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Friday, February 22, 2013, 12:46 pm PT (03:46 pm ET)

Locked sales of Apple's iPhone challenged in Hong Kong

Apple's policy of limiting operation of the iPhone 5 with certain Hong Kong carriers is under fire, as one carrier has filed court documents contesting the practice, claiming that consumers may be surprised to find that "their choice of mobile service provider [is] dictated by Apple."

iPhone 5


Apple's iPhone 5 is currently compatible with the 4G networks of only three mobile providers in Hong Kong: SmarTone Telecommunications, CSL Ltd., and Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong. The device can connect to other networks, but users on those networks, according to South China Morning Post, are restricted to using 3G connections.

Hong Kong Telecommunications (HKT) has filed a complaint over this policy, taking the issue before a court since the relevant regulatory body — the Communications Authority — has refused to investigate the issue. HKT claims in its suit that it has lost "hundreds of millions of Hong Kong dollars" due to Apple's SIM-locking policies for the iPhone 5, iPad, and iPad mini.

The carrier is asking for the court to order the Authority to reconsider HKT's complaint and to issue a directive to Apple to remove the SIM-lock. Doing so, HKT argues, would not harm Apple, but would result in further sales for the company.

HKT originally filed a complaint with the Communications Authority in September of last year, about a week after the launch of the iPhone 5. The Authority, though, has stated that it may not have jurisdiction over Apple in the matter.

"The SIM-locking is causing significant harm to customers, to the competitive process," The Wall Street Journal quotes HKT representatives as saying. "Customers are confused... and they are, quite wrongly, blaming HKT for the inability to access its 4G/LTE network on the iPhone 5 when this is entirely because of anti-competitive conduct engaged in by Apple."

Documents filed by the Hong Kong carrier claim that the SIM-locking policy has the potential to harm consumers who are not aware of their devices' limitations. These consumers would later "find that they were having their choice of mobile service provider dictated (or limited) by Apple."