Ofta to conclude interconnection plan
The telecommunications regulator is working to conclude an interconnection arrangement among fixed-line operators this year and establish a framework for issuing new mobile licences past 2006.
Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) secretary-general Anthony Wong Sei-kei said he would put the interconnection process, which enables operators to lease copper wire last-mile access from dominant operator PCCW, into industry consultation within three months.
The consultation could signal a change in the regulator's approach by relaxing the mandatory opening of PCCW's network.
'It is a time for a change, and that is why we are putting the interconnection issue into public consultation,' said Mr Wong, who yesterday chaired the regulator's year-end review.
Starting this year, the fixed-line telecoms market has been fully deregulated, completing a process that began eight years ago. Mr Wong said more than 50 per cent of the population was now covered by more than two fixed-line operators, a commitment made in 1995 by the three second network operators - Hutchison Global Communications, Wharf T&T and New World Telecommunications.
Telecoms companies now lease last-mile access from PCCW not just for voice services, but also high-speed data.
All the fixed-line companies except PCCW built their networks using fibre optics, which allow faster data transmission, instead of the traditional copper wire.
'Operators like Hutchison and New World use fewer than 10 exchange buildings because they laid fibre,' Mr Wong said.
PCCW has more than 80 exchanges.
'I don't think PCCW would need that many if it switched to fibre.'
A proposal to limit PCCW interconnections in certain districts was first revealed by Secretary of Commerce, Industry and Technology Henry Tang Ying-yen earlier this month, but he said such a move would be subject to further industry consultation.
Meanwhile, Ofta will also hold a public consultation on issuing new mobile licences to non-third generation (3G) licence holders.
The future of Peoples Phone and New World Mobility - the only two players who failed to participate in Hong Kong's 3G auction in 2001 - is uncertain as their licences will expire in 2006.
'They hope to get our review as early as possible in order to plan their future commitments,' Mr Wong said.
The new licences to be issued would be 3G licences, but whether they would be auctioned or granted free would be subject to consultation.
In September 2001, four operators - Hutchison Telecommunications, CSL, SmarTone Telecommunications and Sunday Communications - agreed to pay a HK$50 million flat licence fee for the first five years, and share 5 per cent of their 3G revenues with the government in the subsequent 10 years.
Mr Wong said Hong Kong would have its first 3G launch this year, with Hutchison Telecom preparing to launch its service in the second quarter.
The fixed-line telecoms market has been fully deregulated this year
More than 50 per cent of the population is covered by more than two fixed-line operators
All the fixed-line companies except PCCW built their networks using fibre optics, allowing faster transmission
PCCW interconnections may be limited in certain districts