A Tale of Two 4G Cities
On Aug. 28 SmarTone Telecommunications Holdings Ltd. (Hong Kong: 0315), Hong Kong’s third-largest mobile operator, launched the fifth LTE network in the city, which is home to more than 7 million people. A sixth will debut later this year, and punters are offered unlimited data for as little as HK$189 (US$24.39) per month. (See SmarTone Launches 1800MHz LTE.)
In Singapore, which boasts a population of about 5.4 million, incumbent Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY) is the only carrier offering a service. MobileOne Ltd. (M1) (Singapore: MONE) announced last week that it will launch its 4G services on Sept. 15, while StarHub has just announced a limited 4G services offering from Sept. 19.
But SingTel is selling just one LTE handset, and its media relations office has declared the topic off-limits to the press.
Hong Kong, meanwhile, had a flying start with 4G, with Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS)-controlled Hong Kong CSL Ltd. launching a dual-band LTE service in 2010, albeit without any devices and closed to all except a few corporate customers. (See LTE Dawns in Hong Kong .)
CSL went fully commercial in 2011 as devices became available, and the operator now offers four handsets, a pocket Wi-Fi device and a Samsung Corp. tablet, though like its rivals it doesn't provide any 4G customer numbers. (See CSL Expands LTE Service in Hong Kong.)
CSL Chief Marketing Officer Mark Liversidge says the company has broken new ground with service plans that allow consumers to share their data across multiple SIMs and numbers.
He adds that, while data consumption is still growing fast, CSL is developing new ways of selling it -- for example, by offering a SIM that lets users play live interactive games on their console.
CSL is also seeking deals with makers of non-telco products, such as cameras, and is offering cloud-based and streaming services for health-care and financial customers over 4G connections.
"We’re doing live streams of medical analysis. You need crystal clear [vision] for remote medical consultation [and other services such as] real-time training," states Liversidge.
Meanwhile, CSL rivals Hutchison Telecommunications (Hong Kong) Ltd. (3), owned by billionaire Li Ka-shing, and PCCW Ltd. (NYSE: PCW; Hong Kong: 0008), controlled by his son Richard, both started offering LTE service in April on jointly owned spectrum.
And China Mobile HK, the local unit of mainland giant China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), launched its service in April. It plans to launch the territory's sixth 4G network later this year when it deploys a network using LTE TDD technology, the 4G standard being piloted by its parent in mainland China. (See ZTE Lands LTE TDD Deal.)
The hyper-competition in Hong Kong means bargains for consumers hungry for fast wireless services.
China Mobile HK is selling a Samsung Galaxy LTE on a two-year contract and with a 4GB data cap for just HK$77 (US$9.93) per month. Hutchison is selling a package at a net cost of HK$189 (US$24.37) per month, with unlimited data and a choice of a Samsung, High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) or LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) smartphone, or a Samsung Galaxy tablet.
In contrast with all this activity, Singapore seems almost comatose. Three and a half years after Hong Kong staged its first 4G auction, the Singapore regulator, IDA, is still consulting over the reallocation of spectrum for 4G services.
SingTel, the biggest market player, officially launched its LTE service in early June, using re-farmed 1800MHz spectrum, with prices ranging from S$39.90 (US$32.45) per month for 2GB of data to S$205 (US$166.73) for 12GB of data.
It appears to have sold out of its stock of handsets, offering just the Samsung LTE smartphone. The company declined to comment. "We're not answering any questions about LTE," spokesperson Michele Batchelor told Light Reading.
M1, the No. 3 operator, will start selling LTE on Sept. 15, with prices ranging from S$49.70 (US$40.42) per month for 2GB of data to $208.70 (US$169.73) for 12Gbytes.
When StarHub launches a few days later, its prices will range from S$38.00 (US$30.90) per month for up to 2GB of data to S$205 (US$166.72) for up to 12GB.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading