Tight Ofta deadline puts pressure on mobile firms

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong mobile operators may face problems picking technologies for their next-generation mobile networks, set to provide faster mobile broadband connectivity by 2010.

Industry watchdog the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) will put six blocks of wireless transmission spectrum up for auction in the fourth quarter for broadband wireless access services (BWA).

However, Ofta requires the new services to be rolled out within 24 months of the issue of the licences and not all the technologies will be available by that time.

The watchdog has not stipulated which standard operators should deploy but industry watchers say a battle is looming over whether to deploy WiMax, which is available now, or Long Term Evolution, which is still under development.

Mobile operators CSL New World, Hutchison Telecom, SmarTone-Vodafone and PCCW need additional capacity to upgrade their existing 3.5G mobile networks to the next-generation standard, which will support mobile internet access speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, up from existing services with transmission rates of up to 28 megabits per second.

LTE could replace fixed-line broadband and offer rich bandwidth applications such as mobile television and mobile online games.

LTE is designed for a smooth upgrade of existing 3G standards, which most players in Hong Kong already deploy. WiMax, on the other hand, is an untested technology in the city.

'It would be a natural upgrade to LTE for next-generation mobile technology,' a telecommunications executive said. 'However, we may miss Ofta's target as LTE products are only expected to hit the market commercially by 2010.'

Another industry source said operators may have no choice but to deploy WiMax if they want to meet the licence conditions.

'The government should give us time to wait for LTE rather than meet the 24-month rollout timeframe,' the source said.

Ofta has said it would follow technological developments in the industry and set a detailed rollout schedule for the auction later this year.

'Although we intend to require licensees to rollout their networks and provide services to the public within 24 months' technological developments will be considered, Ofta said.

WiMax technology has been in the market since last year for fixed wireless networks. Sprint, a United States-based telecommunications player, will launch its WiMax network later this year and market watchers said WiMax could support mobile services later this year.

'The LTE camp is under pressure to finalise technical issues to compete with WiMax,' an executive of a mobile operator said, adding that final specifications for the LTE core network would be finalised by the end of this year. However, commercial products may need two years to reach the market.