SmarTone-Vodafone yesterday launched the first so-called 'super-3G' service using technology widely touted by operators and equipment makers as key to making third-generation mobile technology finally deliver on its unfulfilled promise. Even if it does, however, it may not do much to help the bottom line of service providers in the city's hyper-competitive mobile market. Super-3G 'is a step forward but it is not a miracle cure for this market', said one telecommunications analyst. SmarTone's three 3G rivals are all committed to launching the service, with CSL New World Mobility and Hutchison promising to launch before the end of the year. There is little doubt the new service will turn some heads. The download speed on SmarTone's upgraded 3G network now reaches 1.8 megabits per second - five times faster than the 384 kilobits per second offered by rival operators. Chief executive Douglas Li said this would jump up to 14.4 megabits per second within two years. The upgrade relies on high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) technology, primarily through a software upgrade that increases bandwidth and decreases latency in 3G networks. SmarTone spent $150 million for the upgrade, compared with $700 million for its initial 3G introduction. 'This launch represents what real 3G can achieve and demonstrates how 3G with HSDPA can bring substantially better benefits to both business users and consumers,' Mr Li said. The service will be limited to customers using laptops with designated data cards until HSDPA handsets become widely available next year. Until then, SmarTone is targeting higher-spending business users by promoting applications like email and Web-browsing. Both applications clearly benefit from greater speed. But questions remain, including how many users will be willing to pay for full mobile broadband. SmarTone did not disclose its internal projections. Analysts say the biggest challenge will be finding the kind of data-intensive applications that will lure subscribers. And when new handsets become available, they predict another round of profit-sapping subsidies. SmarTone's HSDPA service is cheaper - $488 per month for unlimited usage or $100 per 50 megabytes - than its existing 3G data charge of about $15 per megabyte depending on the plan. Still, it is more than double the about $200 a month for fixed-line broadband or $50 to $60 per month for using Wi-fi hotspots.