Vietnam wants to take it slow with fast 4G wireless service

Thanh Nien News

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A man reads a message on his phone in Vietnam. Photo: Reuters A man reads a message on his phone in Vietnam. Photo: Reuters


With a fast-growing mobile market of more than 136 million subscribers, Vietnam is now at the dawn of a new technology upgrade. 
But how fast should the country switch to hi-speed services remains a question. 
At a conference in Hanoi on Wednesday, Tran Tuan Anh, an official of the Ministry of Information and Communications, said network operators will be allowed to launch 4G services on a trial basis next year, local media reported.
During the one-year trial, each licensed company will have to limit its services to three cities and provinces, Anh said, adding that 4G will be officially available in 2017.
The plan drew mixed reactions at the meeting.
Mai Liem Truc, former deputy telecommunication minister, was one of experts who criticized the plan as "painfully slow," and believed that it could set back Vietnam's technology, news website Saigon Times Online reported.
Truc said the ministry is reluctant to license 4G services, possibly because it hopes to give state-owned network operators more time to recoup investments in 3G technology.
If businesses want to roll out 4G services, the authority should just let them, he said. 
Since 3G was launched in Vietnam in October 2009, its subscription exceeded 29 million with MobiFone, Viettel, and Vinaphone accounting for 99 percent of the market.
Speaking at the conference, representatives of Viettel and Vinaphone claimed that "the time is ripe" for 4G services.
Previously both the operators announced their plans to provide the new services widely with tens of thousands of base transceiver stations.
Truc also said for a majority of Vietnamese mobile subscribers, the demand is still limited to only calling and texting. However, there is a growing need for large data transmissions and hi-speed services.
So it is unreasonable to delay 4G service, he said. 
Caution needed
Le Nam Thang, another former deputy communication minister, voiced his support for the ministry's plan.
Vietnam should not hurry into 4G services, but take into consideration different factors before launching them, Thang was quoted as saying in Saigon Times Online.
One of the decisive factors, he said, is the technology's popularity.
By the third quarter, 4G's penetration rate in the world was estimated at only 10.4 percent, Thang said.
If Vietnam launches 4G when it is not very popular, carriers will have to pay high input costs and in turn charge consumers a high rate, according to the former official.
Thang also said simple services such as checking emails, net surfing, and downloading music can already be provided through 3G technology.
The dilemma is, if Vietnam waits until 4G becomes more popular, there will be a chance it may fall behind the world, he said.
He said the 4G technology only works on more expensive smartphones, but Vietnamese consumers still mostly use low-end handsets. 

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