CSL scraps 3G for all-IP HSPA+ network

20 Apr 2009

Decrying 3G technology as a virtual failure, Telstra-owned Hong Kong cellco CSL has made good on its promise to go all-IP with the launch of its HSPA+ network, which imports the Telstra\'s Next G brand and is expected to provide for a smooth transition to LTE.

The new Next G service promises data speeds of up to 21 Mbps across CSL\'s entire cellular network in Hong Kong, and across the four spectrum bands in which it operates: 900 MHz, 1800 MHz (for which it has two licenses), 2.1 GHz and its newly-awarded 2.6 GHz.

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. The cellco has spread out the capex involved - valued at "hundreds of millions of dollars" - over the last two fiscal years, said CSL chief Tarek Robbiati.

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

"The regulatory environment in Hong Kong allows us to refarm spectrum however we like based on market trends and technology, which gives us much more flexible use of our capacity," Daigneault said.

It will also facilitate CSL\'s planned migration to LTE, although Robbiati refused to speculate on a timetable for LTE, as well as a likely future upgrade of HSPA+ to 42 Mbps.

Robbiati promoted the virtues of going all-IP as "a bold but necessary move, because you cannot be straight-jacketed by legacy technology if you are going to move beyond 3G."

He 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," Robbiati said, blaming operators for not investing adequately.

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

The new network is already live and will go into commercial service Tuesday. Robbiati told telecomasia.net the legacy network will run in parallel with the HSPA+ network "for the next two months" as it migrates existing customers onto the new network.

Starting Tuesday (March 31), CSL will begin sell Next G under three different flat-rate pricing plans - from 21 Mbps for HK$538 a month ($69) to 3.2 Mbps service at HK$288.

Next G for CSL\'s youth-oriented OneTwoFree brand offers a similar service breakdown, with 21-Mbps connectivity topping out at HK$498 a month.

Both 1010 and OneTwoFree customers will be able to upgrade their plans on demand in near-real time, Robbiati said.

As with Telstra\'s HSPA+ launch last month, CSL\'s Next G is accompanied by just a single HSPA+ device, a USB dongle from Sierra Wireless.

CSL is promoting other devices for Next G, such as handsets like the HTC Touch HD, BlackBerry Storm, Nokia 5800 XPressMusic and Sony Ericsson\'s W705 Walkman phone, as well as an HP Mini 1110TU netbook with embedded HSPA. However, none of these will support 21-Megabit HSPA+, which is currently too expensive for OEMs to integrate into wireless gadgets.

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