In the last few days of May, Hong Kong telecoms regulator OFTA published two items of interest to spectrum management. First, it posted the most recent data on mobile wireless operation within Hong Kong, showing trends in subscriber numbers and data usage. Second, it issued its “Major Tasks and Projects for 2011-12,” setting out goals for the coming year. The data shows enormous mobile usage patterns – OFTA has a big task in keeping up with this situation.

The key statistics for wireless service in Hong Kong as of May 23 do not break out the numbers per operator, but instead show total subscriber numbers for public mobile and short message services (SMS), on both an annual basis dating back to 2001 and on a monthly basis for the year ending March 2011. Some interesting breakdowns are shown, such as the consistent growth in mobile virtual network operations (MVNOs), now serving just under a million subscriptions, compared to the total subscription base of close to 14 million. These numbers must be compared to a population of just over 7 million people – implying a penetration rate of more than 200%, which is consistent with other telecoms statistics OFTA released on May 16.

The statistics show that SMS service has grown astronomically over the past ten years. SMS started around 2002 in Hong Kong, when about 24 million SMS messages were sent and 71 million received. By March 2011, the annualized total was 639 million sent, 874 million received. On an individual level, in 2002, each subscriber sent an average of 4 SMS and received 12; by 2011, each subscriber sent 52 and received 71 SMS.

All this messaging results in enormous data use. The statistics for mobile data use in total for 2011 show over 2.3 billion megabytes of traffic; about 343 megabytes per 2.5 / 3 G customer (and remember that on average each customer has two subscriptions). Rates of data use are growing inexorably, as the 2010 level was double that of 2009, and 2011 was triple that of 2009.

OFTA’s 16-page listing of objectives for 2011-12 reveals some of the actions the regulator will take in response to this substantial mobile traffic. Among other items, OFTA says that it will pursue the following:

  • Follow up on the licensing and rollout of public mobile services using the radio spectrum released through an auction completed in early 2011 in the 2010 – 2019.7 MHz, 850 MHz band and 900 MHz bands of spectrum.
  • A review in consultation with the industry to decide whether the assignments of radio frequencies in the 1.9 – 2.2 GHz band for the provision of 3G mobile telecommunications services through auction in 2001 should be renewed when they expire in October 2016.
  • Follow up on agreements with mobile operators to start publishing their performance pledges with effect from September 2010. The pledges are the service standards which the concerned mobile operators will use their best endeavour to meet, and cover aspects such as network reliability, service restoration time, customer hotline performance, customer complaint handling and technical performance.
  • Considering implementation of a spectrum trading scheme, following results from a consultant’s study on the feasibility of introducing spectrum trading in Hong Kong.

These are just a few of the many items listed among OFTA’s objectives. With the enormous growth in mobile service use, it should be a busy year.