There’s been a bit happening in the world of islands broadband.
In Lantau the big news is that Top Express has finally started rolling out fibre in Mui Wo.
The company suddenly appeared at the start of the year promising service by May. Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen but it now advises it will complete installation in Pak Ngan Heung and Tai Tei Tong by Sept 30 and Luk Tei Tong by Nov 30.
Top Express didn’t give a reason for the delay but most likely it was difficulty in getting access to villages.
The company is not, by the way, a telecom service provider. Its core business is building infrastructure for Hong Kong utilities, and its expertise is getting rights of way and building trenches rather than selling broadband bundles. It has all of the local telcos except HKT as customers.
Top Express’s plan is to build fibre or in some cases microwave to 600 rural villages across the New Territories and Lantau, and then lease access on a revenue share basis to a service provider (in Mui Wo, most likely HGC).
Its confirmed deployment is great news for Mui Wo people because as well as bringing in high-speed broadband it will also speed up HKT.
As this blog has argued in various forums, Hong Kong’s telecom infrastructure is driven by competition. Whenever there is more than one provider, high-speed broadband is almost always available. From a practical point of view, that means quite affordable 1Gbps. And it’s only a slight a coincidence that the number of households passed by fibre is roughly the same as the number of households with more than one provider – around 85%.
Here on Lantau and other islands, we have only one fixed network to choose from and hence HKT becomes a de facto monopoly. The regulator Ofca claims that this is merely a “commercial issue” for service providers and not an obvious failure of its policy as anyone else might think.
Back to the story.
HKT is finally getting active, too, a response in part due to continued complaints as well as the fact that it has already fibred up four-fifths of the city.
On Lantau it is deploying not fibre but high-speed broadband over traditional copper – most with a technology called G.fast. It has launched in Pui O and Tong Fuk, offering 100Mbps downlink and 30Mbps up and charging HK$328 per month with a HK$680 installation fee.
It is also collecting registrations on Cheung Chau and Peng Chau, where it says it will offer a mix of fibre and fast copper. This is very positive. In a meeting with HKT last October, executives told Islands Broadband Concern Group that they would not be able to viably reach all households on those islands under the fibre-only plan then under preparation. We don’t know how far it can go but it is certainly more cost-effective than copper.
But we also don’t know how far HKT will go in installing G.fast on Lantau. Will it reach remote villages like Shap Long, Tai Long Wan and Sham Wat? If not, how and when will they get fast broadband?
The other downside is there is still no movement on a new link across the East Lamma Channel, the bottleneck that ensures Lamma residents have the city’s slowest broadband. A trial of new technology at the start of the year failed to proceed when the US supplier collapsed. A PCCW executive told me privately the company was planning a significant upgrade, but there is no sign of any new capacity being provisioned at this stage.