Hong Kong gears up for dawn of 5G mobile services

Mobile network operators and industry regulator remain at odds over speed of preparations for 5G, including the release of new spectrum to the industry

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 9:39pm

For more than 20 years, Hong Kong’s extensive, reliable and efficient telecommunications industry has bolstered the position of the city as a global trading and financial services powerhouse.

Industry leaders, however, are not resting on their laurels as they push for speedy preparations to usher in advanced 5G mobile technologies, which could further grease the wheels of commerce and innovation in this highly connected metropolis.

“Hong Kong is always at the forefront of bringing in new technologies,” said Eliza Lee Man-ching, the city’s director-general of communications. “The way forward is 5G.”

Lee, who heads the Office of the Communications Authority, the executive arm of the industry regulator, said Hong Kong’s advantage is that there are no restrictions in the number of mobile services providers. These firms are also free to compete in mobile spectrum auctions and expand their networks.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations agency overseeing development of the IMT-2020 standard for 5G technologies, recently said the universal specifications for 5G are on track to be in place by 2020.

Ahead of that date, the ITU expects major telecommunications network operators around the world to pursue early technical tests, market trials and deployments of 5G technologies based on anticipated developments slated for IMT-2020.

Known as the latest advance in mobile communications, 5G is expected to support 1 million connected devices per square kilometre; 1 millisecond latency, or the amount of time a packet of data takes to get from one point to another; higher energy and spectral efficiency; and up to 20 gigabits per second of peak data download rate for each cell site.

More importantly, 5G networks will provide pervasive connectivity tailored to the different needs of its users, and accelerate the digital transformation of industries by supporting developments in fields like advanced computing and artificial intelligence, according to international telecommunications trade body the GSM Association.

Lee said the government is now doing preparatory work for the release of mobile spectrum for 5G services in line with the ITU’s announcement of 5G spectrum harmonisation – the uniform allocation of radio frequency bands around the world – in 2019.

Ofca plans to initially make available the 26-gigahertz and 28GHz bands, while studying the reallocation of the 3.5GHz and 700-megahertz bands in Hong Kong.

In separate statements last month, Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong, SmarTone Telecommunications and HKT, the city’s largest mobile and fixed-line telecommunications network operator, expressed their desire to step up the release of fresh spectrum for 5G.

“The government’s current spectrum roll-out plan has failed to set the stage for early adoption of 5G,” said HKT group managing director Alex Arena. He took a jab at regulator the Communications Authority for its “archaic principles and practises in building [network] access, spectrum charging and spectrum management".

SmarTone chief executive Anna Yip said Hong Kong must accelerate its release of spectrum to catch up with other major economies in their preparations for 5G.

For Hutchison Telecom, chief executive Cliff Woo Chiu-man said the company has moved ahead in “trying out a lot of [5G-related]technologies provided by suppliers” as the industry awaits fresh spectrum.