Roaming charges are expected to fall after China Mobile Hong Kong launches a cross-border data sharing service next week, which will make it cheaper to access services locked behind Beijing's internet firewall.
China Mobile, the second operator to offer 4G services after CSL, will intensify competition among next generation mobile-phone services in Hong Kong as subscribers to its 4G service can get cheaper access to news portals or social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which are banned on the mainland.
Although existing roaming services can still overcome the firewall, users face steep charges. Many Hong Kong mobile users tend to switch off their data roaming option and use Wi-fi services offered by mainland operators, but this risks attracting official surveillance.
China Mobile had lowered the costs for internet users wanting to keep the flexibility and ease of using their Hong Kong mobile service on the mainland, said Tiger Lin Zhenhui, the chairman of the company, yesterday.
China Mobile has also cut roaming charges on voice services between the mainland and Hong Kong to 65 HK cents per minute, from at least HK$7. The cut takes effect on April 25, when the new 4G roaming service is launched.
The company is targeting the 500,000 frequent travellers between Hong Kong and the mainland. It already claims more than 20 per cent of the Hong Kong market.
However, China Mobile said it would enable customers to use its mainland parent's 2.75G network, easing data transmission, which can be slower when accessed with a more advanced 3G mobile phone.
Meanwhile, the development of 4G services in the city is still lagging the United States, Japan and South Korea because of the limited supply of handsets.
CSL and HTC launched the first 4G handset two months ago. CSL has yet to disclose the number of 4G subscribers but said total subscribers for all services stood at 3.16 million at the end of last year.
That compares with 14 million subscribers in the city, according to the Office of the Telecommunications Authority, which means users may own more than one line.
Lin said that 10 4G handsets would be available by the end of this year.
China Mobile's 4G monthly fees are similar to those under the 3G plan: HK$88 for 200 megabytes of downloads; HK$148 for 400MB and HK$218 for unlimited data.
Analysts said the new 4G mobile data services were seen as a trial run for its 4G network on the mainland.
Miao Wei, the head of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said last month that it would take three to four years for the mainland to upgrade its telecommunications base stations before granting 4G licences to operators.