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Legco panel to look into 3G spectrum issue

City's major wireless services providers will face rival China Mobile in hearing to discuss expiry and future of their spectrum licences

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 6:41am

Hong Kong's four leading mobile network operators will likely step up the rhetoric against a government plan to take away and auction off chunks of their 3G spectrum at a Legislative Council meeting later this month.

SmarTone Telecommunications, CSL, Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong and PCCW's HKT are to be invited by the legislative body's panel on information technology and broadcasting to discuss the issue on March 27, according to a Legco document.

The Legco paper about the panel's meeting, a copy of which was obtained by the South China Morning Post, showed China Mobile and telecommunications equipment suppliers Huawei Technologies and Nokia Siemens Network were also invited.

This meeting has been scheduled about two weeks before the close of the Communications Authority's public consultation on what the government should do with the expiring 3G spectrum licences held by the four network operators.

SmarTone, CSL, Hutchison Telecommunications and HKT have not individually submitted any comments to the public consultation, which closes on April 11.

Their respective licences for the 3G frequency spectrum in the 1.9-gigahertz to 2.2GHz band are due to expire in October 2016.

In the initial industry consultation held by the Communications Authority last year, the government presented three options on what it might do with the expiring 3G spectrum licences: renew them at a reasonable fee; put their 3G spectrum up for public auction; or take a third of each of the operators' 3G spectrum allocation and auction these off.

The Post reported on Tuesday that the government might already have decided on the third, the so-called hybrid option, which may spur the four operators to mount a legal challenge.

The Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Gregory So Kam-leung, and the Communications Authority committed in a consultation paper released in December that a decision on how the 3G spectrum held by the operators should be reassigned would be made "by October 2013 at the latest". That would give at least three years' advance notice to the four operators.

The operators, however, have argued that the government's preferred third option "will have a serious adverse impact on Hong Kong consumers". In a position paper drawn up this month, they said that option would result in a "severe degradation in network quality" across the industry.

They added that industry competition was already strong in the small Hong Kong market, where the mobile penetration rate is more than 200 per cent.

While the four operators already run higher-speed 4G mobile networks, their 3G infrastructure provides vital support for existing traffic.

The 3G spectrum could also be reused for future 4G services, accommodating the growth of subscribers.

In a consultation paper filed by China Mobile last year, the world's largest wireless network operator expressed willingness to bid for the 3G spectrum that the government planned to reassign should the hybrid option be adopted.

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