Sometimes you have to admire the ingenuity of Hong Kong companies in overcoming problems - and wonder why the government couldn't make life simpler.
Problem #1. Smartone would like to steal some of PCCW's fixed-line customers, but they don't have a fixed line network.
Solution - launch a mobile service masquerading as a fixed-line service (HomePhone+). As far as I can tell, it's a standard mobile phone (using the GSM network), but adapted so that if you take it outside your home it doesn't work. Brilliant.
You might ask why they would want to do this. Good question. Smartone want PCCW subscribers to be able to transfer their fixed-line numbers to Smartone. To do this they need to convince the Telecommunications Authority that this is a fixed-line service, and apparently they have managed to
pull the wool over their eyes do so.
Smartone have been advertising this new service quite extensively and are offering to pay the cancellation fees for PCCW subscribers who are on fixed-term contracts (up to a maximum of 6 months) and give them a free phone. Yes, that's the "special" phone that only works on HomePhone+.
PCCW are fighting back with adverts that point out the limitations of the new service. They say that the 2G network is not as reliable as their fixed-line service, and that during a typhoon (or any other time the mobile phone network is overloaded), it might not work. We've been here before, of course, with IP-based phones - then the argument put forward by PCCW was that the phone wouldn't work if the mains power supply went down (and that if you called 999 they wouldn't know where you were, unless, you, er, told them). I don't think it would put many people off.
What puzzles me is that HomePhone+ is only slightly cheaper than PCCW's conventional fixed-line service, and not obviously superior. Well, yes, it allows you to use an IP phone service without having a broadband connection, but surely the people who might think of using an IP phone service are precisely the people who already have a broadband connection. Smartone also make great play of the value-added services (caller display, call waiting), but you can have these from PCCW if you pay a little extra.
In fact, of all the alternatives to PCCW's fixed-line service, this one looks the least attractive. If you want to save money, Cable TV can offer a broadband connection and an IP phone service together for less than PCCW's broadband service alone - though it does mean contending with their legendary customer service.
Not that I'm complaining. Anything that forces PCCW to reduce their prices sounds good to me. Mind you, the government could increase competition and simplify things greatly by allowing fixed-line numbers to be transferred to a mobile service (and vice versa). I think that would see HomePhone+ radidly withdrawn.
Problem #2. Pay-TV operators are not allowed to re-broadcast terrestrial TV.
PCCW have come up with a fairly ingenious solution to this bizarre problem. Their new set-top boxes for Now TV have the digital terrestrial channels on the channels below 100, and the Now TV channels from 100-999. You don't need to press any buttons to switch between the two functions, so from a user perspective it is totally seamless. It uses one only power socket, and only one HDMI connection to your TV. Everything is available from one remote control.
However, this is another problem that could easily be solved in an even simpler way. If the government allowed Cable TV and Now TV to re-broadcast the free-to-air channels (digital and analogue) no new set-top boxes would be required.