3m caught in mobile phone frenzy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 April, 1999, 12:00am

The number of mobile phone users has passed three million and is growing so quickly that within months there is expected to be one handset for every two people.

The Office of the Telecommunications Authority said yesterday 44 per cent of all adults and children in Hong Kong now owned a mobile phone.

Senior assistant director Au Man-ho said competitive pricing and locals' love of mobiles meant more people were signing up all the time.

'There's potential for the penetration of mobile phones to exceed that of the fixed lines,' he said.

There were now 54 fixed phone lines for every 100 people, but Mr Au said saturation point for mobile phones was not expected to be reached until 60 per cent of residents had one. That was about 10 years away.

Mr Au said free local calls on fixed lines meant many people had grown fond of spending a long time on the phone so were keen to get mobiles.

'It seems Hong Kong people don't mind being called during their leisure time, and maybe it's the culture - they want to stay in touch,' he said.

'I think the recent marketing drive probably had some impact to attract people who never thought of using a mobile phone to subscribe.' Finland recently boasted that it had just passed the 50 per cent mark and had the highest mobile phone penetration rate in the world.

The rate in Britain has been put at 17 per cent, Germany at 13.5 per cent and France at 14 per cent.

A Hongkong Telecom spokeswoman said that as the number of mobile phones had gone up, use of the SAR's 6,000-odd pay phones had been falling.

But other factors - such as the drop in the number of tourists - could also be at work.

'There's some slight impact on the pay-phone business, but there are now three million more numbers prompting people to make a call, and people either use their own mobile phone or a pay phone,' she said.

Hongkong Telecom considered the provision of pay phones a public service and had no plans to reduce the number.