Monday, May 16, 2011

scmp: HK$16,000 phone roaming bill


HK$16,000 phone roaming bill

Consumer Council calls on service providers to clarify overseas fees for smartphone users after a holidaymaker is hit with a hefty bill for a day's use and a survey shows a wide range in charges

Imagine being billed HK$16,000 for just a day of overseas data roaming.

The Hong Kong Consumer Council says that is what happened to one woman recently - and that is why you should be sure to read the fine print in your data-roaming agreement if you are planning to use your smartphone overseas.

The council unveiled a survey yesterday that showed a wide variance in data-roaming prices, depending on a service provider.

In the eight-country survey, the cost of sending a 1MB photo ranged from HK$51 to HK$307.

The council said it had seen a 60 per cent increase in complaints regarding data-roaming fees in the first three months of the year: 56 cases compared with 35 a year ago.

It demanded that Hong Kong's phone service providers clarify their conditions of service, which it said often contained incomplete or misleading explanations.

The council noted that many service providers teamed up with more than one network in an overseas area - a complication that could add unexpected charges to a phone bill. The difference could be up to HK$0.16 per KB used.

The unidentified woman who was charged HK$16,000 for just a day of data-roaming while on holiday overseas received a message confirming her data-roaming activation. She found out later that the HK$120 data roaming day-plan she thought she activated did not work in Israel and Switzerland - the two countries she visited - so her service-provider charged her the normal per 1KB rate.

"Confirmation of overseas data-roaming activation [that providers] send to users should state clearly what plan and rates are activated, to avoid misunderstanding," Consumer Council chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing said.

"Users often didn't know they are on a certain charging rate because they are not given complete information by service providers."

The Consumer Council said some so-called "unlimited" data-roaming day passes were misleading, because restrictions on the amount and types of data use were still imposed, in line with the industry's Fair Use Policy which applies to these day passes.

The council asked service providers to amend their claims of "unlimited" usage, because usage was not  limitless.

"By saying it is `unlimited', while still having restrictions and regulations attached to the usage amount, [service providers] can be accused of misleading users," Lau said.

To address the possibility of such runaway phone bills, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority of Hong Kong (Ofta) said it urged service providers last year to set a usage cap for all data services and allow users to opt out of individual services, such as data roaming.

Ofta said users should also remember to read service contracts in detail to avoid signing up and paying for unwanted services.


  • Check charges, terms and conditions with your service provider regarding overseas data-roaming before leaving for your destination.
  • When overseas, turn off automatic data-checking to stop your phone from automatically downloading new data.
  • Go to mobile phone settings and switch network to "manual" to avoid automatic switching between providers and the extra costs that comes with it.

  • If you are using free Wi-fi at an overseas location, ensure GPRS or 3G services are switched off.
  • To avoid all possible data-roaming extra charges, buy a prepaid SIM card for the country you are going to and just use that on the trip.

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