Smartone-Vodafone & iPhone in Hong Kong

Smartone-Vodafone logoLast Friday I reported that I was stuck at a Starbucks that did not have a reliable WiFi connection, so I decided to give the iPhone tethering a try. That trial ended up lasting 4 hours of work on my Mac.

When I decided to use it, I was not 100% certain how Smartone-Vodafone was going to bill me. I have one of their IOM (Internet on Mobile) plan that has since been discontinued, but very similar to the current “IOM Value Pack” except without a contract.

This plan comes with a HKD15.00/15MB rate for any HSDPA traffic outside of their “Internet Browsing” traffic. So I concluded that Smartone-Vodafone cannot tell the difference between regular local data traffic and tethered traffic from my Mac. Therefore and tethered traffic will be charged based on the HKD15.00/15MB rate (with a price cap of HKD298.00).

I received my bill yesterday and I was correct. The only extra data charges I have was lump into the other HSDPA traffic that Smartone-Vodafone did not consider to be “Internet Browsing”. It came out to about 105MB of usage for the 4 hours of tethering.

Today I also received confirmation of how Smartone-Vodafone’s billing system is distinguishing regular HSDPA local data traffic and what they considered “Internet Browsing”. For the iPhone:

Any traffic through the Mobile Safari browser on the iPhone and any traffic from the use of the YouTube native application are all considered “Internet Browsing” according to the Smartone-Vodafone billing system.

All other HSDPA data traffic from any other applications on the iPhone will be considered extra data, and will be charged based on the HKD15.00/15MB rate with a price cap of HKD298.00.

Also, the HKD298.00 is a price cap only, that means HKD298.00 is the maximum amount Smartone-Vodafone will charge for extra data usage, but if you reach that amount the data usage is still usable past the 298MB.

I hope this helps clarify some of the questions people have with using the iPhone in Hong Kong on the Smartone-Vodafone network.

34 Replies to “Smartone-Vodafone & iPhone in Hong Kong”

  1. I really don't understand why Smartone distinguish between different types of data.Do their servers handle zeros and ones sent too and from different applications somehow differently?I use a mac and one of their silly usb sticks. Costs bout 180pm all you can eat. When i finally upgrade to a 3G phone i'm going to get one that supports tethering and do whatever it takes to pay no more than what the stick costs. Why should I. What's the difference in the service?Any ideas?

  2. Very good if there is good 3G coverage, although with the iPhone 3G it was only a 3.6 Mbps connection giving me a real world speed of about 1.2 Mbps downlink and a 0.2 Mpbs uplink.With the iPhone 3GS it will be much faster due to its 7.2 Mbps downlink.Although, I am having some issues with enabling tethering on the iPhone 3GS. Smartone-Vodafone may have done something to the network or to my account.Anyone else have issues today (July 15th)?

  3. I totally agree with your statement about Smartone-Vodafone shouldn't distinguish the different types of data traffic.I can only guess the reasons behind theirs and other carrier's decision to do so. One reason is to control the traffic on their network so that they can offer the same level of service to all customers. The additional cost for different type of traffic is their way of trying to tax those users into using less.I think they should begin to follow 3 HK's move and release plans that are less restrictive.Do what my article say and deliver the best pipe to its customer and allow its customer to decide what to use the pipe for.

  4. Thanks for this info – much appreciated.Regarding the youtube data – when I rang Smartone and asked them, the answer they gave me was, if I am browsing via native browser and I click on a video, and it plays, then it will be considered internet browsing, and not “other” data. So I assumed from that answer that the youtube app in iphone is not considered internet browsing.However, I would assume that your source is more authoritative, as the customer rep I spoke to didn't seem 100% knowledgeable.Also regarding why Smartone differentiates between data types, I remember when they launched the service, they had done it in conjunction with HK Polytechnic University, as if the university had done something special to make their service a possibility. I bet it is because all data goes through their proxy server which does something special to the data – maybe compressing it or something like that. And that's why they have that stupid red bar at the top of the screen when you browse from some phones.As an aside, I was comparing browsing speed on my iphone 3GS with someone else with the same phone but they are on the 3 network. The browsing on 3 network was faster than Smartone. I don't know if it was just that smartone was having problems yesterday as I also got some 500 timeout errors yesterday, or whether smartone is consistently slower than 3.

  5. Yes, your Customer Service representative is NOT correct.I too receive the same reply when I speak to Smartone-Vodafone CS and Sales representatives, but when I speak to their more technical people, their reply is that the Smartone-Vodafone billing system had made exceptions to allow the YouTube application traffic to be considered “Internet Browsing” traffic, This is due to the behaviour of Mobile Safari; the fact that it spawn the YouTube native iPhone application to playback any YouTube videos.

  6. i was speaking to pccw today. i got a call because i was enquiring about the HK$98 plan (110 inc tunnel fee)…But…..they just released a new plan H$210 per month inc tunnel fee, 12month contract, 600 voice minutes, 300 now tv minutes but most importantly unlimited data. this is a new packaged, and i just checked the website, but it still only lists the $98 package. This new 12month contract started on the 13th July.yearly cost of unlimited data with Pccw is HK$2520

  7. Thank you for sharing.If the HKD210/month plan includes true unlimited data then it is better than both 3 HK and Smartone-Vodafone. Until I see the small print of this new PCCW plan I cannot make that judgement. As all carriers have small prints regarding their mobile data tariff plans. In most cases they include so called “VAS” that are totally useless to iPhone users.

  8. Anyone found that Internet browsing on smartone these few days has been slow? I've received a lot of 500 timeout errors. It's not the reception as browsing smartone IN is fast.

  9. Well I've reported this to smartone and receivEd a phon call from them. They asked me the usual questions – what websites, when, which phone. I told her that it was a variety of websites at a variety of times and that smartone in has no problem. She implied that the problems started since I started using the iPhone 3gs which is true but it really should not be due to the phone. Anyway I encourage anyone else having a problem to submit an email to them via so they can see it's a widespread problem.

  10. Hi Vinko, “Any traffic through the Mobile Safari browser on the iPhone and any traffic from the use of the YouTube native application are all considered “Internet Browsing” according to the Smartone-Vodafone billing system…”When you mean the Youtube native application are you talking about the YouTube button (the one with the old TV as an icon) or just on Safari

  11. Great info. I have a Smartone account currently and am buying an iPhone 3GS as soon as they're available. I was told, by the Smartone sales people no less, that MMS and tethering would not work on the Smartone network because they didn't have the backend for it. The MMS I can live without, but would definitely like the tethering. So you're saying that tethering definitely works on the Smartone network then? Just trying to figure out who has the best service and best price. I've heard horror stories about 3HK from all my friends who use it with and without an iPhone.

  12. Richard,Do not believe what Smartone-Vodafone staff tell you. They are only repeating information provided to them by the company and for some reason the company does not bother to verify the technical details before issuing information to their front line staff.I had been using the iPhone 3G MMS and Tethering on Smartone-Vodafone network since iPhone firmware 3.0 was released by Apple. You can read my post MMS With iPhone 3.0 On iPhone 3G and Tethering iPhone 3.0 for details of how to accomplish this.Since the iPhone 3GS was made available by Apple Hong Kong on July 10th, I had being using MMS and Tethering on Smartone-Vodafone on their network also.Yes, both of these features can be turned off by the carrier from without touching your phone or your SIM card, so for these to work you need to make sure both features are enabled for your account. The default is to enable them.

  13. Brian,When I say “… YouTube native application…” I mean the application; the one with the old TV icon that came with every iPhone out-of-the-box.

  14. But Vinko, I went to a Smartone-Vodafone store today to confirm this – they said all non-Safari based content (i.e. like the native YouTube, and Email) is counted as local HSDPA traffic (and is in my case limited to 100 mb a month). Also POP email will be counted as local HSPDA traffic.This seems to differ from what your post says… Are you sure about this?

    1. I am certain that Smartone-Vodafone’s “Internet Browsing” covers all traffic through the Safari browser and YouTube native application.

      Yes, it is true that all other traffic are counted as extra data charges outside of “Internet Browsing” traffic allowed.

      PS: as I advised the other reader, Richard, never believe the sales people at the stores. 99% of them do not know the details, but only what the company tells them to say.

  15. So let me get this right so we're all on the same page. Every function that comes with a just-opened iphone (youtube, itunes, appstore, maps, compass, stocks) except for mail (which uses POP3/exchange) is covered by the Internet usage allowance (600 MB or 20 MB/Day for IOM) while POP3/exchange mail is the only other application (that comes standard out of the box) cannot be used in this case – or it's goverened by the $15/15MB rule up to $298? Unless we pay the $30 surcharge to S-V monthly to use it right?

  16. No, the only thing that Smartone-Vodafone's billing system will consider as “Internet Browsing” are traffic from the iPhone native Safari and YouTube applications.All other traffic will be counted as extra data (HSDPA) charge, which will be charged at the HKD15.00/15MB rate.DO NOT subscribe to any of the other VAS services that Smartone-Vodafone claims you need.PS: you should not be using POP3 email, you should always use IMAP or Exchange mail protocols. Using POP3 mail causes copies of your emails in multiple places, which is not want you want to do.

  17. But Imap/Exchange mail do not fall under the “internet browsing” I assume. Thanks for the info. You've been incredibly helpful..Just an FYI I did manage to find a plan with smartone-vodafone that allows me to have unlimited web-browsing and 100MB local HSDPA per month… it's not listed on the website but a sales person can introduce it to you. It's at 260 a month but the sales person gave me a free rebate from an HTC phone another customer bought to bring the price back down to around 180 a month which I thought was a fair deal. Ask about it if you already haven't!

  18. Brian – not sure if that plan is that great. Essentially you are pre paying your data usage. Just say you took the standard 3G plan at $128 (and there are cheaper plans available) add on the IOM plan at $28 then you are at $156. So if you use extra data smartone charges $15/15mb. So basically if you were to use 100mb then it takes you to $256 which is the price of your plan except that you are locked into paying it every month regardless of whether you use that much data. For you it's cheaper cos of the $80 discount so is marginally worth it, but otherwise I don't think this plan is worth it.

  19. I think you may have confused yourself.I had always recommended people subscribe to either of the standard $96 or #116 IOM Value Pack and nothing else.100MB will not be enough for a month to allow you to use the iPhone freely. It is much better to pay the $15/15MB as you need it rather than locking yourself into any of the other data added value service.My current monthly bill for my non-contract VOM Value Pack is about HKD136 + HKD12 (MTR) + HKD120 = HKD268/month that's close to 600MB of Internet Browsing and about 120MB of extra data, On certain months I use much less than 120MB of extra data so my bill can be as low as HKD163/month.You should not have took the unlimited “Internet Browsing” on the iPhone that is not as useful as having regular data allowance.BTW: how long is the contract that you signed.

  20. Vinko/Stephen: Can't seem to reply your previous posts. It's a 15-month contract, and it's not offered on their website just yet..I see what you guys are saying about the extra data ($15/15MB), where it's better to pay as you go rather than lock myself for 100MB/month (incl in price of plan). But I think that since I would hover around 100MB or more anyway/month for these non-Internet Browsing apps, and with free rebate, the marginal cost of paying a couple dollars more for unlimited internet browsing seemed worth it. Without the free rebate, I would not have chosen this plan.I guess what you're trying to say is that the internet browsing on the iphone isn't as useful as the regular data allowance, but the prices of the two plans are quite similar. I'll let you know how it goes when I see the next phone bill.

  21. Did you compare the voice minutes offered by either of the $96 or $116 IOM Value Packs? The base price of these two plans are much lower than your current plan even with your rebate. These two plans both include 600MB of “Internet Browsing” per month and I had never came close to its limit in the past 2 years. That is why paying a much higher price for “Unlimited Internet Browsing” is not worth it.It is besides the point now as you had already committed to a 15 months contract. Although, your experience serves to let other readers know not to fall for any scams sales people at the stores have for the iPhone.

  22. Don't see why you have to label my experience with the plan I got as a scam. I am perfectly satisfied with the choice I made. Hasn't it occured to you that some people may want unlimited web browsing, that other people may have other priorities? I am just constructively laying out my rationale for choosing my plan – something which I don't see any reason for you to belittle. Now, the 96/116 Value Packs I have looked at are fine, but like you said, those are base prices which means fees+surcharges have not yet been added – but you estimated your 116 plan to cost you at least HKD163/month. My price of HKD180 has included all the surchages already, 100MB local HSDPA and the unlimited browsing. Although it is approximately HKD17 more expensive (if not less) per month than your valuation, I thought with more minutes, 100MB local data free and unlimited web browsing + youtube (I do surf quite a bit) it was a price jump I was willing to make. Some people may choose this option, but if they don't surf as much, then they don't. I just thought people should be aware that there is another viable alternative.

  23. Brian,Please don't get me wrong.I am definitely not belittling your offer to share your experience with Smartone-Vodafone. It is most definitely appreciated.When I say “… it is a scam…” I am referring to Smartone-Vodafone. Offering services that iPhone users may not be able to take advantage.BTW: my monthly plan is neither of the currently available IOM Value Pack. Mine is the contract-free version of the plan, which is no longer available.

  24. i am considering getting a iphone 3gs soon, and i am looking for my best options for a service provider, I am curious about what kind of download and upload speeds you are getting while tethered to an iphone through vodaphone in hong kong. it would be great if you could go to a site like and test the connection speed and post the results.thanks!

  25. I had tested the Smartone-Vodafone downlink and uplinks at various locations. It varies from 1Mbps to 0.5Mbps on HSPDA. With tethering its range between 0.5Mbps and lower.

  26. Looks like smartone now has a reasonable unlimited data plan for $238 and it looks like it's real data, not just browsing data. For some reason I can't copy and paste the link here but look under hot offers on the price plans section of their website.

  27. You are talking about is the one that Brian Leung subscribed to last week.The HKD238/month Unlimited Plan requires a 18 month contract.According to all the small print this plan does offer unlimited HSDPA local data usage, which includes “Internet Browsing” (as defined by Smartone-Vodafone), data traffic from native iPhone apps that is not considered “Internet Browsing”.In the small print it explicitly indicates that this “unlimited data” does not include tethering, but as mentioned in other post. The way tethering is done on the iPhone, carrier should not able to tell the difference.

  28. How do you get Tethering without jail breaking on the firmware 3.1? I'm on an official unlocked Apple-store HK iPhone.

  29. That post of mine you commented on is when I was still using firmware 3.0. Although the revised hack for firmware 3.1 is suppose to be available very soon. Stay tuned here on my blog for more details when it becomes available.

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