iPhone network locking under fire in Hong Kong

By , Feb 22, 2013

iPhone 5 in hand

Just as an online petition to re-legalize unlocking has surpassed 100,000 signatures in the United States, meaning the White House must issue a response, Apple’s phone-locking is under heavy fire in Hong Kong, where a local carrier alarmed watchdogs that it lost big money over the policy. Having discovered that the iPhone 5 wasn’t functioning on its fourth-generation network, Hong Kong Telecom (HKT), a unit of telecommunications operator PCCW Ltd., filed court documents and is now seeking to contest the practice…

The iPhone 5 is compatible with 4G networks of Hong Kong carriers SmarTone Telecommunications Holdings, HK, CSL and Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong Holdings.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a complaint HKT filed with regulators claims it lost “hundreds of millions of Hong Kong dollars” because the iPhone 5 doesn’t work on its 4G network.

Interestingly enough, before the iPhone 5 launched most iPhones sold in Hong Kong were unlocked models that could access 2G or 3G network.

HKT argues Apple could easily disable the phone-lock via a simple settings change, if it wanted to. The complaint accuses the iPhone maker of hurting consumers who would only later on find out that “they were having their choice of mobile service provider dictated (or limited) by Apple.”

The Journal writes:

On Sept. 28, shortly after PCCW discovered that the iPhone 5 wasn’t functioning on its fourth-generation network, its unit, Hong Kong Telecommunications, filed a complaint with the city’s telecommunications regulator. That effort hasn’t yielded any success, prompting the operator to turn to the city’s legal system instead.

HKT is now seeking a review of Apple’s iPhone locking practices. Should the court grant a judicial review, “it would open the way to the city’s first legal challenge of Apple’s locking practices” in Hong Kong’s highly competitive market, the Journal writes.

Hong Kong Apple Store (Hysan Place Apple, exterior 002)
Apple’s retail store at Hong Kong’s Hysan Place.

Unlocked iPhones are offered in a lot of markets, but many wireless carriers are happy with network locks preventing contractual customers from jumping ship. The DCMA exemption that made unlocking legal expired on January 26, meaning unlocking your iPhone is currently illegal in the United States.

Should the Librarian of Congress fail to rescind the DMCA exemption decision on unlock, the petition seeks to champion a bill or some other form of legislation making unlocking permanently legal.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/tafk1 Taf Khan

    It’s not only Apple at it, it’s just industry practise.

    • porles

      yes, but attacking iPhones is what would generate most publicity and awareness about this evil and nonsensical practice. it’s about time consumers took a stand against this filthy standard set by some carriers without any good reason.

    • porles

      actually, Apple is the only phone manufacturer which is directly involved and in control of this phone lock, at least in the US.
      for other handsets, the carrier is responsible for providing an unlock code to its customers, while in the case of iPhones, it’s Apple’s servers which handles the requests.

      • http://www.facebook.com/tafk1 Taf Khan

        So if apple didn’t lock the phones the carriers would, no difference to the consumer either way right? I see no issue so long as consumers are given a choice, either take on contract knowing its locked or buy unlocked from the manufacturer…

      • porles

        from a US perspective, it makes no sense to lock phones, since you are signing a contract anyway. therefore you are responsible to either complete the 24 months or pay early termination fee before ditching that carrier. otherwise they have your social security number and your credit history gets a negative rating (like when someone defaults on loans or has unpaid bills).

        so the carrier is not making any more money if they lock the phones.
        there are third-party vendors offering unlocks for almost any handset model in the market. therefore there is no real gain from locking them. and really, it should be made illegal by telecommunication regulators.

        you sign a 2-year contract, you should get subsidy on the price – but you’re also on the hook to pay for service for 24 months, or the etf. but what you do with the handset after getting it (sell it or barter it or give it away) should be your business, not the carriers’.

      • http://www.facebook.com/tafk1 Taf Khan

        You mean take on contract when you have no intention of keeping the idevice, we all know apple products are high in demand, people have to wait for weeks before arrival.. yet so many are sold on eBay at inflated prices.. Now that really does suck!

  • CollegiateLad

    Are they under heavy fire, Christian? Sounds intense… lol

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

      who wrote that stupid headline???? omg

  • chjode

    Christian, rather than simply repeating news from other sources, why don’t you look into this issue a bit? Does this carrier use a different frequency than other carriers? Does the iPhone work on this carriers 3G, but not 4G network? Are all iPhone sold unlocked in HK or do the various carriers have exclusive licensing agreements with Apple? Is this a tempest in a tea pot made to stir up anti-Apple rhetoric and drop the stock price?

    • porles

      because that would involve actual work, and not wild speculations or kiss-ass statistics on iProducts, which are almost all of what he does – either because he doesn’t understand reporting standards, or he’s simply talentless.

  • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

    This is more like.. We don’t sell the iPhone we will sue apple over something else .. Who going to sue apple next ..snow white.. This is just companys trying there luck now ..
    It’s upto Apple if they want a carrier to have its device on there network .. Unless the phone has to be sold unlocked..

    • http://twitter.com/reallyandy Andy

      If you didn’t know, all phones are sold unlocked in Hong Kong. You’d be hard pressed to find any phone that actually is locked to a specific carrier over there.

      • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

        Bottom line…and all because the phone doesn’t work on there bandwidth there going to sue .. It’s up to apple what bandwidth it works on

  • http://www.facebook.com/gizmic Gerard Christopher Dandan

    “sim locking” not equal to “unsupported 4G band”
    all iphone sold in hong kong are unlocked
    HKT just made a bad gamble on that frequency

  • Raymond Kong

    Gerard is right. I don’t believe this has anything to do with UNLOCK iPhones in Hong Kong as all cell phones are sold unlocked over there for quite a long time.
    The easiest way to distinguish Lock and Unlock iPhones is the price of iPhone itself. Locked iPhone with carrier contract sells the iPhone at much cheaper price point. Unlocked iPhones are much more expensive as no hindrance of contracts from any carriers.
    Totally different issue from Unlocked Phones in the States.

  • http://www.facebook.com/xvxfrozenxvx Marcio Atouguia

    Guys remenber the days when same model phone had different functionality depending on what carrier it was on? Apple said that no changes to the OS will be made and here we are today. My iphone is same and my mates but on different carriers. Phone unlooking is available but we have to pay the fee.