Asia 2014 Debrief: Prepaid Data SIMs in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur

I’m just back from my annual pilgrimage to Hong Kong, with a bonus side trip to Kuala Lumpur. As I slowly become reacquainted with life in the Eastern Time Zone I thought I’d share a few mobile insights from what I saw overseas.

First up are the data SIMs that my girlfriend and I used while abroad, two pairs in Hong Kong and one in Malaysia. When I returned from the Far East in 2013 I was still with WIND Mobile; in the months since I’ve been spoiled by MiFis and LTE, so my perception of Asia’s superfast 3G networks — at least for tourists — is quite a bit different this time around.

Hong Kong – one2free

one2free SIM

HKD $88 — about $12.50 CAD as of this writing — got each of us a Power Prepaid SIM. This product had given us a bit of trouble during a previous visit, only because I was led to believe that the package would give us unlimited data for 7 days. It doesn’t, but we managed to go a full 6 without either of us needing a top-up.

As for data speeds, what impressed me as a WIND subscriber in 2012/2013 was decidedly less remarkable as a Koodo LTE user in 2014…

one2free Data Speeds

Had upload speeds been a consistent 1Mbps or more I would have been happier, but it was only really an issue on the one or two occasions where I wanted to upload a video while on the move.

And there was certainly nothing wrong with the price!

Kuala Lumpur – Maxis Hotlink

Hotlink SIM

Upon our arrival at KLIA I spotted a kiosk for Hotlink, the carrier I had used on a previous trip to Kuala Lumpur in 2010. A pair of SIMs with 3GB of data each cost us RM68 per SIM, or $22.64 CAD. That’s almost double the price of our Hong Kong SIMs, for less than half the data speeds:

Hotlink Data Speeds

In real world use the results above meant that downloading any rich content would be limited to the free WiFi at our hotel. Worse than that, the long ping times would oftentimes keep us waiting for even simple web pages to load.

Hong Kong – PCCW

PCCW SIM

The Hong Kong Tourism Board and carrier PCCW have teamed up to offer visitors a Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM. For our second stint in Hong Kong we chose the HKD $96 5GB package.

Pro tip: If you’re a savvy Hong Kong visitor who uses the Airport Express/MTR Travel Pass you’ll find an included coupon for additional savings on this SIM — HKD $69 instead of $96. Unfortunately for us the official outlets (at least at the airport) were all sold out, leaving us no other immediate option than to pay full price to a vendor who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) accept the coupons.

We didn’t use the unlimited local calling or even the WiFi access; for me the killer feature was not having to wait around for someone to tap in a bunch of short codes to activate the SIMs. We literally ran for a train from the moment I paid for these things, and I had both our phones up and running before we reached the next stop.

As for data speeds, they were comparable to one2free, and about as inconsistent:

PCCW Data Speeds

If you’re curious about that last 17Mbps download, it happened at the airport as we were waiting for our flight home. Had I got speeds like that on the entire trip I’d be pretty thrilled!

A Quick Debrief

The situation that my girlfriend and I found ourselves in on this trip reminded me a lot of the mid-2000s, when multi-band 3G handsets weren’t yet widely available. I’ve no doubt that HK and KL’s native LTE networks can deliver better speeds than what we got, and I’m hopeful that multi-band LTE devices will be coming down the pipe before too long.

In the meantime, I’d definitely recommend the PCCW Hong Kong Tourist SIM — especially if you can get it at the cheaper price.