A new meaning for ‘3’: 3 days in Thailand costs $3,700 in roaming fees

We hear many cases where customers are duped into mobile phone company offers. Failure to read the fine print can cost clients thousands of dollars later on. This time, we’re talking about a service provider in Hong Kong called “3”.

Since it was introduced in the middle of the decade, I still couldn’t figure out why the company adopted the number 3 as its brand name. Mobile phone numbers have eight digits, so maybe “8” would be more relevant? Besides, it’s a lucky number coveted by locals from custom car plates to street numbers. But I guess it was with the hyped introduction of third generation mobile communication that the company wanted to be associated. Therefore, choosing to adopt the name “3” as a shortcut for 3G mobile was not just an arbitrary identity invention.

Mind you, everyone bets there’s no company in its sound mind would adopt “4” as brand name to connote 4th generation to render 3 the mobile company into obscurity. I had a rough relationship with 3 for more than three years, characterized by expensive monthly rates, one-sided deals and highlighted by that messy divorce.

But that didn’t deter the company from continuing to rip off its customers. Why bother, we’re making more money even if we have fewer customers anyway!

Every time we leave Hong Kong and continue to use our phone, we’re happy for the convenience it brings. No need to get new numbers, no need to familiarize ourselves with the local number system, and so on. But that happiness is cut abruptly once we see the mobile phone bill. That’s exactly what a 3 Hong Kong subscriber who traveled to Thailand must have felt. He signed up for an unlimited data roaming service for HK$138 ($18) per 24 hours, a reasonable amount. He must have been confident that using his phone to browse the web from dusk till dawn will only cost him HK$138 as advertised.

A month later, the bill he received included HK$29,026 ($3,730) in additional roaming charges. He later realized that the discounted agreement with 3 Hong Kong only covered a Thai network True Move and standard rates applied to other networks. So I see what this game is all about now. Be carried away by smiling attendants who offer the goodies, but fail to study the terms and conditions and pay the price. Therefore, it’s good to ask the right questions every time. Otherwise, prepare to read the fine-print at the back page.