PCCW's Netvigator Internet service has extended its wireless broadband coverage to more than 200 locations in Hong Kong through new partnerships with Starbucks Coffee, Delifrance, Coffee Concepts and the Soho Association. PCCW-operated hot spots are already available in more than 100 sites across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Lantau through partnerships with Swire Properties and Pacific Coffee. PCCW general manager of product development and management Allan Wong said PCCW was ramping up public Wi-Fi coverage this year to 300 or more hot spots. The company's consumer group executive vice-president, Dominic Leung Tak-sing, said: 'We are responding to customer demands for speed and portability. 'We selected these key outlets for our wireless broadband product offering because the clientele frequenting these areas match our target profile.' PCCW has selected a demand-based pricing tariff scheme under which existing Netvigator subscribers will be charged HK$3 for 10 minutes and non-Netvigator customers HK$4. PCCW is deploying Wi-Fi hot spots in phases, with an emphasis on providing 'stickiness' to retain its narrowband and broadband access subscriber base, which stands at 310,000 and 330,000 subscribers, respectively. PCCW is the only commercial Wi-Fi operator in Hong Kong so far. However, Mr Wong said he expected competition this year from 'some ISPs and possibly the MTRC'. Mr Wong said the two companies abandoned negotiations last year when MTR Corp was granted a fixed-line operator licence, indicating its entry into the telecommunications business. A partnership with MTRC, with average daily traffic of more than two million passengers, is highly coveted, as it would give PCCW's wireless broadband plans a significant boost. Jeny Yeung Mei-chun, marketing and business development manager at MTRC, said the company had 'no concrete plans' to roll out Wi-Fi hot spots and would be 'very keen on working with a partner like PCCW'. 'We are looking into a technological change in order to enhance our commuter service and enhance the commuting experience for our passengers,' she said. MTRC has not developed a wireless or Internet strategy. In November, the company opened an Internet centre in Central station, allowing passengers free access to the Internet through a partnership with Sony's ISP arm So-net. Ms Yeung said the service was still operating on a trial basis and there were no plans to either discontinue it or open more Internet centres in MTR stations. As the telecommunications giant's wireless LAN network grows, analysts said PCCW's wireless strategy would be a threat to mobile carriers rolling out 3G networks. Connie Hsu, research manager at Pyramid Research, said: 'PCCW is very smart to sell off CSL, not be dragged down by its 3G debts but instead turn that investment toward developing Wi-Fi. 'PCCW's public hot spots are definite competition for Hong Kong's mobile carriers' 3G plans, especially since a ubiquitous 3G roll-out is looking less likely, with CSL saying it might not do a 3G network roll-out throughout Hong Kong but initially start in high-density areas like Central. 'That would definitely put it in competition with PCCW's Wi-Fi hot spot service, which is higher speed and cheaper,' she said. Mr Wong said there were 'areas where our hot spots and 3G would overlap but, by and large, we see the two services as complementary.' He said PCCW's main challenge came from devices, where wireless LAN access was still not a pervasive function. 'Mobile carriers can dictate to a large extent the technologies put into a mobile phone, so 802.11 technology might not make it into the phones. Access to Wi-Fi might be limited to laptops and PDAs but we don't see that as a huge problem because people doing e-mail or Internet browsing would prefer to access it through bigger screens. Mobile phones will be used for very specific applications or services such as in Japan and Korea,' he said. Netvigator on Monday also launched a new e-mail service for PDA users. By logging on to NetMail at the netvigator.com Web site with a PDA, users can access their Netvigator POP3 e-mail account which has been reconfigured for full-screen viewing on a handheld computer. Netvigator also added Extra-Shield, an improved security feature providing wireless users with the option of logging-in with packet-encryption technology.