China Unicom, the smaller of the country's two main mobile operators, and Hutchison Telecommunications International are likely the only two bidders for Hong Kong's new third-generation mobile service licence based on the CDMA technology, according to market sources. The sources were unsure whether the two companies would partner or were seeking to go it alone. Both declined to comment, citing the confidentiality conditions of the tender. The Office of the Telecommunications Authority, the local regulator running the auction, confirmed yesterday that it had received applications before the offer period closed yesterday afternoon but would not disclose the number of applicants and their identities. Management of Hutchison Telecom, which now has the city's only network based on the code division multiple access technology, previously said it would not bid for the licence on its own and would seek a partnership based on its existing equipment. The new CDMA 2000 licence will take effect in November 2008, after Hutchison's 2G CDMA licence expires. The government has mandated that the winning bidder would need to be online in Hong Kong within a year, to ensure contiguous coverage for visiting subscribers to CDMA services in the mainland, which is run by Unicom, and other countries such as the United States, where the technology was developed. At present Hong Kong has four 3G networks based on the European Global System for Mobile communications or GSM standard. Two other companies deemed likely bidders in the run-up to the deadline - Hong Kong Broadband Network, owned by City Telecom (Hong Kong), and Wharf T&T, the fixed-line arm of Wharf Holdings - did not submit applications. 'It's not fair for a greenfield player to have a full coverage in an urban area as existing operators already occupy the rooftops for base stations. This condition only favours existing players such as Hutchison,' said Raymond Mok Wai-man, Wharf T&T vice-president.