HK out to lead the wireless revolution

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

City to get internet in the park, on the bus, and even on a hike

Hong Kong could become one giant internet cafe as new wireless internet and mobile phone services are rolled out over the next three years.

The Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) is making available two additional portions of radio spectrum for provision of broadband wireless access via WiMax and, for mobile phone users, 3.5G in a bid to make Hong Kong an 'advanced wireless city'. WiMax is a more powerful version of Wi-fi. A single WiMax tower can provide wireless internet up to 48km away.

The move was announced at a meeting of the Legislative Council's information technology and broadcasting panel last week. It will give Hong Kong one of the world's first WiMax networks, along with cities such as Moscow, Chicago, Baltimore and Washington.

Ofta will auction at least six licences to run the services next autumn. Companies are expected to bid tens of millions of dollars. They will have two years to roll out the services.

Analysts say the move will trigger a massive shake-up in phone and internet markets that is expected to bring greater competition and reduce prices for consumers.

Ofta chief telecoms engineer Cheng Chi-keung said: 'This new technology will enable people to use their laptop computers to connect to the internet in many more areas of the city, such as parks, public squares and the harbourfront.

'You will also be able to pick up your laptop and connect to the internet on a bus.

'We are encouraging the operators to roll out the service into rural areas and, in time, we expect high-speed internet access to be available in country parks, on outlying islands and in other remote areas.'

Enhanced broadband wireless access will also enable consumers to use the same phone number for their fixed-line and mobile phones, to access their computer via their mobile phone and to receive one bill for all telecoms services.

An Ofta spokeswoman said it had received four expressions of interest for broadband wireless services in a consultation during the summer. Many of the eight licensed phone carriers that took part indicated they were interested in bidding.

Such services would help Hong Kong maintain its competitive edge, she said.

Communications expert Francis Lau Chung-ming, of Polytechnic University, said: 'This new technology will mean that computer and phone users will have greater choice between service providers, wherever they are in Hong Kong. It will further open up the broadband communications service market and it will almost certainly drive down monthly rental fees for mobile phones.

'It means that in future mobile phone users may be able to download videos or music, watch TV, or call anywhere in the world for a very low price, whether with simple audio phone or video phone.'

York Mok Sui-wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, said ISPs would face very stiff competition from the big phone companies for the new licences and some could be driven out of business.

'I think the government should allocate two or three of the licences for providers that are offering special services such as free wireless broadband services for people on low incomes so as to narrow the digital divide,' he said.