SmarTone and Ericsson start trial of Hong Kong’s first major 5G-ready mobile infrastructure

The two companies have started deploying the technology called Massive Mimo technology, a large-scale antenna system for mobile networks, that will form part of the upcoming 5G standard

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 7:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 11:14pm

SmarTone Telecommunications has teamed up with Swedish equipment supplier Ericsson to become the first mobile network operator in Hong Kong to launch a major trial of 5G-ready infrastructure.

Senior executives at SmarTone, a subsidiary of Sun Hung Kai Properties, and Ericsson on Monday unveiled the ambitious initiative, which has initially targeted the city’s most densely populated districts.

The two companies have started deploying Ericsson’s iteration of the technology called Massive Mimo, large-scale antenna system for mobile networks, on the 1800-megahertz band of SmarTone’s frequency-division duplexing (FDD) 4G network operation.

Nishant Batra, the head of product area network infrastructure at Ericsson, said it marked the world’s first implementation of Massive Mimo” – a key technology of the upcoming universal 5G standard – on the 1800MHz band.

The milestone also shows how aggressive SmarTone is in its 5G preparations, compared with larger rivals HKT and Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong.

Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies, a large supplier of telecommunications network equipment to both HKT and Hutchison Telecom, offers its own Massive Mimo products around the world.

Known as the latest advance in mobile communications, 5G is expected to support a 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.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – the United Nations agency overseeing development of the IMT-2020 standard for 5G technologies – is spearheading so-called spectrum harmonisation, the uniform allocation of radio frequency bands around the world, for the provision of 5G services.

The global allocation of mobile spectrum for 5G services is expected to be determined at the ITU-organised World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva on November 2019. The ITU recently said universal specifications for 5G are on track to be in place by 2020.

Eliza Lee Man-ching, who heads the Office of the Communications Authority, the executive arm of the Hong Kong industry regulator, said in July that SmarTone was the first mobile network operator in the city to receive a permit to do 5G trials.

SmarTone chief technology officer Stephen Chau Kam-Kun said on Monday that Ericsson’s FDD Massive MIMO solution “will play an instrumental role in providing our customers in dense urban environments with enhanced user experience” even on its existing 4G operation.

Chau said the new equipment will help step up the firm’s 5G roll-out when the universal standard is approved and the city’s telecommunications regulator makes the relevant frequency spectrum available to mobile operators.

“We don’t have to replace our Massive Mimo system when that time comes because these equipment will only require a software upgrade,” he said.