The sky's the limit with broadband everywhere

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2007, 12:00am

Maintaining a competitive edge is the mantra of this city as it aspires to maintain its status as an international financial centre. Competition is especially challenging in telecommunications. Today, Hong Kong claims to be the world's leading city for Wi-fi hotspots, with more than 5,000 in place to provide wireless internet access to users of mobile phones and laptop computers. Soon that will be meaningless, as places from Moscow to Washington to New Zealand introduce blanket high-speed wireless broadband access.

Fortunately, as we report today, Hong Kong is among them. The Office of the Telecommunications Authority is set to release two portions of radio spectrum for wireless broadband internet access using technology such as WiMax to turn Hong Kong into an 'advanced wireless city'. It expects to auction six licences to operate such services within a year. The result will be to transform a loose network of Wi-fi hotspots into a giant internet cafe that could eventually reach the remotest corners of Hong Kong. People will be able to access high-speed multimedia services through their laptops and mobile phones at any time and almost anywhere.

That will be good for business because global financial centres such as Hong Kong aspire never to sleep. And it will be good for consumers because it is expected to trigger a shake-up among phone and internet service providers that will increase competition and choice, and reduce prices.

It is ironic that a new era of competitive innovation should be unfolding as Hong Kong continues to dither over the vexed question of a general competition law. The government has announced yet another consultation on whether to prohibit collusive business practices and cartel activity in the non-trade sector. Since before the handover, telecommunications has been the big exception among pillar domestic industries, with brutal competition, aggressive new entrants and innovation. As a result, consumers have paid less for basic services and had more choice. A competitive transition to the advanced wireless age will deliver more efficiencies and boost Hong Kong's claim to be Asia's world city.