Asian operators vie for HSPA bragging rights

16 Apr 2009

A sure sign high-speed mobile broadband is here: regional operators are competing for bragging rights.

Telstra and its Hong Kong subsidiary CSL seem to have won the day, despite an announcement from StarHub and its supplier, Huawei, declaring that theirs was the region\'s first.

Telstra began service on its HSPA+ network in Australia in February and through CSL in Hong Kong on April 1.

Singapore-based StarHub plans to begin services by the end of April, and rival M1 expects to launch trials in the second quarter.

CSL has effectively swapped out its existing 2G/3G network for an all-IP HSPA+ network running on 2,000 new software-defined radio (SDR) base stations supplied by ZTE. It has spread out the capex involved - valued at \'hundreds of millions of dollars\' - over the last two fiscal years, according to CEO Tarek Robbiati.

CSL CTO Christian Daigneault said the SDR technology will allow the cellco to refarm and reuse spectrum across all of its frequency bands.

Both CSL and StarHub are promising data speeds of up to 21 Mbps.

Announcing the new service at a press briefing, Robbiati said the mobile industry had failed to deliver with 3G.

\'In hindsight, 3G over-promised and under-delivered. It was a voice-centric network with erratic coverage and poor speeds,\' he said.

\'Operators in Hong Kong under-invested in the network. They offered subsidized handsets and a poor customer experience, which users accepted because it was cheap,\' Robbiati said. \'This failure to invest in the network has hindered innovation and the development of breakthrough services.\'

CSL will sell Next G under three different flat-rate plans, ranging from HK$288 ($37) a month for 3.2 Mbps to unlimited Next G at 21 Mbps at HK$538.

The common element in all the networks is the presence of one or more of the Chinese vendors, ZTE and Huawei.

CSL\'s Next G is accompanied by just a single HSPA+ device, a USB dongle from Sierra Wireless, as was its parent\'s launch last month.

Huawei has supplied both the network and the dongle for StarHub\'s pilot, which began in late March with 100 users. StarHub will sell the device for around S$300 ($198) and the service at slightly over $100 before bundling or promotional discounts.

M1 has also signed Huawei as its HSPA vendor, and is expected to start commercial trials by June.

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