CSL's new LTE lab a center of wireless ambitions

CSL opened the doors of its LTE lab in Kowloon Bay yesterday – the first in Hong Kong and one of the first in the world.

The CSL Technology Center is at the heart of a cluster of LTE field trials across the city, offering download speeds of up to 127 Mbps.

But it also represents the overlapping ambitions of Telstra-owned CSL and its equipment supplier, ZTE.

For CSL, it has been a chance to revamp its networks and take the technology lead in the hyper-competitive local market.

But it has been possible only because of the massive resources committed by its mainland technology partner.

At one stage ZTE had sent 1,000 engineers to Hong Kong to work on the project – almost as many as CSL’s 1,400 staff. It now has a team of 600 working with CSL in Hong Kong, according to CSL chief technology officer Christian Daigneault.

“ZTE didn’t choose us – they chose our parent,” he said. “ZTE knew all about the technologies, but needed a major carrier partner to tell them what they needed,”

Telstra sent its top mobile engineers to Hong Kong to work with ZTE. Now, even though it is not one of Telstra’s vendors, ZTE is continuing to work with the operator on LTE in Australia.

ZTE’s main goal was to create a global LTE reference network that it can show potential customers. It is hosting a steady stream of operators – Orange, Vodafone, Telefonica and BT, to name a few – to Hong Kong every week, CSL executives said.

For CSL, although the network is a long way from commercial launch, Daigneault feels the company has already justified its shock decision to dump longstanding supplier Nokia Siemens Networks in favor or ZTE.

In 2007 the company thought the future was in data and decided to scrap its existing networks. By going all-IP it could cut network operating cost and lay down a foundation for future IP-based LTE.

NSN rejected the plan. “With their roadmaps, vendors often impose a strategy,” Daigneault said.

So in early 2008 CSL signed ZTE, which offered to build a software-defined radio (SDR) network that could be smoothly converted
into another wireless standard.

CSL also had enough confidence in the growth of data to build enough capacity for three years, Daigneault said. Since the launch of its HSPA+ network in March, CSL’s data traffic has increased 15-fold.

Daigneault and CEO Tarek Robbiati say that their new technology center is also meant to fly the flag for LTE, aimed at hurrying vendors into making products for the network.

But the engine behind the project has been ZTE. As one CSL executive told telecomasia.net, “We’ve got ZTE’s full attention. They send their top management here. If we’d asked Nokia to do that that, the attitude would be ‘who are you?”