Cellular giant China Mobile’s Hong Kong division will launch commercial 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband services on 25 April, the company said in a statement yesterday, promising a choice of LTE handsets and peak download/upload speeds of up to 100Mbps/35Mbps. The announcement brings forward the 4G live date significantly, after the parent company said recently that it would introduce LTE based on FDD/TDD technology in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) ‘by the fourth quarter of 2012.’ China Mobile operates pre-commercial LTE networks in several mainland Chinese cities, and the latest announcement represents its first commercial launch of the technology. It will be the second Hong Kong operator to evolve to 4G following Telstra subsidiary CSL’s phased network launch in 2010/2011, while the territory’s other three cellcos – Hutchison (3), PCCW and SmarTone – will also switch on LTE networks this year, TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says.
Having won 2600MHz band FDD spectrum in 2009, in February 2012 China Mobile Hong Kong (formerly Peoples) won the SAR’s 2330MHz-2360MHz TDD band to enable integrated dual-mode FDD and TDD LTE services. The parent group’s executive director and vice chairman Xi Guohua subsequently revealed that the group planned to launch LTE handsets supporting both FDD and TDD in Hong Kong before the end of this year, or as soon as the equipment became available. Xi said that the Hong Kong FDD/TDD network ‘is a very meaningful step to us. It can lay a good foundation to our implementation of TD-LTE services in mainland China.’ GlobalComms notes that China Mobile Hong Kong’s existing mobile data network is based on 2.5G EDGE but it is leapfrogging the third-generation of mobile evolution to go straight to 4G, as the only one of the SAR’s five cellular network operators lacking a 3G frequency licence. At the end of February it launched new resale 3G (HSPA) data packages to widen the range of services available to its subscribers.
In Thursday’s announcement, China Mobile revealed that, ahead of its LTE handset launch on 25 April, it will today (20 April) begin offering its Hong Kong-based customers cross-border data sharing plans (including 4G usage) for roaming in China on its mainland 3G network – based on TD-SCDMA technology. Those signing up for the new data plans will be able to travel to China to use high speed mobile data services for a fixed monthly fee, reducing their data roaming expenditure. Previous data roaming services were based on 2.5G network access.
By the end of 2012, China Mobile Hong Kong plans to expand LTE coverage to a level on par with its existing 2.5G network (with GSM/GPRS coverage of over 99% of the population, according to GlobalComms), while indoor coverage will be raised to 80%, its statement said. Discounts (subsidies) will be available to 4G cellphone users, and its range of LTE handsets will grow to a choice of ten models by the end of this year. Sean Lee, CEO of China Mobile Hong Kong, said: ‘We are extremely optimistic about the development of 4G LTE technology. Mobile device makers indicate that up to 20 4G smartphone and tablet products will be launched in 2012, which is a key reason to believe that 4G will be picking up faster than 3G. We will speed up the expansion of network coverage and continue to provide even more mobile services. We believe that integrated communications services for Hong Kong and mainland China are a major trend which is why we are the first to offer the new cross-border data sharing plan.’