SmarTone aims to up ante in 4G

Company plans to be a world leader with launch of its high-speed mobile broadband network

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 4:51am

Hong Kong could well become the world's biggest little market for 4G services next week, when SmarTone Telecommunications unveils its new high-speed, mobile broadband network.

SmarTone will join a crowded market that already has Three Hong Kong, HKT, CSL, and China Mobile Hong Kong - offering 4G services based on a technology called Long-Term Evolution (LTE).

The companies are competing in a city with a population of 7.14 million, a land area of 1,104 square kilometres and an economy that posted a 1.1 per cent increase in gross domestic product in the last quarter.

"Hong Kong has always been a very competitive and dynamic market," SmarTone chief executive Douglas Li said.

"It is a fascinating example for the rest of the world, in terms of technology adoption and services development."

In the United States, which is the world's largest economy, mobile carriers Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and MetroPCS are expanding their 4G LTE networks to effectively serve a population of about 314 million.

Li said SmarTone aimed to be a "world-class leader" in delivering 4G services in Hong Kong when its new network was introduced next Tuesday.

"Comprehensive tests have shown our superiority in [network] performance," Li said, claiming that the company has "even beat existing 4G networks".

Advanced 4G networks have theoretical internet download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. The fastest existing 3G networks run at 42Mbps.

SmarTone recently conducted a total of 18,480 network-performance tests in 70 outdoor sites, covering the city's 18 districts using Samsung Electronics' Galaxy SII LTE smartphones. In 32 per cent of those tests, which included the upload of a 500-kilobyte photo to Facebook, browsing of YouTube and download of a five-megabyte application, SmarTone's 3G network performed tasks faster than other operators' 4G networks.

"We're also one of the first operators in the world to fully commit to the 1800-megahertz radio spectrum for rolling out 4G services," Li said. The frequency band's "inherent advantage in terms of in-building penetration" - how well radio signals work inside confined spaces - has made other operators adopt it for 4G services.

"Implementing LTE solely at the 2600-megahertz band is arduous," Li said. "The higher up the frequency you go, the worse it gets [for in-building penetration]. Basically, for every two base stations we build, our competitors [who run their LTE networks] at 2600MHz need three. It's easier for us to get where we want to be than it is for them."

The most obvious advantage would be in 4G handsets. All of the major LTE-capable smartphones on the market today support 4G services on the 1800MHz band. Li said he hoped the next-generation of the iPhone, which Apple is widely speculated to be launching next month, would also provide the same 1800MHz support. "Any [smartphone] vendor who wants to sell in big numbers will certainly have 1800MHz as one of the default bands in their device," he said.