The regulator's decision to hold another consultation on wireless broadband licences will probably delay their issuance in Hong Kong - disappointing consumers eager to embrace wire-free high-speed Net access. In April, the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (Ofta) whetted appetites by announcing that at least seven broadband wireless access (BWA) licences would be issued locally. But earlier this month the regulator said it needed more time - not because the technology had come adrift in a cloud of hype, but that new discussions were needed to consider issues relating to fixed and mobile convergence. The seeds of this delay were arguably sown in the initial consultation which many industry watchers believed was wide of the mark. Seven months ago the regulator was preparing to issue seven licences for fixed wireless services. This arrangement seems to neatly box the technology to plug the connectivity gap for fixed-line operators that will lose last mile access rights to PCCW's local loop in 2008. But WiMAX has promised a lot more than a local loop solution. So now it appears we have to wait for the regulator to get up to speed. For reference, the first version of WiMAX - 802.16 - will allow nomadic broadband in the zone supporting video and voice. The later updated version 802.16e promises mobility as it will support handover between different WiMAX cells. The need to tackle convergence issues in isolation is also questionable as they are hardly new. To date, it has been simple fixed-mobile substitution as individuals have cut their home line, rather than ported their mobile number. And this trend may well move from voice to broadband substitution as more powerful upgraded 3G data cards arrive on the market. Then there is the precedent of Wi-fi which, although operating on unlicensed spectrum, is often run by mobile and fixed-operators. There is speculation that outstanding spectrum policy issues are also contributing to the delay. Part of this is the legacy of Hong Kong's uniquely complicated 3G licensing regime where licence fees were paid as a percentage of sales, rather than a one-off sunk licence fee as is common elsewhere. Theoretically the market in data services could be distorted if one spectrum band is intrinsically more expensive to use than another due to this variable tax, when both can provide largely identical services. With the stakes high, the regulator will be wary that it could be exposed to legal challenges as it auctions new spectrum. Existing 3G incumbents will probably be happy to see some delays so their fledgling businesses can generate some traction. But customers and would-be new operators might ask whether this is good enough. New technology cycles may be getting shorter but it seems Ofta is not keeping pace, whatever the reason. Erstwhile competitor Singapore has issued six BWA licences and even opened the door for Korean wibro products. Meanwhile vendors and pioneer BWA operators point to growing momentum behind wireless broadband. Tier-one vendors such as Alcatel and Siemens confirm they will have WiMAX certified equipment ready at the start of next year. Nokia has announced it is working with Intel on the 802.16e standard. According to Michel Levy, Alcatel vice-president, mobile marketing and business development, equipment will be designed so it is possible for UMTS operators to seamlessly deploy WiMAX. 'We are standardising hardware so that signal processing is just a software overlay' for operators. He expects new branded ISPs who want to bypass DSL lines, mobile and fixed-line incumbents will deploy WiMAX as mobile devices become multi-access in the future. Earlier this month in Hong Kong, two antipodean broadband wireless operators explained some of the selling points of their active, although early services. It was not hyper download speeds or flashy video, but a killer application of convenience their service promised. Ron Englis, chairman of Woosh wireless in New Zealand, said family plans with multiple SIM cards were proving popular. Greg Young at Australian wireless operator Unwired said young professionals who tended to move flats often liked the convenience of the portable broadband service with the slogan of 'As easy as 1, 2, 3' - unpack modem, plug it in and switch on. If only regulatory issues could be as simple.