Customer Service and they told me the "extra data usage" charges were to cover my GPRS usages that were not "Internet browsing", hence not covered by the "Internet Browsing Plan". I told them about my conversation with the sales person at the store before I subscribed. I further ask her to explain what was meant by "Internet browsing".

All she told me was that "Internet Browsing" was "browsing using the built in browser of my mobile phone". I told her, she did not tell me any thing, but simply reworded the title of the plan. I told the Customer Service representative that I was using my built in browser through out the month of August, and asked her to provide me a more detailed and technical definition of "Internet browsing". I also told them not to charge the HKD119.00 for the "extra data usage" until I have the definition resolved.

A few days past and the same Customer Service representative (Jay) called me back and told me that "the Internet Browsing Plan covers Internet browsing through certain browsing ports". I told her that her statement was not clear, and for her to name the ports covered by the Internet Browsing Plan and get back to me after I return to Hong Kong. In the mean time I asked her to cancel the Internet Browsing Plan for the month of September and re-subscribe the HKD118.00/month Data Plan.

When I came back to Hong Kong after 2 weeks, I contacted Jay to find out the status of my enquiry. She still could not tell me exactly which ports were covered by the Internet Browsing Plan. So I asked her to get a technical person to contact me with the details. I also told her to pass along a message to their Product Development people, informing them that this was no way to create a plan for Internet browsing. It was ridiculous to have an internal restriction on certain ports and not make these ports know to the customer prior to the customer subscribing to the said plan.

Now I have my iPhone I will be performing my own experiment to see which combination of Smartone-Vodafone's "Internet Browsing Plan" and "2G/3G Data Plan" will be sufficient to cover the GPRS (EDGE) usage of the iPhone through daily use.

Since no one at Smartone-Vodafone seems to know or willing to tell me exactly what the Internet Browsing Plan covers. I will perform my own experiment. Fortunately, Smartone-Vodafone does not have commitments for any of their services. Unfortunately, I have to do this using my own money.

Due to my Bill Date at Smartone-Vodafone, I will not be able to begin my test until October 12. So I will be reporting my findings after I see my October bill the 2nd week of November.

Please stay tune.

Categoriesiphone, opinion