Government favours splitting 3G spectrum further

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 5:17am

The government has said it favours a "mixed-mode" approach to reassigning the frequency spectrum for 3G mobile service operators, a Legislative Council panel was told yesterday.

Currently, four 3G operators - CSL, Hong Kong Telecommunications, Hutchison Telephone Company, and SmarTone Mobile Communications - share the spectrum. But their contracts will expire in October 2016.

Last year, the government floated three options for reassignment, including allowing the four operators to continue sharing the spectrum; auctioning the whole spectrum; and a "mixed mode" approach of auctioning part of the spectrum and letting the four operators keep the rest.

Linda Yu Yim-fun, head of competition and economic analysis for the Office of the Communications Authority, told the Legco panel on information technology and broadcasting, yesterday that if the existing operators lost too great a share of the spectrum, the impact would be that "the download speed will become slower and phone calls will get cut off more often".

Consequently, users may not get 3G signal at certain indoor areas, such as MTR stations, airport terminals, and shopping malls, Yu said.

Her office suggested yesterday that the four operators should each keep two thirds of the spectrum they now enjoy, while auctioning the rest of it.

"We think the third plan is more desirable because it can ensure the continuation of the services while … encouraging competition," she added.

However, the four operators want to continue sharing the spectrum without going through an auction. China Mobile, the world's largest wireless network operator with 703.47 million mobile subscribers as of October 31 last year, supports auctioning the entire spectrum, as it wants to buy a piece of it.

Lawmaker Charles Mok, of the information technology sector, is concerned the "mixed mode" cannot satisfy both 3G customers and companies hoping to join the market.

He fears 3G customers will experience a slower internet speed if the operators only get two thirds of the spectrum.

At the same time, he is worried that auctioning one third of the spectrum will mean only a limited number of companies can join the market.

A public consultation is ongoing until February 28. The government will come to a decision on the reassignment in October.

Meanwhile, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau announced that 71.3 per cent of the city's households had switched from analogue television to digital television as of the end of last year.

The bureau will look into why some households have not switched yet, as it has planned to stop broadcasting analogue television signals in 2015.

At present, TVB and ATV have 11 digital television program channels.