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5G Network Not Up to Expected Speed Service Providers Urged to Improve Unclear Sales Information and Poor Service Brought More Dissatisfaction

  • 2021.05.17

In the wake of technological development, the fifth generation (5G) mobile technology has significantly boosted data transmission speed. Since last year, many telecommunication service providers had started to introduce 5G service plans. However, from the complaints received by the Consumer Council, some consumers reported dissatisfaction with the network coverage and stability after switching to more expensive 5G service plans only to find that the network speed was undesirable. Some consumers also opined that the Dual SIM feature of certain 5G smartphones was not good value for money because it failed to support more than 1 SIM card on 5G network simultaneously. 

Given that the 5G network is still being developed, its stability and performance might vary. However, service providers should not merely boast about coverage and network speed when they promote their 5G service plans, on the other hand, they should increase information transparency and explain in detail the limitations on network coverage and stability, e.g. the strength of signals in remote areas and if renovation works exist. Service providers should also be flexible in addressing the needs of customers and help them solve problems. Besides, as vendors of electronic products, telecommunication service providers bear the responsibility of understanding the product specifications and should remind customers to check whether a specific smartphone model can support Dual SIM on 5G. Manufacturers should also disclose relevant information in their sales pitches or product descriptions to facilitate consumers in making informed choices.

Case 1: In Remote Areas 4G Network even faster than 5G Network, Hardly Met Expectations

The complainant bought a new 5G smartphone and was persuaded to subscribe to a $198/month 5G service plan from Company A. The sales staff put strong emphasis on the 90% coverage of their 5G network in Hong Kong. As the complainant lived in a relatively remote area, he checked if Company A’s 5G network covered his residential address and later he signed the contract after he got the assurance of having good signals at home. However, the complainant later discovered that he could only use his smartphone to access the 5G network at a very slow speed at home. The speed often reached 1 Mbps only, whereas accessing the Internet via another service provider’s 4G network appeared to be much faster than via Company A’s 5G network. The complainant thus cast doubt on the reliability of Company A’s 5G network.  

Company A’s staff only stated that they would contact their engineering department to look for solutions as soon as possible. However, according to the complainant, the engineering department staff always ended calls in a hurry and did not leave any phone number for him to return calls. The complainant stressed that before he signed the contract, he indicated that high-speed access to 5G network at home was his top priority and the staff promised that it would not be a problem. However, he could barely access the internet at home using 5G network. Although the network speed could reach 300 to 400 Mbps in the city centre, the complainant decided to change his service provider. Company A then charged the complainant $4,554 for the remainder of the 2-year contract. Therefore, the complainant sought the Council’s help in negotiating for an unconditional termination of contract.

According to Company A, the network in the complainant’s residential area appeared to operate normally on the whole, but the network performance at individual indoor locations could be affected by various external factors. Company A later informed the Council that they had already cancelled the complainant’s contract with fee adjustment.

Case 2: Dual SIM Smartphone Supported 1 SIM Card Only on 5G; Running Dual SIM on 5G Resulted in 4G LTE

The complainant was interested in a new 5G Dual SIM smartphone that was on sale at Company B. A staff member stated that the smartphone was only available for sale as a bundle with service plans. The complainant was advised to upgrade her 4G service plan to a 5G one to which the complainant agreed. Later when she installed the two 5G SIM cards on her smartphone, the network switched to 4G LTE automatically and only one single SIM card operated on 5G network. The complainant then contacted the smartphone manufacturer and got the confirmation that her model could not run Dual SIM on 5G network at the same time.

The complainant required Dual SIM and two phone numbers at work and could not stop using one at any time. Therefore, she could only use 4G LTE service but had to pay for a 5G monthly plan. The complainant was also dissatisfied with the staff of Company B who had never mentioned during the sale pitch that her 5G Dual SIM smartphone could only support one single SIM card when operating on 5G network. Therefore, she decided to turn to the Council for help. 

Company B replied that they had already explained the situation to the complainant directly, and that she agreed with reverting to her original 4G service plan and extending her contract when it expired. Besides, the complainant opined that the product descriptions appeared somewhat inaccurate. To avoid misunderstanding, the manufacturer should clearly disclose details about 5G Dual SIM smartphones which can support only one single SIM card on 5G network.

Case 3: System Maintenance Affected 5G Mobile Network Stability; Consumers Had to Bear with the Consequences 

The complainant extended her contract with Company C until 2023 and received a $4,500 e-coupon for the extension. She then bought a $6,000 tablet with the e-coupon. About 3 months later, the complainant experienced frequent instability of mobile network at home. This caused her considerable inconvenience as she sometimes could not even receive calls. After repeated enquiries, Company C reported that the issues were due to system update of the 5G network in Kowloon East and that the issues could not be fixed shortly. Company C then offered the complainant two options. The first option was to immediately terminate the contract but the complainant would have to return in cash the value of the e-coupon and the tunnel fee for the remainder of the contract. The second option was to continue the contract with 2 months’ service fee waived. 

The complainant was disappointed as the problems were solely due to Company C’s inability in providing normal network services, but she had to bear the consequences. She also opined that the complimentary e-coupon granted was for her contract renewal, and that she had used it for purchasing a product from the same company. She deemed it unfair to consumers for Company C to request of the return of the cash value of the e-coupons and she thus sought the Council’s help.  

Company C replied that the complainant’s residential area lay on the periphery of their network and that they had repeatedly requested their engineering department to expand the coverage area. Company C reiterated that normally they would not accept any early termination of contract without conditions. As a gesture of goodwill, they would exercise discretion to permit the cancellation of the contract and waive early termination fee. However, they still demanded $4,500 from the complainant for the e-coupon. The complainant did not request follow-up actions after the Council reported the results to her.

The Council reminds consumers that the 5G network is still being developed and consumers who wish to subscribe to 5G services should enquire about the following before making decisions. In terms of issues related to 5G services, consumers should keep a comprehensive record of data and report the issues to their service providers for assistance.

  • Before subscribing to 5G services, enquire about the 5G network coverage in advance and make sure that the devices and services plans are compatible with 5G;
  • When purchasing 5G smartphones, read the product specifications and the details of accessing 5G network carefully. Consumers should check the actual strength of signals if they usually access 5G network in relatively remote areas;
  • Consumers can also exchange information with current 5G users in the same area and make use of popular applications that can test the performance of mobile networks. Consumers can then find out the upload/download speed of current service and then ask the service provider for a comparison of the 5G plan and current plan;
  • As high transmission speed is the main feature of 5G network, consumers might hence increase the number of downloads as well as mobile data usage. Consumers should pay attention to whether there is any limit on data usage or network speed in order to avoid negative user experience or extra charges. 

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