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  • Aug 23, 2014
  • Updated: 3:08pm
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POLITICS

3G mobile phone licence controversy looms for Hong Kong regulators

Another licence storm could be brewing for Greg So Kam-leung, with an announcement overdue on the future of Hong Kong's 3G mobile phone market

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 7:08am

With the free-to-air television licensing controversy still raging, it could be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire for Greg So Kam-leung and his Commerce and Economic Development Bureau in the coming days.

The Office of the Communications Authority [Ofca] - a subordinate agency under the bureau - said it would announce the final decision over the fate of 3G mobile licences "before mid-November". The decision could affect millions of people's mobile phone and data services and lead to fresh furore.

The timing could not be more sensitive amid the political firestorm over television licences. In fact, the authority has already delayed the decision, originally set for the end of last month.

A spokeswoman for Ofca declined to explain last week why it was postponed. Lawmaker Charles Mok, a member of Legco's panel on information technology and broadcasting, said it couldn't be caused by the TV licensing arrangement fiasco.

"The government did not give a good explanation as to why the announcement was delayed. I wouldn't be surprised if this is a political decision."

Ofca will pick one of three proposals: keep the status quo by renewing all 3G mobile data licences; take back the licences and put them up for auction; or seize an equal share of spectrum from the operators to create a space for a new player.

Any change to the present setup will leave mainland state-owned giant China Mobile as the only potential beneficiary. The government said it was weighing up the options because it wanted to boost competition in the mobile market.

But in fact, China Mobile, the world's biggest telecoms operator with 750 million subscribers, is the only party interested in obtaining a new 3G licence in Hong Kong.

The big four Hong Kong 3G mobile operators - HKT (PCCW), SmarTone, CSL (One2free) and 3 Hong Kong (Hutchison Telecom) - have been vocal against more competition.

Xu Yan, associate dean at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's School of Business and Management, said the regulator needed to carefully review the options against the evidence provided by all parties concerned before going public with their decision.

If the go-ahead is given to pursue more competition, 3G and 4G mobile users will face disruption for up to three years, with poorer-quality service and higher bills.

The big four operators estimate mobile signal will be downgraded by 27 per cent, if an equal share of spectrum is seized.

"The Communications Authority would endeavour to announce the decision as early as possible in the first half of November, around three years prior to the expiry of the spectrum assignment concerned," an Ofca spokeswoman said.

"[This is designed] so that the incumbent operators, if necessary, can make the required technical and commercial arrangements timely to ensure the continued provision of quality services to customers."

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This article is now closed to comments

Sugelanren
Let me predict that the matter will go to EXCO, a few members will object, and our puppet C.E. will decide that its in the National Interest to take away the 3G bandwidth from existing operators and give it to China Mobile. on the other hand, he might just realize that this drip feed of bad news only stokes the anti-government feeling in Hong Kong and relent before we ultimately see a 1967 riot.
kablooei
All the drama as a result of TV licence will force the Hong Kong Government to be very careful with the 3G license. Most likely they are trying to figure out how to reduce impact on existing operators and give license to China Mobile at the same time. Which of course is mission impossible!!
asiaseen
Given the standard of programming of the existing broadcasters to describe TV as"one of Hong Kong's traditional cutting-edge creative industries", in the words of jam2morrow, is something of an overstatement.
pindarwong
Perhaps HK can innovate by re-imagining a combination of a more efficient use of TV 'White Space' (WS) technology and Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), of which there are 12 (including China Mobile HK). Figure out how Taiwan's innovating with WiFi and how this relates to WS '****www.wirelessinnovationalliance.org/' ;)
honger
Also, can Xu kindly explain how "higher bills" will come about?
donniemcm
Higher bills because they want to maintain their earnings.
honger
but china mobile will offer discounts - backed by giant parent - since they are a newcomer. this was what happened when ricky came into the scene.
the incumbents could "maintain their earnings," like u said, but most will opt for the cheaper alternative!
bluefirestorm
But isn't it that the 3G/4G technology used by China Mobile is not compatible with the current 3G/4G used in HK and pretty much the rest of the world?
honger
So much hypocrisy here - just becoz China Mobile is a mainland interest!
If the same reasoning (disruption to signals and supposed threat of higher bills as touted by Xu), was applied, Ricky and the other two would never have got their licenses years ago. We would still be beholden to the expensive and inefficient HK Telecom(PCCW).
Now, how would the pan dems react if Ricky owned China Mobile?
MingBaakMei
What's the betting there will be a new player on the block. The Govt. is not phased about cost to the consumer, only pacifying the elephant in the room!

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