The end may be looming for popular unlimited mobile data plans in Hong Kong, as local carrier CSL prepares to introduce a different tariff structure to the mass market for its fourthgeneration wireless service.
CSL, a unit of Australian telecommunications giant Telstra and the largest wireless network operator in Hong Kong, is scheduled to make the high-speed, mobile broadband data service available to consumers throughout the city later this month.
It was the first carrier in Asia to launch a commercial 4G network - based on the long-term evolution (LTE) wireless technology - in November last year, when it signed up enterprise clients as early adopters.
'We're a step ahead on thinking about new customer experiences and fair value pricing,' CSL chief executive Joseph O'Konek said yesterday. 'Someone using a lot more bandwidth should be willing to pay a lot more than someone using a standard amount.'
O'Konek noted that the popularity of so-called unlimited mobile subscription plans on 3G networks in Hong Kong and other developed markets worldwide since the launch of Apple's iPhone more than three years ago had resulted in a situation in which about 5 per cent of 3G subscribers consumed more bandwidth (for data-intensive applications, such as streaming movies over the internet) than average users.
'Mobile data usage increased more than 300 per cent in Hong Kong between 2009 and 2010, and many industry players have been suffering from bandwidth squeeze that has negatively impacted the experience for their customers,' O'Konek said.
He expected other operators to rethink their unlimited data price plans over the next 12 to 24 months.
'With our advanced network, we will be able to move those heavy data users to LTE and free up more space for consumers with 3G smartphones and tablets,' he said.
CSL, which claims to have 28 per cent more radio spectrum than any other mobile network operator in Hong Kong, will initially offer its 4G service on the 2600-megahertz band. The carrier plans to re-form in stages its 2G service on the 1800MHz band to 4G as a means of increasing network capacity over the next few years.
CSL chief marketing officer Mark Liversidge says it expects 'large-scale take-up and utilisation of its LTE network' in the next few months.
Wireless Intelligence has forecast 1.4 million 4G connections in Hong Kong by 2015 and 57.9 million on the mainland. It put CSL's share of the city's 4G market at 40 per cent in 2015.
ZTE Corp's 4G data cards, or dongles, that are attached to laptop computers to connect to the network will be initially available to CSL's early LTE subscribers. Other compatible dongles will be released mid-year.
CSL had 2.6 million subscribers as of June last year and invested HK$523 million to acquire its 4G spectrum on the 2600MHz band in January 2009.