HKBN fires up city Wi-fi hot spot spree

Fresh from a major bond offering and buying Y5Zone, Hong Kong Broadband plans to extend wireless network's reach over next 18 months

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 January, 2013, 5:27am

Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) plans to spend HK$200 million to expand its Wi-fi coverage across the city to 15,000 hot spots over the next 18 months.

The company's aggressive deployment followed its acquisition this week of Y5Zone, a wholesale provider of wireless broadband network services that operates 6,500 hot spots in Hong Kong and more than 600 in selected cities on the mainland. The combined HKBN-Y5Zone Wi-fi network in Hong Kong is 7,000 hot spots.

"Together, we have a common goal of building a world-class Wi-fi infrastructure for Hong Kong," HKBN chief executive William Yeung Chu-kwong said yesterday. "We want to set the standard in this market, with better bandwidth, advanced technology, wider coverage and improved customer support."

Yeung said HKBN, the city's second-largest fixed-line broadband services provider, was funding this initiative with the proceeds from its US$450 million five-year bond offering last week. The unrated issue, which provides a yield of 5.25 per cent, has helped HKBN pay off bank loans.

"We have enough funding to speed up our Wi-fi roll-out, pursue other projects and get us prepared against any possible price competition in the market," he said.

Billy Yeung (who is not related to William Yeung), the founder and executive director of Y5Zone, will be managing director of the company's new Wi-fi business.

Privately held HKBN declined to provide the cost of the merger but said the Y5Zone founder was paid in stock. Billy Yeung said the company's goal was to significantly improve bandwidth in all hot spots to speeds of from 100 megabits per second to 1 gigabit per second. He said the use of more advanced Wi-fi design and infrastructure would inevitably turn hot spots into wider-coverage "hot zones".

That high-speed wireless infrastructure will also enable HKBN to better serve the city's 3G and 4G network operators, which use Wi-fi networks to supplement coverage for their subscribers, known as "mobile backhaul capacity".

Prior to its acquisition, Y5Zone provided wholesale Wi-fi network services to various operators needing that extra capacity, including SmarTone Telecommunications, CSL and China Mobile Hong Kong. HKBN said it had already signed up one mobile operator to a 10-year contract for Wi-fi mobile backhaul services.

A spokeswoman for PCCW, the parent firm of telecommunications giant HKT, said the company "will continue to expand its own coverage to ensure it remains the city's leading Wi-fi provider".

PCCW operates about 10,000 Wi-fi hot spots.