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.

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

Several months ago a reader (Kit) told me about his ordeal with 3 HK; one of the 7 mobile carriers in Hong Kong. From my non-scientific analysis, 3 HK is disliked by many of its subscribers, many of them are friends of mine. Some of them even created Facebook groups, 聲討 3HK iphone 服務奇差 !!!, 3HK PCCW 李氏大財團屈錢噤住黎搶申訴專區, and I love iPhone but I hate 3HK !! to share their dislikes for the company and its service.

Now let me share with you Kit's experience with 3 HK. It started off with his purchase of the iPhone 3G in July 2008. He bought the subsidized iPhone 3G from 3 HK by subscribing to their most expensive tariff plan at HKD498/month, with a 24 months contract. This gave him a "free" ($0 payment up front) iPhone 3G.

When Apple released the iPhone 3GS in July 2009, he asked 3 HK to upgrade to the new model, 3 HK accommodated his request by asking him to extend his tariff plan contract for another 12 months for HKD398/month. Since his HKD498/month plan does not expire until July 2010 the new 12 months contract at HKD398/month does not start until then.

During this second year using the iPhone 3GS he experienced drop calls at his home (Hong Kong Island), at work (Kowloon tourist district) and during the MTR (subway) rides between the two locations. He complained to 3 HK about the drop calls issue over 5 times, each time 3 HK Customer Service's response is that they will get back to him after their technical colleagues investigate his complains. Of course, each time there were no call back from 3 HK Customer Service.

Kit finally proposed to 3 HK to allow him to drop to the lower tariff plan to reflect his lack of use of the iPhone, due to connectivity issues. 3 HK refused his proposal so Kit asked to be removed from his commitment due to 3 HK's failure to deliver the promised service. 3 HK again refuse but counter offer to discount his remaining months in his contract by HKD30/month. Kit did not agree with the counter proposal, but offered to pay the difference between the subsidized and non-subsidized prices of the iPhone 3GS so he can get out of the contract commitment, but 3 HK still rejected his request.

After being frustrated with the whole ordeal Kit decided to write a letter to Consumer Council for help. In the end with the assistance from Consumer Council, Kit was able to get out of his contract 12 months earlier by paying the difference between the subsidized and non-subsidized prices of the iPhone 3GS.

The lesson here is not to allow any corporation to push you around when you are not receiving the service or product promised. Be persistence in your search for a resolution and if needed seek Consumer Council for assistance.

Hong Kong mobile carriers are notorious for treating its customers poorly but among the 7 carriers there are a couple who have shown signs in the past several years to do better. I am sure by speaking to your friends you will know who these two carriers are.

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.

Several weeks ago I published an Open Letter to Smartone-Vodafone asking them to create a new tariff plan. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive any comments from SMV regarding my suggestions. Instead, it appears that Rogers in Canada is hearing my cry. The data plan that Rogers is considering is not specific to Apple's iPad or iPhone, but they did mentioned Apple's new device by name. Too bad Rogers is a Canadian carrier who only operates in Canada. In the past carriers in North America had not taken the lead to innovate and change with the times. So it is a present surprise to see this from one of the older carriers in Canada.

I see SMV as a even more forward thinking carrier than Rogers, so if Rogers can consider it why hasn't SMV mentioned anything. Is this really that difficult? Are there technical hurdles that cannot be overcome? Is this pure a business roadblock? Does SMV care?

Love to hear opinions for or against my suggestions, whether you're in the telecom business or not, I love to hear from you. Please leave your opinions in the form of a comment here, on FriendFeed or Facebook.

Posted
AuthorVinko
CategoriesiPad

Smartone-Vodafone logoThis afternoon the mobile carrier Smartone-Vodafone has announced the price and tariff plans for the HTC Hero. The top of the line plan is identical to the tariff planSmartone-Vodafone is offering iPhone users in Hong Kong, which they called "The Ultimate iPhone Experience". The main difference being for the iPhone tariff plan, Smartone-Vodafone is not selling the iPhone 3GS themselves. Customers just have to bring in a proof of purchase from a Hong Kong Apple Authorized Reseller or Apple HK that is dated within 3 months.

The plan requires a 24 months contract with the carrier, plus a minimum subscription of HKD36.00 VAS per month. Giving the unlimited data plan a total monthly cost of HKD446.00 after taken into account the mandatory HKD12.00/month Administration fee. Smartone-Vodafone Tariff Plan for HTC Hero Like most typical mobile phone launch in Hong Kong, the HTC Hero is not exclusive to Smartone-Vodafone in Hong Kong, but will also be sold by the local mobile carrier, PCCW.

Posted
AuthorVinko
CategoriesHTC, News

Smartone-Vodafone logoFinally Smartone-Vodafone released a tariff plan that address the usage habits of iPhone users in Hong Kong. The yet unnamed "iPhone Unlimited" tariff plan from Smartone-Vodafone will cost HKD238.00/month + HKD12.00 (MTR fees) for unlimited HSDPA data usage along with a 18-month contract.

Most mobile Hong Kong phone users and readers of my blog know, Smartone-Vodafone has in the past, differentiated what they refer to as "Internet Browsing" and other HSDPA data usage. This has been one of my pet peeves for years. I always thought mobile carriers should focused on delivering the best connection possible to their customers, rather than coming up with complicated ways to charge their customers for using the connection.

Welcomely this new "iPhone Unlimited" tariff plan does not include the above local data usage differentiations. It only exclude tethering; the use of the mobile phone connected to a computer to act as a HSDPA modem, and roaming data usage from the "unlimited" definition.

As all of you who used iPhone tethering know, mobile carriers cannot tell the difference between traffic via iPhone tethered to a computer and regular HSDPA data traffic on the iPhone from native applications.

Since I currently do not have a contract with my tariff plan at Smartone-Vodafone and my monthly bill had been over HKD300.00, I will seriously consider signing up for the new plan in the next few days before my bill cut off day.

If your current extra data usage is costing you more than HKD45.00 per month and you still had not used your iPhone to its fullest, I would recommend you consider this new plan.

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.

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.

 

Pwnage Tool logoOver the past year and a half I had assisted many people with the unlocking of their iPhones. Many more people ask me about unlocking. So instead of answering each of these people over and over again, I thought I post an article in my blog, which I can refer them to for more details.

  1. What Does iPhone Unlock mean? Many carriers around the world will "carrier lock" a cell phone that they had subsidized for their customers. To ensure the purchaser of the cell phone stays as a customer of the carrier after the purchase, the carrier will normally do two things:

    • Make the purchaser commit to a contract that bounds them to the carrier for a number of years (2 years is common). Of course the purchaser can break the contract, but there is usually a penalty to compensate the carrier for the subsidizing the cell phone.
    • Carrier Lock the cell phone to the carrier's network, meaning the cell phone cannot be used on any other cellular network in the world.

  2. Is "Carrier Unlocking" the iPhone Illegal? In most countries with consumer protection regulations it is not illegal, but I am not a lawyer so I will not attempt to advise you with this matter. If you are concern I suggest you seek legal advise in your local area.
  3. Is It Illegal to Use a "Carrier Unlocked" iPhone on My Carrier? In almost all countries there are some regulations that prevent the use of unauthorized equipments on a mobile carrier network. In Hong Kong the individual carrier is responsible for managing the OFTA license, and has the rights to disallow the use of any unauthorized cell phone on their network including the canceling of an individual's cell phone service for using an unauthorized cell phone.
  4. What is the Difference Between Jailbreaking and Unlocking the iPhone? Jailbreaking is to process of hacking the iPhone so that "unauthorized" 3rd party applications can be installed on the iPhone. Ever since the launch of the Apple "iPhone AppStore" it is less important to jailbreak, unless there are applications that one really need. For me one such application is BiteSMS. Unlocking includes jailbreaking and it is the process of hacking the iPhone so that it is not carrier restricted (carrier locked) to a particular carrier partner. As of this writing you can find a list of Apple worldwide carrier partners for the iPhone at Apple.com.
  5. How Do I Jailbreak/Unlock My iPhone? Since June 2007 there had been many methods to jailbreak or unlock the iPhone. First there were the 23 steps method, including the use of SSH client and various other manipulations of proprietary files on the iPhone. Fortunately, since then we now have simple programs like the Pwnage Tool from the iPhoneDev Team, who has been the major hacking group coming out with methods and software to "carrier" unlock the iPhone. If you have a 1st generation iPhone you can follow the guide at ModMyi.com for the 1G iPhone. If you have the iPhone 3G, you should follow ModMyi.com's guide for the iPhone 3G. The same site you will find Windows equivalent instructions for both versions of the iPhone.
  6. Can I Unlock my iPhone 3G? As of the writing of this post there are no software unlock method for the iPhone 3G. The only way to "carrier" unlock an iPhone 3G is to use a hardware unlock; tools like TurboSIM. I do not recommend this hardware unlock, since in many case it will damage the iPhone. The iPhoneDev Team claims to be making available a tool on New Year's Eve 2008 that will unlock the iPhone 3G, similar to the ease of use of the current Pwnage Tool. To prove that their method is successful and simple, they have released a video of this tool; code name "Yellowsn0w".
  7. What is the Best Carrier Plan for the iPhone in Hong Kong? Although, carrier plans changes almost monthly, like anything in Hong Kong, mobile carrier price plans (tariff plans) have been very competitive. Over this past year and a half I had examined most of them. You can read my findings of these mobile carrier plans analyzed from an iPhone user in Hong Kong's perspectives.