SmarTone in about-face on plan
One of the city's biggest phone companies has made a pricing U-turn as firms battle to make the best of new rules on unlimited data-use packages.
SmarTone reversed its decision to scrap its unlimited data plan for smartphone users after rivals CSL and 3HK vowed to continue offering unlimited deals despite new rules set by the telecoms watchdog Ofta.
Ofta ordered companies to stop marketing smartphone packages as unlimited, or to clearly set out hidden pitfalls in such deals in contracts and in promotional material.
The guidelines, which came into force yesterday, are a response to consumer complaints about restrictions on unlimited service plans.
While PCCW and China Mobile will scrap unlimited plans immediately, CSL, 3HK and SmarTone will instead impose restrictions on heavy data users. SmarTone's U-turn was pilloried on internet forums, with users saying they would have stuck with the company even if it had gone ahead with plans to impose a 2 gigabyte limit on data use.
CSL, which runs One2Free and 1010 and boasts 3.2 million subscribers, will keep its unlimited plans until the end of this year. However, both existing and new clients who have used more than 5GB of data in a month could face delays accessing the web when data traffic in their area is busy.
'CSL intends to move to volume-based pricing before the end of 2012. However, we realise it is a transition that needs time,' chief marketing officer Mark Liversidge said.
Those who have used their 5GB allowance will have a lower priority when accessing the network, and may face a wait at busy times.
Normal users were unlikely to be affected, but those using high-bandwidth applications could feel the change, Liversidge said.
The company was fined HK$130,000 in 2010 when it throttled transmission speeds of those using the most data as part of its 'fair-use policy', a set of restrictions that consumers were not aware of.
SmarTone announced it would scrap 'unlimited' deals two weeks ago, but has now rolled out a plan similar to CSL's, with those who have used more than 5GB of data given a lower priority when accessing the network.
Users of 3HK would see download speeds fall if they breached data-use limits, which would be 3GB or 5GB, it said.
PCCW and China Mobile will introduce a 5GB limit on data.
Professor Lau Wing-cheong, director of Chinese University's Mobile Technologies Centre, said it was hard to assess the impact on phone users when telecoms providers did not spell out the details of their priority schemes. Data-transfer speed could be affected by several factors, and it was usually difficult for an end user to trace if they were being given lower priority by a provider, he said.
Consumer Council chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing said the U-turn risked damaging SmarTone's reputation. 'It is confusing for consumers when it changes its policy within so short a time,' she said.
What's on offer
For subscribers of its HK$267 SIM-only tariff plan, users can have unlimited amount of data access. However, priority to access a network will be lowered once a person uses more than 5GB a month. User experience may be affected when there is busy data traffic.
It scraps its previous decision to cancel unlimited plans. Users who reach 5GB of data use will be given lower priority to access the network. A SIM-only unlimited data plan costs HK$298.
A SIM-only plan that offers unlimited data use costs HK$198 to HK$338, depending on length of voice calls. Once a subscriber uses more than 3GB of data, their priority to access a network will be lowered.
A HK$398 plan bundled with a new phone guarantees no speed controls when a subscriber uses less than 5GB of data.
It replaces its HK$218 unlimited data plan with a 5GB plan for the same price.
In its HK$182 SIM-only plan, subscribers can use up to 5GB of data. It stopped offering unlimited plans yesterday.