Hong Kong mobile operators will be able to launch 5G services as early as April 2019, after the Communications Authority (CA) announced it will assign the first batch of spectrum in the 26GHz and 28GHz bands for use across the territory by Q2.

The regulator also plans to auction off 380MHz of higher-band spectrum in mid-2019.

Following a public consultation on the process for assigning spectrum for 5G services, the CA said radio waves in the 26GHz and 28GHz bands will be assigned administratively (not involving a competitive auction).

A total of 3,700MHz of spectrum will be assigned for public mobile services, with applications due by the end of 2018. Another 400MHz will be set aside for the provision of localised 5G services to specific groups of users on a geographic sharing basis: applications for this will be invited in Q2.

The government won’t charge a spectrum utilisation fee (SUF) if less than 75 per cent of the spectrum in the bands has been occupied.

Summer auctions
The agency said it will hold auctions in the 3.3GHz, 3.5GHz and 4.9GHz bands in July or August, and finalise the SUF during the sales. The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau will set the reserve prices nearer to the auction dates.

In a statement, a CA representative explained: “The 3.5GHz band will be used by both the existing satellite services and the new mobile services. The Office of the Communications Authority has been coordinating with the relevant network operators to enable controlled deployment of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band within the restriction zone where the [AsiaSat] Tai Po satellite earth stations are located.”

The regulator has faced strong criticism over the past two years for its 5G spectrum policy, particularly from market leader HKT, which often complained about the slow release of the airwaves.

All four mobile operators located in the territory (HKT, 3 Hong Kong, China Mobile and SmarTone) submitted bids in late November for 200MHz of spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands.