Global Observer

Hong Kong mobile carriers to kill unlimited data plans because of hidden limitations

Hong Kong mobile carriers to kill unlimited data plans because of hidden limitations

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HONG KONG -- One service provider said ending unlimited plans altogether is easier than explaining its hidden policy of slowing down the data speed of heavy users.

But will people start to look up from their phones? Unlikely.

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s mobile-phone service providers are expected to soon follow U.S. companies’ lead in ending unlimited data plans.

The announcement from one major carrier, SmarTone, that it would no longer offer new unlimited data plans starting Feb. 13 came after a government agency required companies to spell out hidden limitations in its contracts for “unlimited” data.

SmarTone disclosed that under its “fair usage policy,” it has been slowing down the data transmission speed of heavy data users. Rather than comply with the agency’s new rule and spell out the complex details of its policy, the company has decided that it will end such plans altogether.

Major carriers in the U.S. such as Verizon and AT&T have ended unlimited data plans due to increased demand for data as smart phones have become more prevalent.

According to a statement issued by SmarTone, its customers who use data on their iPhones and Androids used on average 357 MB in January 2010, and in December 2011 that figure rose to 1,551 MB. The company now has seven times more smartphone users than it did two years ago.

SmarTone said it reduces bandwidth to heavy users at times to “ensure network integrity and fairness of resource allocation to all users under all traffic conditions.” It is expected that other telecom companies have similar practices and will follow suit in eliminating unlimited data plans.

Similar to what has been done in the U.S., SmarTone will cap data usage at 2 gigabytes under a plan that costs $38. It is the equivalent of viewing 1,000 web pages or receiving 10,000 emails. Users will have to pay as they go for anything over that amount.

Eighty-five percent of users who currently subscribe to the unlimited plan use less than 2 GB per month.

Photo: Flickr/Ding Yuin Shan

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Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure