HKT Vectors Across a Digital Divide in Hong Kong

Erik Keith
Erik Keith

Summary Bullets:

  • Hong Kong Telecom, which serves over 500,000 customers with FTTH connections, is now deploying VDSL2 vectoring technology to address previously underserved broadband subscribers, and will leverage for further bandwidth/service upgrades.
  • Even in one of the highest-density cities in the world, with pervasive fiber, copper remains relevant, with VDSL2 vectoring enabling fiber-speed services where FTTH implementations are not feasible or cost-effective.

Hong Kong, as one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, as well as one of only 10 Alpha+/++ cities (centers of global finance and trade), has been a long-time poster child for fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) services. With more than seven million people living in a geographic area of just over 1,100 square kilometers (426 square miles), Hong Kong’s population density ranks behind only Macau, Monaco and Singapore. For clarification, there are dozens of cities worldwide that are more densely populated than Hong Kong (at least 15 in India, and 10 in the Philippines), but Hong Kong’s population is clustered into some extremely high-density areas including Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which was once the home of a Walled City where 33,000 people lived in an area the size of one city block (see here).

Getting back to the plot…

Hong Kong’s long-time position of power in the global economy paved the way for some of the most advanced fixed (and wireless) broadband access network builds in the world. The most well-known of these globally is the Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN), which is famous for offering Gigabit services over FTTH, at a world-leading price point which converts to less than $30 (USD) per month. HKBN initially planned to utilize a Gigabit Ethernet-based FTTH network. In fact, when my colleague Ron Westfall and I met with HKBN in their Hong Kong headquarters in 2009, they claimed that they would only leverage GPON for “rural” service applications. But within a year, as HKBN moved forward with its mass-market FTTH network build-out, the operator transitioned to a GPON architecture. It turns out that GPON – even with split ratios of 1:64 – is more than capable of delivering Gigabit connections (when not rate-limited by the operator).

Wait… Rural Hong Kong?: While the word “rural” seems incongruent with Hong Kong at best, and either hard-to-believe or even comical at worst, there are areas of the New Territories and Lantau Island – which actually constitute the bulk of Hong Kong’s geographic area – that are substantially less-populated (by orders of magnitude) compared to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Enter Hong Kong Telecom, originally a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless under British Rule, and a subsidiary of PCCW since 2000. As mentioned above, Hong Kong Telecom has 500,000 FTTH subscribers, and FTTH is available to 80% of the households in Hong Kong. But, like many things in life, the 80/20 rule comes into play. Reaching the remaining 20% of households currently without fiber is the issue.

Copper to the Rescue… Again!: To this end, HKT is deploying VDSL2 vectoring technology to address the formerly underserved broadband customers. The operator has already deployed vectoring-based services to several thousand households, and is delivering triple play services including HD/IPTV and broadband data speeds as high as 100 Mbps, just a shade behind the average service speed of its FTTH customers (107 Mbps). So, by migrating its outlier customers from rather long-in-the-tooth ADSL technology to vectored VDSL2 (and as needed in future applications), Hong Kong Telecom has made a bold leap forward in terms of both technology and service enablement, proving once again that telco copper will remain relevant as a means to deliver ultra-broadband services.

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