Chinese carrier wins Hong Kong 3G license

Chinese mobile-communications carrier China United Telecommunications Corp. (China Unicom) has become the first Chinese operator to receive a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) license in Hong Kong, according to the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) in Hong Kong.

The MVNO license allows China Unicom to provide third-generation (3G) mobile services in Hong Kong by leasing spectrum from any of the four 3G licensees.

China Unicom is the third telecommunication company to receive an MVNO license, after Hong Kong-based Trident Telecom Ventures Ltd., and China Motion Telecom International Ltd., also from Hong Kong.

According to telecommunication analysts, China Unicom’s move into the Hong Kong market might be an attempt to learn about the MVNO model in order to then apply it to its home market.

“It’s a bit of a reversal of what one might expect since Chinese carriers tend to be behind the curve,” said Craig Watts, analyst at BDA China Ltd., a Beijing-based telecommunication research company.

China Unicom’s foray as a MVNO might be “to study first hand, rather than make profits,” and to position itself in the home market, against its major competitor, China Mobile Communications Co., Watts said.

Moreover, China Unicom’s bid for an MVNO license could hint that it is interested in establishing its presence beyond the Chinese market, he said.

At the same time, with its falling stock prices, putting its energy into a new initiative might also help detract from the woes the company is facing at home, he said. “China Unicom is having major trouble at home with the deployment of its CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network, so maybe getting an MVNO license in Hong Kong is a way of making people stay interested,” Watts said.

China Unicom’s Hong Kong-listed subsidiary, China Unicom Ltd., can be reached at +852-2126-2018 or on the Web at