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Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Hong Kongers fashion crazy -- for stylish mobiles

PHONE SENSE There are more mobile-phone lines than people in the territory, with handsets being upgraded frequently and often selected to match a specific occasion

AFP , HONG KONG

Two people use their mobile phones in Hong Kong's central business district yesterday. The territory has more mobile phone lines than people with subscriptions at an all-time high of 7.35 million in March, according to government figures.

PHOTO: AFP

Builder Chiu Chi-wai's multiple love affairs began when he was a teenager. He pursues the good-looking, as well as the slim and petite. But the objects of his affection are mobile phones.

The 29-year-old has spent HK$13,000 (US$1,700) on the latest models.

"During the good old days, when I made enough money, I would upgrade my phones every two to three months. My dad and my mum are just as crazy about mobiles as me," he said.

Although the case of Chiu might appear extreme, people like him are not unusual in the former British colony.

The city's obsession with the gadgets can be judged from the fact there are more mobile phone lines than people.

Mobile subscriptions reached an all-time high of 7.35 million in March, almost double the 4 million of 1999, according to government figures in the city of 6.8 million people.

Hong Kong mobile phone ownership is the highest in Asia, with 86 percent of the population owning one or more mobile phones, according to a study by the technology research company TNS of 11 Asian telecom markets, including Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.

TNS found Hong Kongers are more willing to spend money on their next mobile phone than the rest of Asia and are more aware of the advanced technology.

These people tend to change their mobiles faster than the rest of Asia, with 36 percent of users planning to buy a new model within 12 months. And nearly 20 percent intend to purchase a new one in six months.

Hong Kong consumers are the most sophisticated group of mobile users in the region. They are pioneers or early adopters of the latest high-tech gadgets, said Chan Chi-wing, regional director of TNS telecoms and technology.

"Hong Kong has a very open market; it's often seen as a testing ground for new technology," Chan said.

"The Japanese are more entrenched with their own brands, but Hong Kong people are far more acceptable to new technology and different brands and products. That's the uniqueness of Hong Kong," Chan said.

TNS figures reveal 15 percent of Hong Kong users have two mobile-phone numbers or subscriber-identity-module cards (SIM cards), a smart card that stores telephone account information and one phone number. Three percent have three or more numbers.

The researcher said more Hong Kong people tend to have multiple handsets and phone numbers compared with the rest of Asia.

A lot of the Hong Kongers use mobiles as a fashion accessory chosen to match the occasion.

"Some people use different handsets for different occasions," Chan said.

"When going to parties, they tend to use a more stylish, trendy phones but when they go to work or school, they use a more conservative-looking phones," he said.

Hong Kong people are uniquely price conscious, Chan said.

With more people travelling to China for work or to visit relatives, they get around paying expensive international roaming fees by switching between local and Chinese SIM cards, Chan said.

"Hong Kong consumers are really clever; they buy pre-paid phone cards for China, no monthly fee is needed and they can make cheaper calls," Chan said.

"You can often see these people change their SIM cards on the train when they are near the border." he added.

When choosing a phone, Hong Kong people more than other Asians place more value on appearance. Handset manufacturers keen to market mobile phones as a fashion item find a ready audience here.

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