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Far EasTone joins 4G broadband competition

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Following in the footstep of Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信), Far EasTone Telecom (遠傳電信) announced its launch of 4G broadband service yesterday, while Taiwan Mobile (台灣大哥大) is expected to roll out the service today.

Chunghwa Telecom launched the 4G service on May 29, one month earlier than market expectations, making it the first telecom company to launch the service in Taiwan. Sources say the download speed for 4G is four to seven times faster than 3G, and fast media experience will be the main attraction of 4G broadband.

Data Plans Range from NT$599 to NT$2699

Telecom companies generally roll out three data plans. For Chunghwa Telecom, data usage of 1.07GB, 6GB and 32GB are priced at NT$636, NT$1,136 and NT$2,636 respectively.

For Far EasTone Telecom, data usage of 1.5GB, 6.5GB and 32.5GB are priced at NT$599, NT$1,199 and NT$2,699 respectively.

Each three telecom companies will offer unique media content. For Chunghwa, it is the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Far EasTone boasts a movie database. Taiwan Mobile will broadcast NBA games.

Coverage in the Early Stage

All three telecom companies launched the 4G service ahead of schedule, but there seem to be some differences with regard to the initially claimed service coverage and actual coverage in the early phase. Analysts expect broader coverage by mid-July.

In the early phase, Chunghwa's 4G service coverage includes Taipei City, Taichung City and Kaohsiung City. However, the coverage area is expected to expand to a total of seven cities by July.

Far EasTone claims to provide broader coverage in the initial stage. The service will be available in Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taoyuan County, Hsinchu City, Hsinchu County, Taichung City and Kaohsiung City, the company said.

Taiwan Mobile said its 4G signal will be available in Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taichung and Kaohsiung in the early stage.

Upgrade from 3G Not Yet Available

Although telecom companies have launched the 4G service, it is not readily available for those who want to upgrade from their existing 3G service. The reason is that the National Communications Commission (NCC) has not yet passed regulations governing the 3G to 4G upgrade with existing phone numbers. As such, consumers have to open a new account and get a new phone number to try out 4G broadband.

Nevertheless, analysts expect the NCC to pass regulations soon, today at the earliest, which in turn will allow for immediate upgrades from 3G to 4G.

Challenge Presented by 700MHz Frequency

Right now Chunghwa's 4G service will use the 1800MHz and 900MHz frequency, while Far EasTone and Taiwan Mobile will use the 700MHz frequency.

While 700MHz frequency provides the same penetration capability as 1800MHz frequency, it is supported by fewer devices. The 1800MHz frequency is supported by 30-50 mobile devices, but the 700MHz frequency is supported by slightly more than 10 devices. Apple's newest iPhone 5 does not support the 700MHz frequency.

Consumers may need to check if their devices are 4G compatible before making the switch to 4G service. However, Far EasTone and Taiwan Mobile said they will open up the 1800MHz frequency soon, making the 4G service available to a broader segment of the public.

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