CSL will test the mettle of rival Hong Kong operators as the launch of Asia's first 2.75G service gives it an Edge The battle between Hong Kong's biggest operators over which can secure the inside track to benefit from the next generation of mobile data services is expected to heat up this week, when CSL launches the first 2.75G service in Asia. CSL, the international unit of Australia's Telstra Corp, will today launch Edge (enhanced data rates for global evolution), which transmits data three times faster than general packet radio services (GPRS). The Edge launch is important as it will test whether operators have found a more economical way of playing the third-generation (3G) game amid an uncertainty over data demand in Hong Kong. Its success - or failure - will also play a significant role in deciding the schedules of other 3G licensees in the launch their services. In the past year, operators have delayed their 3G launches in Hong Kong. Hutchison Whampoa, with 10 3G licences globally, has put its promised technology on ice, as has CSL, which said in December last year that it would launch in autumn this year. Last month, Hutchison chairman Li Ka-shing said its plan to launch in Hong Kong before the end of next month was delayed because the first batch of 3G handsets, originally reserved for the territory, would now be channelled to Europe to satisfy a growing demand in Britain and Italy. While the world has watched the performance of Hutchison's multibillion-dollar 3G investments, some operators have stolen the show with their own version of comparable high-speed data services. 'CSL is trying to get in there first with competitive offerings, and shore up its defences before the typhoon comes,' said Gartner Group analyst Nick Ingelbrecht, who recalled an earlier match up this year between Telstra's CDMA 1X network and Hutchison's 3G service debut in Australia. Mr Ingelbrecht said the rationale for CSL launching Edge was based on a commercial decision, not for technical reasons. 'Its strategy is driven by return on equity ... the economics of delivering wideband data over Edge was just more effective,' he said. Edge would enable mobile users to transmit data at up to 384 kilobits per second (kbps), compared with GPRS' maximum speed of about 100 kbps. Actual delivery is about one-third of the promised speed in many cases. The 3G service can deliver speeds up to two megabits per second, or five times faster than Edge. CSL network director Adam Wong Yuk-on said the move was a natural progression, while less capital and operating expenditure was required by migrating to 2.75G and eventually to 3G. 'It is a tougher road to go from GPRS to 3G, but many European operators have no choice but to oblige service commitments,' said Mr Wong, adding that many United States mobile operators were upgrading to Edge. In Hong Kong, CSL is the only 3G licensee among four operators to offer Edge technology before launching its 3G service. However, non-3G licensee Peoples Telephone planned to launch Edge in October, managing director Michael Leung Kai-hung said. Peoples has budgeted $30 million in additional capital on Edge, with plans to launch an initial service in the Golden Bowl area - from Sheung Wan to North Point and Mongkok. Edge is seen as a more cautious way of playing the data market given GPRS penetration.