HKT and SmarTone called on the territory’s telecoms regulator to accelerate the supply of 5G spectrum and devise a clear roadmap or risk the industry and Hong Kong suffering irreparable damage.
In separate press releases issued on 24 May, HKT urged the government to swiftly and radically overhaul its “archaic mobile spectrum principles and practices to embrace the advance of technology and 5G”. Rival SmarTone said: “a spectrum roadmap with accelerated supply is long overdue for the healthy development of the telecommunications industry”.
The companies timed the release of their statements to coincide with a deadline for submitting comments in a public consultation regarding the reassignment and auction of 900MHz and 1.8GHz spectrum.
Following sharp criticism from HKT, the Communications Authority (CA) in March announced plans to open up new spectrum for 5G services in the 26GHz and 28GHz bands in 2019, and in the 3.4GHz to 3.7GHz band in 2020.
The regulator said it will make 4.1GHz of mmWave spectrum available in the 26GHz and 28GHz bands in 2019 as the territory’s first batch of spectrum for the provision of 5G services.
HKT pulled no punches in a long-running campaign against the CA, complaining in February Hong Kong is falling behind in 5G development because it lacks a “forward looking government spectrum policy”.
In its most recent statement HKT said despite the efforts made by the industry, it is becoming increasingly difficult to increase mobile network capacity to accommodate user demands without new spectrum. It also argued the consultation cannot sensibly go ahead without the implementation of a new, forward looking plan for spectrum management.
SmarTone CEO Anna Yip said: “Accelerated spectrum supply in accordance with a forward-thinking and transparent spectrum roadmap is vital for Hong Kong to catch up in its competitiveness.”
The operator urged the government to devise a clear spectrum roadmap with faster and more plentiful supply to ensure the healthy development of the telecoms industry. It suggested the CA follow GSMA recommendations covering best pricing practice, namely to set conservative reserve and minimum fees because high prices: “depress operators’ incentives to invest and compete, resulting in lower quality and higher prices for consumers”.
SmarTone also supports the imposition of a cap to prevent over-concentration of spectrum held by a particular bidder.
Meanwhile, HKT called on the government to overhaul the spectrum utilisation fee charging basis. It said the current system of charging on a per MHz basis should be changed to prevent huge fees stifling mobile industry development.
In 2016 spectrum costs represented 12.2 per cent of HKT’s operating costs (compared with government estimates of 3 per cent to 4 per cent). HKT suggested the government consider a flat fee, regardless of the amount of spectrum allocated, based on a percentage of revenues.
It also wants mobile operators to be granted “utility” status to ease access to buildings, land, the metro and street furniture for cell site installation.
The operator said 5G networks will require more than 30,000 sites, ten-times higher than 4G networks, to ensure good coverage across Hong Kong.