Hong Kong CSL, the city's largest mobile-telephone operator, and smaller rival SmarTone-Vodafone are threatening to steal more customers from fixed-line competitors with software upgrades that allow faster services. CSL will announce the launch of its high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) upgrade to its third-generation services today, following the move to the standard by SmarTone-Vodafone last week. The upgrades allow access speeds to be increased over the next year to where computers, at present confined to fixed-line links or local Wi-Fi centres known as hot spots, will have mobile access faster than using PCCW and similar broadband services. Fixed-line operators, meanwhile, must wait for the government to let them fight back using wireless services. Demand for high-speed or 3G mobile services has been sluggish since they were launched four years ago, with only 10 per cent or 960,000 of the city's eight million mobile subscribers using 3G by June. Operators are still paying for 3G licences bought in 2001 for HK$1.3 billion each at the height of market expectations for the technology. The licences are valid for 15 years. They hope the move to HSDPA, with no hardware investment and capital expenditure that has been included in the 3G network construction budget, will draw customers away from fixed-line operators' fastest services. HSDPA users can download a multimedia file in a minute, compared with four minutes at the standard 3G speed. A delay in issuing broadband wireless access licences to fixed-line operators has allowed 3G mobile firms using HSDPA to compete with fixed-line broadband providers, strengthening their competitive edge in mobile broadband service. 'It is a natural move for 3G operators,' said Adam Wong, CSL director of network. Fixed-line operators such as Hong Kong Broadband Network and New World Telecom are waiting for the introduction of BWA licences, proposed two years ago, to offer fast wireless services. The government is expected to start the second round of consultation within the next few months after an earlier round last year. Through the upgrade, existing 3G networks with download speed of 384 kilobits per second (kbps) will boost this 10 times to the HSDPA download speed of 1.8 megabits per second (Mbps), and gradually to 14.4 Mbps. SmarTone-Vodafone, which charges HSDPA users HIK$488 per month for unlimited data access, has started to offer its HSDPA service at 3.6 Mbps. Users can use the service on their laptops using a data card, bypassing fixed-line operators.