Hong Kong regulator clears 5-GHz spectrum for LAA deployments

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Hong Kong’s independent telecoms regulator has officially designated 580 MHz of spectrum in the 5-GHz band to be shared for mobile services such as license assisted access (LAA).

The Communications Authority (CA) launched a public consultation in February seeking comments on its proposal to make the spectrum available on a shared basis. A CA spokesperson said the proposal received general support from the industry.

“With immediate effect, MNOs may apply to the CA for the use of the concerned band on a shared basis to provide public mobile services through necessary amendments to their unified carrier licences,” the spokesperson said.

The spectrum comprises four sub-bands: 5150 – 5250 MHz, 5250 – 5350 MHz, 5470 – 5725 MHz, and 5725 – 5850 MHz.

Unlicensed bands like 5-GHz are typically used for Wi-Fi. LAA technology enables operators to use the band for LTE services, essentially giving them free access to additional spectrum (albeit spectrum they must share with other cellcos) that can help boost capacity and data throughput.

In August last year, SmarTone and Ericsson conducted an LAA trial in which they combined 10 MHz of LTE spectrum with 60 MHz worth of 5-GHz spectrum to create a data link that reached speeds of up to 800 Mbps.

The CA spokesperson said that the release of the 5 GHz shared band will add another 580 MHz to the 552 MHz of sub-3 GHz spectrum already assigned to mobile operators.

Hong Kong cellcos – particularly incumbent HKT – have complained that the CA has been too slow to release additional spectrum, particularly for 5G services. The CA currently plans to start releasing 5G-related spectrum next year, saying there is no point in releasing it early when 5G standards haven’t been completed. (Part of the 5G NR standard was completed in December 2017, while the full standard is scheduled to be completed this month.) That said, the CA has been granting temporary spectrum licenses for 5G equipment testing.

“The CA has been actively exploring ways to make available additional spectrum for the provision of public mobile services,” the spokesperson said in a statement Monday. “The CA will continue to closely monitor the market and technology developments and will make available other suitable spectrum in a timely manner to further enhance the development of the mobile industry in Hong Kong for the benefits of our mobile users.”

Last month, the CA began public consultation on a proposal to auction 200 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5-GHz band around the end of 2019, although winning bidders wouldn’t be able to use the spectrum until April 1, 2020.

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