Hong Kong mobile network operators seek new spectrum release plan for 5G

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 8:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 7:36am

Hong Kong could be left behind by other major economies in rolling out advanced 5G services without new mobile spectrum being made available to the city’s telecommunications network operators, according to key industry players.

Senior executives at HKT and SmarTone Telecommunications on Tuesday raised their concerns about the need for an updated mobile spectrum supply road map by the government in light of developments in other markets.

The Hong Kong government has decided not to release any new mobile spectrum to operators from this year to 2019. There was also no new spectrum made available in the past three years.

Its current plan is to auction off chunks of existing spectrum in the 900 megahertz and 1800MHz bands used by the city’s mobile operators, whose licenses for those resources will expire between November 2020 and September 2021, according to the Office of the Communications Authority (Ofca)

Henry Wong, the head of strategic wireless technology and core networks at HKT, told the South China Morning Post 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.

“New spectrum in the 3.5 gigahertz and 700MHz bands need to be released this year,” Wong said. “Hong Kong has been a leader in mobile services for the past 30 years, but further delays in releasing new spectrum for 5G could see the city seriously lagging behind.”

The lead time for deploying a new-generation mobile network typically takes two to three years, as operators take into account market demand, technology development and technical trials, according to Wong.

In a statement, Ofca said the government has a highly transparent approach to publish annually a spectrum release plan that sets out the potential supply of spectrum through an open, competitive bidding or tendering process in the following three years.

Wong said the governments of Britain, Japan, the United States and mainland China have already cleared the 3.5GHz band for 5G trials in their markets, while awaiting global industry standards for 5G to be finalised.

The International Telecommunications Union, an agency under the United Nations, is responsible for designating the standards for 5G, technically known as IMT-2020.

Hong Kong currently has 582MHz of total mobile spectrum in use by the city’s four operators, which include Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong and China Mobile Hong Kong. It will be capped at that amount over the next few years under the government’s current policy.

Britain, by comparison, has 661.9MHz of mobile spectrum in use at present. Plans are underway to release 190MHz of new spectrum to its operators from this year to 2018, which will raise its total to 851.9MHz.

Stephen Chau Kam-kun, the chief technology officer at SmarTone, said: “We need to know the government’s new spectrum release plans so that we can firm up our infrastructure development for 5G.”

High-speed 5G networks can achieve theoretical speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second, compared to 1Gbps for the most advanced 4G networks.

The expanded capacity and speed of 5G networks are expected to fully support advanced applications, such as virtual and augmented reality and autonomous driving.