SmarTone joins LTE market, also goes after budget 3G segment

29 Aug 2012

SmarTone yesterday became the latest Hong Kong cellco to launch commercial 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband services for smartphone, tablet and computer users, claiming ‘territory wide’ coverage from the outset following a rollout in partnership with Ericsson of Sweden. Using exclusively 1800MHz band frequencies, in contrast to local rivals utilising 2600MHz bandwidth for 4G, SmarTone is highlighting superior indoor coverage of its chosen band over the 2600MHz range – echoing the claims of Hong Kong LTE trailblazer CSL which last week enhanced its LTE coverage via dual-band 1800MHz/2600MHz infrastructure, CommsUpdate reported. TeleGeography notes that SmarTone was outbid in a January 2009 auction for 2600MHz licences by CSL, China Mobile Hong Kong, Hutchison (3) and PCCW, but following success in an 1800MHz auction six months later, it set out its stall to concentrate on LTE evolution in the lower band, which it says is well suited to providing high speed data services in Hong Kong’s densely built-up environment. Furthermore, all current 4G smartphones available in Hong Kong support 1800MHz. SmarTone states in a press release that its ‘X-celerator’ proprietary network optimisation system – which it claims enables its 3G HSPA+ network to ‘outperform others in Hong Kong’ – is also applied to its new 4G network.

SmarTone is initially providing LTE services for selected users by invitation only, but will offer its 4G SIM cards and service packages to its entire user base from 11 September 2012. All SmarTone HSPA+ price plans will now be 4G enabled, the company said, while a new range of volume-based price plans has also been introduced. According to information on SmarTone’s new 4G web portal, a SIM-only monthly plan for USB modem users costs HKD208 (USD26.80) for ‘unlimited’ usage (5GB at full 3G/4G speeds, and unlimited lower-speed access thereafter at rates no lower than 128kbps). Various handsets and tablets are bundled in monthly 3G/4G packages for HKD348-HKD398 per month, while volume-based SIM-only modem user plans are available at HKD308 for 10GB or HKD408 for 20GB. A SIM-only 3G/4G handset user plan with ‘unlimited’ data (as above) and over 4,000 total call minutes costs HKD238 on a two-year contract.

In a quieter launch this month, SmarTone is also aiming to capture subscribers at the low-budget end of the 3G mobile internet segment, with the launch of a rock-bottom priced HKD68 per month package with no contract required, bundling unlimited data with 1,700 voice minutes, although with download speed for the ‘Basic’ W-CDMA-based service restricted to 384kbps. The package appears to mark a widening of SmarTone’s target subscriber market, by directly competing with CSL’s no-frills brand New World Mobility which launched a similar date/voice plan for HKD60 last year.

Hong Kong, Ericsson, SmarTone