HK cellcos scrap over LTE 1800

29 Aug 2012

SmarTone has finally joined the LTE race in Hong Kong – and unsurprisingly, longtime rival CSL is unimpressed.

It’s also annoyed that SmarTone chief Douglas Li billed his service at a media event Tuesday as “the only 4G network in Hong Kong fully operating on 1800 MHz”.

CSL’s PR team promptly issued a statement saying that claim was misleading.

“1O1O and one2free would like to reiterate that they are fully deployed on both LTE 1800MHz and 2600MHz,” the statement said.

CSL chief marketing officer Mark Liversidge points out that his company “deployed 1800 in November 2010 which at that point met our regulatory obligations to announce dual band with the 2600”.

When CSL announced the second phase of its LTE buildout last week, chief technology officer Christian Daigneault explained that while Phase 1 had focused more on 2600 MHz LTE (with some LTE 1800 deployed in a few key indoor areas), Phase 2 – which has been ongoing since the start of the year – has brought its LTE 1800 coverage to 90% of the Hong Kong populace, and CSL aims to fill in the gaps by the end of the year.

Which puts CSL more or less on par with SmarTone’s statement at Tuesday’s launch event that its LTE 1800 service is available across Hong Kong, apart from some indoor locations, notably the MTR’s underground train tunnels and platforms.

Whether consumers necessarily care what frequency bands they’re getting LTE on is an open question, although it could very well matter to those who buy single-band devices for LTE 1800.

In any case, Liversidge is also keen to point out that whatever else “the competition” is doing, it's still doing it at the level where CSL was with LTE almost two years ago.

“We’ve got two years experience under our belts, and we’re already moving on to the next phase where we look beyond selling devices and start leveraging our network to offer new kinds of services, including location-based services, cloud services, Rich Communications Suite services, payment services, and also new services tailored for corporate and government customers,” he says.

Liversidge also emphasized CSL’s plan to leverage LTE to get away from the old business model of subsidizing handsets to packages allowing multiple SIMs under a single contract, which allows it to design packages for families and groups as well as individual customers.

“There’s no loyalty in a subsidized market because people are signing a contract with you to get the phone,” he says. “They value the phone brand more than the operator brand – that’s why in Hong Kong so many people think nothing of switching operators to get a better deal. They’ll abandon you at the drop of a hat. Now we’re able to boost the value of our own brand.”

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