Two of the world's largest telecommunications equipment suppliers have joined local mobile operators in raising the spectre of acute services disruption in Hong Kong if the government seizes and auctions off chunks of 3G spectrum currently in use.
Arguments against that government plan were presented yesterday by representatives of Huawei Technologies and Nokia Siemens Networks, along with those of the city's four leading mobile service providers, at a meeting of the Legislative Council's panel on information technology and broadcasting.
"Our views are derived from our consideration of the long-term development of the industry in Hong Kong, rather than the short-term interest of one company's sales and orders," said Wong Kam-tai, the chief operating officer of Huawei Tech Investment, the marketing subsidiary of Huawei.
At the meeting, the deputy director-general of the Office of the Communications Authority, Ha Yung-kuen, reiterated the government's estimate that average 3G data download speeds would drop 18 per cent in the transition period after parts of the existing spectrum were redistributed.
Nigel Chan, the head of solutions engagement for Nokia for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, said there would be "at least a 30 per cent loss" as network congestion squeezed available capacity under the government plan.
The city's 3G network operators claimed that the regulator "severely underestimated" the potential disruption, saying the loss in 3G download speeds would be 40 to 50 per cent with less amount of spectrum in use.
SmarTone Telecommunications, CSL, Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong and PCCW's HKT have called on the government to follow international practice by renewing their 3G spectrum allocations in the 1.9-gigahertz to 2.2GHz band, which are due to expire in October 2016.
The Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Gregory So Kam-leung, has said in a consultation paper released in December that the government preferred a so-called hybrid approach, in which a third of the 3G spectrum licensed to each operator is taken away and auctioned off to boost competition and maximise use of that spectrum. The matter is up for public consultation, which closes on April 11.
China Mobile, the world's largest wireless network operator, has expressed its support of the plan and its intention to bid for the reassigned spectrum. It now provides local 3G network capacity from HKT and CSL.
Legislator Charles Mok led the panel yesterday in questioning the government calculations on the service degradation because the discrepancy from industry estimates was too large. The legislators requested the regulator to hire an independent consultant to do more detailed study on the disruption.
Ha said the regulator was already in the process of hiring a consultant, which means further discussion would depend on this consultant's findings.