China Mobile's Hong Kong unit today officially launched the world's first converged TD and FDD LTE network. 'Officially' meaning it has no handsets and limited coverage and won't offer service to the public until an unspecified time next year.
But the main point of interest is the attention this draws to CMHK's role as a roaming service feeder to its mainland parent.
The TD overlay on the eight-month-old FDD network is an extra cost for the low-spending Hong Kong users who mostly make up CMHK's local customers. But that doesn't matter; its purpose is to capture the huge number of roamers from across the border.
Just how many roaming customers and how much they spend we have no idea. CMHK doesn't disclose any financial details. Given that anywhere more than an hour out of Hong Kong Central is roaming territory, roaming is a big chunk of the business. Plus the city is, any Hong Konger will tell you, inundated with mainland visitors – an estimated 45 million will trip across the border this year.
While CMHK chairman Tiger Lin cited LTE's speed – up tenfold – and cost – down 90% – as its prime benefits, he couldn't promise that roaming prices would fall, even for the millions of cross-border customers. Currently the company caps data roaming at HK$38 ($4.90) a day for roaming to mainland China, and HK$98 for other neighbouring markets.
Finally, the other reason the extra deployment may not greatly trouble CMHK's bottom line: its parent company's imminent 4G tender. CMHK's TD rollout has allowed vendors to audition for the biggest gig of 2013. For the record, Ericsson supplied the TD-LTE radio access and ZTE the base stations and handsets.