Hong Kong casts wide 4G coverage after SmarTone launch

Wireless network operator joins fellow HK rivals in running the 4G service on the 1800MHz band to provide better mobile coverage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2012, 4:11am

The city has gone "the full monty" in high-speed mobile coverage, as all five local wireless network operators now offer advanced 4G services.

SmarTone Telecommunications launched its 4G network yesterday to join rivals CSL, Three Hong Kong, PCCW Mobile and China Mobile Hong Kong in delivering a faster mobile broadband experience to consumers and businesses.

Based on the technology, called Long-Term Evolution (LTE), 4G networks can provide theoretical internet download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. The fastest existing 3G networks run at 42Mbps.

"We've switched on our 4G LTE network, which has territory-wide coverage," SmarTone chief executive Douglas Li said.

Following the pricing strategy of its competitors, SmarTone's 4G tariff plans are the same as its 3G rates. The 4G service will initially be made available to selected customers by invitation until September 11, when it is offered to the public.

The entry of SmarTone, a subsidiary of Sun Hung Kai Properties, has also raised the importance of LTE networks on the 1800-megahertz band, which comprise radio spectrum previously used for 2G services.

"With radio, the lower frequency the better the transmission," Li said. "More operators globally are implementing 4G on the 1800MHz band to provide better coverage, especially in-building penetration, than in 2600MHz." He said all current 4G smartphones in the market offered 1800MHz support.

The earlier entrants to the city's 4G mobile market - CSL, Three Hong Kong, PCCW Mobile and China Mobile Hong Kong - have established their respective LTE networks in that higher frequency band.

But CSL, the largest wireless network operator in Hong Kong with more than 3.2 million subscribers, last week launched what it touted as the world's first fully operational, dual-band 4G LTE network on 1800MHz and 2600MHz under its premium "1010" brand. A subsidiary of Australian telecommunications giant Telstra, CSL was the first to introduce commercial 4G services in Hong Kong, in 2010, and has reassigned in phases its old 2G spectrum to 4G.

"We are well into the second generation of our 4G LTE rollout, while other Hong Kong operators are only just beginning their deployment," said Mark Liversidge, chief marketing officer at CSL.

Despite how well their lower-frequency LTE operation works in confined spaces, both CSL and SmarTone admitted that all operators could not deliver 4G services on the MTR's underground railway system.

"MTR coverage is still under negotiation," Li said, adding that the industry was hopeful the situation would be resolved.