Cellcos square off over HSPA+ speeds

John C. Tanner
10 Aug 2009

One of the perennial problems of mobile data services is the gap between theoretical peak speeds and real-world speeds. And, more often not, it's the former that makes it into the marketing campaigns. But in Hong Kong, a row has broken out between two rival 3G operators over the truth about 3.5G data speeds - and regulator OFTA has decided to investigate.

SmarTone-Vodafone CEO Douglas Li told a press conference in late July that the Express 21 HSPA modem service from rival cellco Hong Kong CSL - which launched its HSPA+ network in a lavish ceremony earlier this year - did not reach anywhere near the 21-Mbps download speeds claimed.

Li said that tests of CSL's service by Smartone staff around the city had achieved speeds of between 2 Mbps to 7 Mbps. A demonstration for media registered 1.4 Mbps in the Wan Chai district and 3.9 Mbps in Central, according to scmp.com.

"No matter the time and place, they cannot boost the performance to anywhere near their claimed speed of 21 Mbps," Li said, saying that it was a "misrepresentation" that harmed the whole industry.

SmarTone-Vodafone CTO Stephen Chau said in a separate interview with First Mile that HSPA+ wasn't a suitable technology for Hong Kong because it requires the right RF conditions to support 64QAM.

"The trouble with 64QAM is that it needs very good line-of-sight to get the full benefit, and in Hong Kong, because of all the high-rise buildings, that's almost impossible," said Chau.

Not unexpectedly, CSL has rejected SmarTone's claims. In a statement issued just as we went to press, CSL's head of regulatory and corporate affairs David Aitken said that independent tests "conducted this year on all mobile broadband networks in Hong Kong" supported CSL's advertising claims, including the claim that its HSPA network is "typically two to three times faster than other mobile broadband networks."

Aitken, added: "The question that needs to be asked of other mobile operators is 'how fast is your network all over Hong Kong?' not just a few sites in the golden bowl, but all over the Hong Kong territory."

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