SmarTone slams rival HKT's 'fishing exercise' over its iPhone deal

Mobile network operator steps up fight over competitor's legal move to examine its iPhone distribution agreement with Apple in the city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 1:20am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 1:20am

SmarTone Telecommunications has stepped up the rhetoric against rival mobile network operator HKT's legal manoeuvre to examine its confidential iPhone distribution agreement with Apple.

Douglas Li, the chief executive of SmarTone, yesterday said that the action was unfair and "a kind of fishing exercise" by HKT, the telecommunications arm of PCCW.

The conflict stems from an application made by HKT to the government's Telecommunications Appeal Board on competition provisions to permit five of its senior executives, led by group managing director Alex Arena, to inspect SmarTone's agreement with Apple.

The board gave permission without providing detailed reasons.

HKT's action was connected to its legal proceedings against the Communications Authority. HKT initiated a complaint last year against the regulator over Apple's alleged "discriminatory" practice of locking the subscriber identity module (SIM) card of the iPhone 5. That has kept the iPhone 5 and the 4G-ready models of the iPad and the iPad mini from being connected to HKT's 4G network. The firm's subscribers can only connect those devices to its 2G and 3G networks.

After the regulator declined to issue an order against Apple to remove the alleged "SIM lock", HKT brought its case to the board, which ruled in June it had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The Court of Appeals overturned the ruling in December.

SmarTone applied with the board to intervene in HKT's proceedings against the regulator to keep its iPhone deal confidential, but was denied.

Last month, SmarTone went to the High Court and applied for leave to file a judicial review against the board to quash the orders about disclosing its iPhone contract and denial to intervene in the HKT case.

"I don't see why there should be disclosure of the contract," Li said.

He said each of Apple's three iPhone carrier-partners in Hong Kong did not know the other's contract.

"But somebody who has no interest in this [iPhone deal] has seen all three of our contracts, all on the pretext that we are hiding something. Where is the justice in this?" he said.

Li said HKT's disagreements with Apple had nothing to do with other operators.