Nowadays more and more consumers use mobile data roaming service when traveling abroad. As roaming charges are much higher than domestic rates, consumers may incur exorbitant data roaming charges as a result of an inadvertent use of the data roaming service. This has remained a subject of concern.

In order that consumers may avoid unnecessary billing disputes with their mobile operators and financial loss, we are issuing this consumer alert to provide the public with tips on the smart use of mobile data roaming services -

Use of Mobile Data Services while Roaming Overseas

How will Mobile Data Services be Triggered?

In general, mobile data services (for both local and roaming services) can be triggered by web browsing and usage of certain software applications on your mobile handset. Examples of such activities that will incur mobile data usage are sending and receiving emails, using instant messaging, visiting websites or using apps / software for social networking, video streaming, playing on-line games, and sharing the internet connection (also known as “tethering”). If you use a notebook computer equipped with mobile data modem outside Hong Kong, you may also trigger the usage of mobile data roaming services.

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Measures to Avoid Unexpected Mobile Data Roaming Charges

To avoid unexpected mobile data roaming charges, you are advised to adopt the following measures if you need to use mobile data roaming services while traveling abroad -

General Advice

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Charge-capped Data Usage Service Plan

Some mobile operators are providing customers with a day pass i.e. a flat-rate data roaming daily plan (typically less than HK$200 per day) for data usage in certain destinations. You should take note that most of these charge-capped data usage packages (or discount rates) are only applicable to designated destination(s) and/or network(s). Thus, you should ensure that the day pass purchased applies to the destination and you are always logged onto the designated network(s) in the destination. Otherwise, regular data roaming charges which are at a much higher level will be incurred.

Furthermore, if your handset is configured to "automatic" network selection, you may encounter the problem of "network switching". This will occur when the signals of the connected network has become weakened. Your handset will then be connected to other non-designated network which has stronger signals. To avoid additional data roaming charges arising from such "network switching", you should configure your handset to manual network selection so that the connection will be confined only to the designated network(s). The manual network selection procedures may vary with different handset models. In general, you may follow the steps below -

  1. Go to the "Setting" menu;
  2. Select the "Operator" or "Network" sub-menu;
  3. Choose ‘Manual Network' selection to select your designated network;
  4. Save the designated network selection in your mobile phone; and
  5. Ensure that you have successfully logged onto your designated network.

If you choose to use a day pass, you should beware of the service activation and cut-off time, and any other terms of use that are applicable to the pass. In general, the service will be activated only after confirmation has been made by the customers via a short message upon arrival at the destination. You therefore need to clarify with your mobile operators beforehand whether the service will be activated immediately or after a lapse of time upon making the confirmation.

The definition of "a day" may also vary. "A day" may be counted based on the local time (00:00 – 23:59) of Hong Kong, or that of the destination. The daily charges may also be counted on per destination basis. For example, if you use mobile data service in the United Kingdom in the morning, then you travel to France in the afternoon, you will be charged twice for traveling in the two countries in the same day. Besides, some day passes may have restrictions on the type of data usage. For example, unlimited data usage may only be applicable to particular messaging application while a low data volume is imposed for general usage via other applications. Any extra usage beyond the limit of the general usage will incur data roaming charges.To avoid unnecessary disputes, consumers must clarify with their mobile operators how the charges are calculated. 

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Mobile Data Roaming Services not Required while Traveling Abroad

If you don't foresee that you require mobile data roaming services while traveling abroad, you may deactivate the mobile data roaming feature using any of the following methods -

In general, in order to avoid unnecessary financial loss and billing disputes, you should carefully enquire about the service details and charging scheme, and read the service terms and conditions before subscribing to mobile data roaming services. In case of any doubt, please approach your mobile operator for assistance before departing from Hong Kong.

Office of the Communications Authority
24 October 2016

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