When 3G mobile services were rolled out, people said the dream of 'internet any time, anywhere, on any device' had finally been realised. Meanwhile, along comes broadband wireless access (BWA), which might help to realise this dream even more comprehensively. Mobile operators worry that BWA technologies, such as WiMAX, may pose a threat to 3G services. But competition from new technologies is a risk all operators must face. For example, fixed-line operators face competition from voice-over-internet protocol. Ultimately, consumers must decide which technology best serves their needs. It is too early to predict the impact of BWA on 3G, but the general consensus is that BWA will complement, rather than threaten, 3G - at least until BWA technology matures with full mobility. This is understandable as there may be some aspects of demand that 3G services do not satisfy for technical or economic reasons. No single technology can meet all user needs. As the regulator, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) has no basis to pick and choose the winning technologies. To restrict or delay BWA's entry in order to protect 3G would imply that the regulator had decided 3G was a better wireless technology. What operators need is regulatory certainty and a level playing field. This is what Ofta hopes to achieve with the ongoing industry consultation. Useful suggestions are surfacing, pointing to areas that need further clarity. Some suggest that BWA licensing should be deferred until the reviews on spectrum policy and fixed-mobile convergence are completed. Issues must be approached in a holistic manner, but it is unrealistic to expect regulation to stop evolving. The adjustment of regulations is a continuing process as markets and technologies develop. Delaying decisions on BWA would be undesirable because consumer benefits from BWA would be artificially delayed. There also seems to be a demand from 'nomadic' users not yet completely satisfied with 3G services. Cities around us, such as Seoul and Singapore, are already proceeding with BWA licensing. We will also need BWA technology as an alternative access to households not served by fibre-based networks by the time mandatory Type II interconnection is phased out in 2008. Ofta aims to minimise risks for investment decisions on BWA. For example, Ofta will inform the industry about the future supply of spectrum for BWA. BWA technologies can operate over a wide spectrum, from 2 to 11 gigahertz. The commonly adopted bands are 2.3, 2.5 and 3.5 GHz. Ofta initially proposed the 3.5 GHz band, but additional bands may be made available in the future. Regulating the supply of spectrum to protect those already in the market may not be an approach shared by regulators in liberalised markets. In any case, 3G operators have advantages, such as a head start, an established customer base, ubiquitous coverage and a plentiful supply of consumer terminals. For BWA, many of these questions remain unanswered. A fair operating environment does not mean imposing on BWA operators the same spectrum utilisation fee as with 3G. That fee was determined by the market at the time of the 3G spectrum auction. There has been no suggestion of unfair competition in the property market as a result of land being acquired by developers at different prices at different times. Initially, Ofta proposed that the spectrum be restricted to fixed applications, which include portable internet. The proposal was based on the technological readiness of the initial years. It has avoided the red herring of whether the early entry of BWA as a potential 3G substitute will prejudice the environment for the development of mobile data services in Hong Kong. BWA technologies are suitable for fixed and mobile applications. It makes no sense to restrict the use of the technologies to fixed or 'nomadic' applications when they can be used for full mobility. Some operators are seeking clarification on the mechanism for converting spectrum use from fixed to mobile services. Ofta will address this issue with an open mind. One option might be to specify a date after which the mobile restriction will be lifted. Mobile operators want to take part in bidding for the spectrum. Ofta does not intend to reserve the spectrum for existing fixed operators; new and mobile operators may bid. Mobile operators whose bids succeed would be subject to the same usage restrictions, if any, as apply to other successful bidders. BWA accelerates competition between fixed and mobile operators in overlapping markets. Operators call for a level playing field in such competition. These are the very issues to be addressed in the fixed-mobile convergence review. If necessary, issues from the review will be put forward to give more clarity to potential bidders for the BWA spectrum. Au Man-ho is director-general of the Office of the Telecommunications Authority.