Mobile About Face

The top mobile phone companies in Hong Kong all offer a monthly plan to mobile phone subscribers with unlimited data usage for HK$398 per month.  (That’s roughly US$52.)  But apparently the word “unlimited” has a different definition than the one most of us have come to know and accept.

So in November, HK’s Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) issued new guidelines that stated, in part:

  • Find out whether the “unlimited Internet usage” service plans claimed by mobile network operators are subject to the “Policies”, i.e. whether users can really enjoy unlimited usages under reasonable restrictions.

In other words, some of the mobile companies were selling unlimited plans that really were unlimited in name only.  So when OFTA issued these new guidelines, which in effect said, “hey, people, read the terms and conditions of the contracts you’re signing!” the mobile companies initially responded by saying that they would no longer offer unlimited data plans.

Yesterday was set to be the last day that SmarTone would offer unlimited data plans and their shops had long lines with people looking to renew their contracts while they still could.  Or so they thought.

Because today SmarTone announced that they would continue to offer unlimited data plans.  Which introduces the notion that this is some new form of gonzo marketing targeted to Hong Kong’s herd mentality – tell people something will no longer be available, creating artificial demand, profit from that demand, and then announce that it will still be available.  Apparently this is legal.

Anyway, the mobile operators all announced essentially the same policy – unlimited data but once you reach a certain threshold in a month, you will get “lower priority to access the network for the remainder of that billing period.”  In other words, they’re going to follow the US model and throttle heavy users.

The mobile companies say that only 15% of their users ever exceed 2 gig of data in a month.  I just took a look on my iPhone and I see that I have only consumed 270 meg in the past 3 months.  I’m not streaming video on my phone and rarely need to use Google Maps while on the go; mostly I’m getting emails and tweets and weather reports.  My iPad is WiFi only and most of the time I’m too lazy to tether the iPad to the phone.

But still, “unlimited” should mean “unlimited” and not “we’re gonna slow your download speed to molasses if you actually take us up on our offer and use our services a lot.”