HK cellcos stick to unlimited plans

14 Feb 2012

New rules on fair usage policies (FUP) and unlimited data plans took effect in Hong Kong Monday, prompting speculation that the city’s cellcos would drop unlimited plans to cope with the new policies.

In the end, only PCCW killed off unlimited data, while CSL and 3 stood firm and SmarTone blinked.
Background: In November, local regulator OFTA announced new rules regarding cellcos offering unlimited mobile data plans. In essence, any package advertised or marketed as “unlimited” had to be just that. FUPs for heavy users of unlimited plans could only be implemented if the terms of the FUP were prominently included in the sales and marketing materials, and operators offering unlimited plans had to ensure their networks had the capacity to support such plans without throttling data speeds.
The rules seemed a bit moot, as operators worldwide were already moving to drop unlimited data plans as they moved towards 4G, as unlimited plans are increasingly unsustainable. And OFTA’s FUP stance seemed sure to hustle things along in Hong Kong.
In the end, however, only PCCW – which launched a 5GB data plan last year that has since been adopted by over 80% of its customer base – announced in an email statement Monday it was dropping its unlimited option.
Rivals CSL, 3 Hong Kong and SmarTone announced they were keeping their unlimited plans in place. All three will also implement FUPs with a threshold of 5GB. (Customers of 3 and PCCW have the option of using operator-run Wi-Fi hot spots to stay within the 5GB threshold.)
Of the bunch, SmarTone’s decision is arguably the most eyebrow-raising, as the cellco originally planned to drop its unlimited mobile data plan in favor of capped packages, with the top-tier plan capping data at 2GB a month.
That plan, announced earlier this month, was promptly criticized in local media and on social networking sites for setting the maximum cap way too low, although SmarTone chief Douglas Li claimed that 85% of the operator’s user base uses less than 2GB a month. By Monday morning, reports claimed SmarTone was considering raising the cap to 5GB. By that afternoon, SmarTone issued a press release saying it would stick to unlimited plans after all “in the light of market and regulatory developments”.

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