HK needs to keep up its 5G services for smart city development

Charles Mok5G will be a key enabler of smart city services such as video-centric apps, sensor-networks, and autonomous driving. But as the world moves towards 5G, is Hong Kong keeping pace?

The Innovation and Technology Bureau recently published its Smart City Blueprint Consultancy Report, which highlights the importance of making available radio spectrum for 5G services.

The report recommends that the government allow specified venues to serve as testbeds for 5G technology, and anticipates a meteoric rise in small cell penetration. But Hong Kong remains behind most of the world in 5G development.

Regional telco pioneer

Hong Kong pioneered communications technology adoption and was a leader in 3G and 4G development, but when the ITU identified the 700-MHz and 3.5-GHz bands for telco use in 2015, regulatory authorities in other regions re-purposed the 700-MHz band for 5G usage. France, Germany and Taiwan have already auctioned the band, while Ofcom in the UK proposes 2018-19 allocation, and China’s SARFT is managing the band for LTE trials.

Operators in Japan and South Korea plan provide near-5G/5G services in the 2018 and 2020 Olympic Games, while 17 operators and vendors in the EU are committed to multi-country 5G trials from 2017, with plans to deploy a commercial network in at least one city per EU country by 2020.

China is testing pre-5G technologies in the 3.5-GHz band. A Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer has submitted and received approval for partial 5G standards by the ITU-and they expect to launch 5G services in 2020.

Hong Kong: 5G pioneer?

In LegCo, Hong Kong’s legislative body, I’ve repeatedly urged the government to plan and re-allocate spectrum so that MNOs can launch 5G services here as soon as possible. At first, the government refused to acknowledge that our city lags behind in 5G and said it was impossible to plan spectrum allocation before the ITU’s 2019 conference.

This is unacceptable. Local MNOs pointed out that no new spectrum had been made available for mobile services until 2019. The lack of predictability for spectrum release also caused investment worries for the industry. Fortunately, in recent months, we’ve seen signs of accelerated decision-making.

In March, the Communications Authority (CA) finally announced its plan to make additional spectrum available for the telecoms industry. The CA plans to assign spectrum in the 26-GHz and 28-GHz bands for the provision of 5G services in Hong Kong in 2019 at the earliest. They also launched a public consultation in July on re-allocating the 3.4-GHz to 3.7-GHz band to mobile services in 2020.