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Taiwan’s 4G Blues

Dony Wang is underwhelmed by Taiwan’s 4G LTE service. The project manager for a Taipei-based clean-energy company purchased an iPhone 6 for his wife last fall. Since then, his wife has experienced erratic data-transmission speeds and 4G connectivity – it sometimes changes to 3G service.

Eventually, she called the carrier to complain. A customer service representative promised the company would “look into the problem,” but the quality of her 4G service has not improved. “As far as we’re concerned, 4G is a disappointment,” Wang says.

In this particular case, the telecom operator was heavily government-invested Chunghwa Telecom Co. (CHT). “I don’t think it’s a problem specific to Chunghwa Telecom, though,” says Wang. “4G LTE hasn’t lived up to the hype created by the telecom carriers.”

The issue came to national attention in October 2014 when Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Tsai Chi-chang carried out a test to demonstrate the shortcomings of Taiwan’s 4G coverage. He found that his phone switched from a 4G to 3G network as he stepped inside the Legislative Yuan.

A March report by the network diagnostics company Open Signal rated Taiwan’s LTE coverage No. 11 in the world, with its mobile users on 4G LTE networks 69% of the time. Neighboring markets fared considerably better. Hong Kong placed fourth with 81%; Japan was second (86%), and South Korea had the world’s best 4G coverage at 95%.

And yet Taiwan’s 4G adoption is surging. From the time the service was deployed in May 2014 until January 2015, subscribers reached 4 million. The 17% penetration rate in just eight months was the fastest deployment in the world for that time span, according to the government.

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