HKT slams regulator for refusing to release new 5G spectrum

Hong Kong
Credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Hong Kong cellco HKT is continuing its publicity blitz against the Office of the Communications Authority’s spectrum policies with another paper arguing that cellcos urgently need new spectrum to meet increasing demand for mobile data services and develop services for 5G and the IoT.

The paper [PDF] essentially slams the decision by the CA to release no new spectrum until at least 2019, saying the decision will “choke and stifle the growth of Hong Kong’s dynamic mobile services sector and will have negative knock-on effects in all sectors of Hong Kong’s economy.”

The HKT paper point out that Hong Kong’s mobile penetration is now a staggering 232% as of October 2016, and local mobile data usage has grown at 61% CAGR between 2010 and 2015, and isn’t slowing down. HKT also noted that the “Four Pillar sectors” that the Hong Kong Government promotes (financial services, tourism, trading and logistics, and professional and producer services) all rely heavily on mobile services.

The HKT paper argues that new spectrum is “the key pre-condition for meeting Hong Kong’s requirement for new, innovative, high quality and high speed services with minimal latency” to support advanced mobile apps like virtual reality, augmented reality, autonomous driving and the IoT in general. HKT also says Hong Kong is “seriously lagging behind” the US, UK and other European and Asian countries (to include even mainland China) in making new spectrum available.

HKT also accused the CA of artificially withholding new spectrum from the market to maximize the financial “windfall” gains of holding auctions to refarm existing spectrum at artificially high reserve prices. “True 5G services cannot be made available by simply re-farming existing spectrum supply.”

According to the paper, HKT specifically has its eye on the 700-MHz and 3.5-GHz bands, which have already been harmonized as global IMT bands under the WRC-15 conference. HKT says these bands “should be available on a technology neutral basis as ‘5G ready’ but leaving maximum flexibility for operators to decide on the optimal technology to be deployed over time.”

However, both bands also present regulatory challenges in Hong Kong. While parts of the 3.5-GHz band have been approved for mobile cellular, Hong Kong-based pay-TV industry consortium CASBAA has lobbied the CA and other regulators for years against letting cellcos use the band on the grounds that it creates unresolvable interference issues with satellite operators using extended C-band for video delivery.

Meanwhile, releasing the 700-MHz band for mobile services hinges on the switch-off of analog TV services, which the CA has delayed until the end of 2020.

Rival cellco SmarTone has also weighed in on the 5G spectrum debate, the South China Morning Post reports:

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.”

The paper is the fourth government-targeted paper issued by HKT in the past six weeks, with previous reports touching on spectrum pricing, spectrum trading and admin fees [PDF].


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