Broadband Forum Asia runs in Hong Kong next month, a city billed as one of the most connected urban areas in the world. We spoke recently to Gary McLaren, CTO and co-owner of the Hong Kong Broadband Network to hear his views on next-generation connectivity and transformation, and just how Hong Kong got to be where it is today.
Read on to learn more about
Hong Kong Broadband Network Ltd. (HKBN) and how Australian McLaren hopes others learn from the provider's success:
Broadband World Forum: Gary, what makes Hong Kong able to call itself the most connected city in the world?
Gary McLaren: The Hong Kong telco market thrives on competition. As a result everyone's striving to provide the best performing mobile and fixed services to both residential and business customers at the best prices.
Hong Kong Broadband offers a quad-play service for around $HK288 (less than $USD40) a month which we think is a world leading proposition.
- Fiber broadband with 100Mbbit/s symmetric speed
- LTE mobile Service with 5GB data
- OTT video from two local content companies -- TVB & LeEco
- Home telephone
An open market with low barriers to entry has resulted in huge investments in mobile and fixed broadband networks, and this open market policy is at the heart of Hong Kong's global leadership in broadband and mobile performance and penetration.
BBWF: What's the number one key technology you think all city players need to further underpin transformational process and lead the world?
McLaren: The common technology underpinning the high speeds and performance is, pure and simple, optical fiber. All networks -- fixed and mobile -- rely on fiber backbone, backhaul and access networks to shift the massive amounts of data being generated by consumers and businesses.
Of course technologies such as WiFi and LTE today and 5G in the future are important to increase the speeds of wireless networks. But underpinning all of the networks is fiber and the various systems on top of the fiber (DWDM, GPON, Ethernet, etc).
Hong Kong Runs on Broadband
HKBN will spotlight its services when Broadband World Forum Asia attendees descend on the city next month.
BBWF: What are the benefits to this broadband strategy?
McLaren: No buffering, no waiting, no delays. It all comes down to user expectations on quality and responsiveness. Immediate, anywhere access to information or exciting entertainment is a key differentiator whether you consider business opportunities or lifestyle quality. Living in the information age, it's important that access to information is fast, secure and reliable. Bottlenecks have to be broken and information needs to flow fast and free.
BBWF: The cost of investment, particularly in fiber, is always a concern. How would you inspire more confidence for those sitting on the fence?
McLaren: Returns on investment in telco infrastructure happen over the long term. So companies need to be confident that their assumptions are valid over many years. This is difficult in a fast-moving market with new disruptive technologies, but most importantly the regulatory landscape must be stable -- market and technology risks are part of the game but government regulatory change lowers confidence and hence reduces private investment.
BBWF: What are the lessons other cities can use to help them accelerate their transformations?
McLaren: As you would probably expect by now the key to transformation is to find ways to invest in fiber infrastructure throughout the city to support fixed and mobile network connectivity.
Every city has different geographies, household densities and existing utility networks (telephone, electricity, water, etc.). In many cities government bodies control access to necessary infrastructure to build new fiber networks.
Government must embrace policies that promote competition between existing telcos, new entrants and possibly government entities themselves to find ways to efficiently and effectively build the necessary fiber infrastructure. Competition will drive more extensive and faster fiber builds than government regulation and funding models.
Back home in Australia we see the damage government has done by essentially promoting monopoly telco network structures (both private and public) rather than establishing and promoting pro-competition industry frameworks. The result has been a steady slide down the worldwide broadband performance rankings for global cities such as Sydney and Melbourne.
Governments should take a leaf out of the Hong Kong playbook and let competition drive investment in fiber infrastructure. Of course, rural and regional areas may not be able to use this model because of the higher cost. Such areas may either be natural monopolies or require government subsidies to enable investment, but this should not deter competition driven fiber investment in metropolitan cities.
BBWF: As technology and smarter environments permeate everyday living, what do you think are the biggest challenges or threats on the horizon?
McLaren: The challenge now for telcos is to step up to the plate and be prepared to take risks on new ideas, technologies and products. These risks can be managed in today's environment more easily with less investment. Once you find something that works you can scale it from there. We have a target rich environment thanks to so much technology development, so we need to be prepared to take more shots at these targets.
If telcos don't continue to innovate and recreate their business model they will be overcome by new entrants and new services. Those are very real risks.
BBWF: Taking risks and innovating with new technology can also bring with it those that want to thwart, disrupt or break them. Are you able to build a robust and secure network to minimize this kind of threat?
McLaren: Security is vitally important in today's open network environment. Telcos need to take protection of their network seriously -- and that includes those parts of the network located on customer premises. This is obviously easier said than done. The network itself can be a threat with the rise of DDoS attacks. However, the tools and systems are available to keep this under control and needs to be part of our everyday life as engineers, operators and builders of networks.
BBWF: What's next for the Hong Kong Broadband Network?
McLaren: We've achieved over 40% of the market in the overall Hong Kong residential broadband market with our fiber broadband services. We are offering a great package of 1-gigabit symmetric speeds combined with compelling local OTT content for the Hong Kong market. Our focus is now on growing our share of the Hong Kong corporate and business [markets] and building on our recently launched MVNO services. We see a very healthy future here in Hong Kong.
BBWF: What are you looking forward to most at Broadband Forum Asia?
McLaren: Broadband Forum Asia will be a great opportunity to show other telco operators and visitors how we have made a big difference to the lives of Hong Kongers. Our motto is: "Make Our Hong Kong a Better Place to Live." Hopefully we can show how we have achieved this and how other cities can do the same.
Gary McLaren, CTO and Co-owner of Hong Kong Broadband Network, will be speaking at Broadband Forum Asia, April 11-12, at the Crowne Plaza, Kowloon East, Hong Kong. Click here to book your conference pass today. Operators go free
— Elliot Richards, Digital Content Marketer, Broadband World Forum