SmarTone switches on LTE 1800

John C. Tanner
29 Aug 2012

Hong Kong cellco SmarTone has made good on its earlier promise to launch LTE 1800 services commercially on August 28, and is betting on service-layer optimization to differentiate itself from the competition.

The new LTE service, unveiled Tuesday, is initially limited to select existing customers by invitation only, and will be made available to the general public on September 11.

In terms of price packages, SmarTone is initially adding LTE as an option in its existing package offerings, including “unlimited” data plans (although usage beyond 5GB a month will be subject to fair-use policy restrictions) and volume-based multi-SIM packages.

Starting September 11, SmarTone will offer volume-based LTE plans with data caps ranging from 5GB to 20GB, with the highest plans at either HK$468 (a little over $60) or HK$438, depending on the length of the contract.

SmarTone has dedicated 10 MHz of refarmed 1800-MHz spectrum for its LTE service. SmarTone CTO Stephen Chau told that its LTE service is available territory-wide, but that – despite the touted advantages of superior indoor coverage using the 1800-MHz band – some indoor gaps remain, particularly for locations like the MTR subway system.

“In such cases, customers will drop down to HSPA+,” he said.

CEO Douglas Li said SmarTone is currently negotiating with MTR Corp to enable LTE 1800 coverage in its tunnels and underground platforms.

While Li cited the usual advantages of LTE – faster speeds, efficient capacity usage, better latency and, in the case of LTE 1800, better indoor coverage – he avoided mention of what kinds of data speeds users can expect.

“There’s a lot hype about speed, but customers aren’t really interested in that – what they’re interested in is faster response times and a good experience,” Li said.

Li said that SmarTone can deliver good customer experience via its X-Celerator engine, which boosts data speeds by “maximizing availability, shortening delays, optimizing resource allocation and utilization”, as well as increasing capacity via more efficient bandwidth utilization.

Li said that X-Celerator – which already powers its HSPA+ offering – will power LTE as well.

“It’s all about the service layer, and what you can do to optimize service delivery,” he said.

That said, Li also spent time demonstrating recent in-house test results claiming that SmarTone’s HSPA+ network is the fastest such network in Hong Kong.

Li also talked up SmarTone’s cloud-based X-Power technology that processes video within the network, allowing iPhone users to watch Flash videos, for example. Li said LTE will pave the way for more cloud-based services going forward.

SmarTone is the last of Hong Kong’s cellcos to launch LTE. 3 Hong Kong and PCCW launched LTE services in the 2.6-GHz band in May, while China Mobile launched LTE in April, and CSL launched its LTE service to the consumer market in May last year.

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