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Hong Kong regulator says city should wait for 5G standards

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 9:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 8:10am

Hong Kong’s telecommunications industry regulator says the city should wait for the major economies to set the standards for 5G and its pace of development, despite increased criticism of the government’s plan not to release new spectrum over the next three years.

“Compared to the UK and US, Hong Kong is a small market,” Eliza Lee Man-ching, the director-general of communications told a media briefing on Thursday.

“It is impossible for us to allocate spectrum without international standards. We don’t have the conditions to get ahead of others.”

Her comments followed telecommunications giant HKT’s release of a fourth industry paper on Wednesday that put a spotlight on Hong Kong being left behind by other economies in preparing for 5G mobile services.

Hong Kong behind in 5G due to ‘short-sighted’ spectrum policies, says HKT

The Communications Authority has reiterated that it will not allocate new radio frequencies for 5G before a global consensus on the next-generation mobile technology’s standards is reached in 2019.

Lee said the government will also wait until standard 5G telecommunications equipment and smartphones become available in the market.

“If what we have done here does not match global standards, then Hong Kong consumers will be hurt,” she said.

Henry Wong, the head of strategic wireless technology and core networks at HKT, said last month that the government’s “zero new spectrum” policy was unacceptable since regulators in other major economies have already made available fresh spectrum for 5G mobile services.

HKT has called for the release of new spectrum in the 3.5-gigahertz and 700-megahertz bands this year and other new spectrum by next year.

In Hong Kong, the 3.5GHz band is currently allocated for satellite services, while the 700MHz band is used for analogue television broadcast services.

The United States’ Federal Communications Commission in July voted to open nearly 11GHz of high-frequency spectrum for 5G.

In December, European Union lawmakers and regulators reached an agreement to assign the 700MHz band for mobile network operators and coordinate its use for 5G services by June 2020.

Mainland China has decided to test so-called pre-5G technologies at the 3.5GHz band, vowing to take a leading role in defining 5G standards.

The universal standards for 5G are expected to be drawn up by 2019 at the World Radiocommunications Conference. The event is organised by the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency responsible for designating 5G standards.

Lee said the Communications Authority will assign the spectrum for 5G services “in a timely manner” after the technology’s final standards are set, and process permits for operators that want to conduct 5G trials.  

She pointed out that “2G, 3G and 4G will still be the main [mobile network] infrastructure” in Hong Kong. “5G is not going to replace 4G services,” she added.