HCM CITY - The Government has approved a telecom development master plan that says preparations to introduce 4G technology will begin this year, but critics say it should be reconsidered since the existing 3G capacity has yet to be fully utilised and 4G devices could be too expensive in a poor country.
Four years ago the Ministry of Information and Communications licensed five operators - FPT Telecom, VNPT, Viettel, CMC, and VTC - to pilot 4G services.
The country's major telecom service providers are ready to launch 4G services.
The three biggies, Viettel, MobiFone, and Vinaphone, have successfully tested their 4G services in some big cities and can scale up in a jiffy. But though they have been investing in large 4G networks since late last year, they continue to have misgivings.
"Mobile phone service providers are still investing in digital content for 3G," Do Vu Anh, head of the Viet Nam Post and Telecommunication Corporation's telecommunications department, told Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Sai Gon) newspaper, indicating they are still focused largely on 3G services.
Viettel successfully pilot 4G technology in Laos and Cambodia through its Unitel and MetFone networks, but is undecided about whether to scale up.
A Viettel executive said, "Vietnamese people's incomes are not enough for them to buy equipment that support 4G."
Besides, investment in 3G was massive but its capacity had not been fully exploited yet, he said.
"Most customers now opt for the cheapest 3G packages, and if 4G technology is developed, the situation will be like building more highways when there are few vehicles."
The service providers could upgrade to 3.5G or 3.9G and still meet the demands of mobile data services rather than moving up straight to 4G, he said.
Do Vu Anh said, "Viet Nam's 3G services are probably the cheapest in the world, but there are only 30 million subscribers or 30 per cent of the total number of mobile phone subscribers.
"The potential of 3G in Viet Nam is [still] huge."
Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Le Nam Thang said the ministry would begin to issue licences for 4G networks next year.
"At first, 4G will be launched in big cities like Ha Noi, HCM City, and Da Nang where people have big demand and are able to pay."
Thieu Phuong Nam, general director of Qualcomm Viet Nam, agreed it was a good time to issue licences because 4G-related equipment would become cheaper and cheaper.
"2017-2018 will be the time to launch 4G because at that time the number of 3G subscribers will be 50-60 per cent, a good level for shifting to 4G.
"Government has made good long-term and master plans for bandwidth usage."
There are around 500 million 4G subscribers around the world. The technology is developing rapidly and most 4G subscribers can use both 3G and 4G services.
4G services are much cheaper than 3G and 2G.
The switch from 2G to 3G involved moving up from basic mobile phone services like calling and messaging to broadband with digital content.