PARTNER CONTENT: Hong Kong operator HKT is gearing up for the next evolution of 5G, 5G-A, with the expectation the technology will fully fulfil earlier promises made for the potential of the latest generation of mobile networks.

In an exclusive interview with Mobile World Live at WinWin Live studio at MWC 2023 Shanghai, Sheldon Yau, Head of Wireless and Core Network Engineering at HKT commented that its 5G launch in April 2020 has already very much achieved an objective of providing an enhanced Mobile BroadBand (eMBB) experience.

“I think 5G is a very amazing technology and it commits to a few important characteristics for mobile users,” explained Sheldon. “The first one is the high speed, very high speed commitment, and this commitment I will say in the 5G era is almost fulfilled already. You can easily achieve more than 1Gbps communications already.”

But Sheldon believes the other two widely recognised objectives of 5G – supporting uRLLC (Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications) and mMTC (Massive Machine-Type Communications) services – will require the deployment of new 5G-A technology.

“The reason behind why I’m driving for all these different improvements in 5G-A is we can see that there’s a very big business opportunity. You can see that a lot of technology around us like AI, Web 3.0, all this technology coming in, all require very huge bandwidth in both the uplink and downlink. And also a very short latency, particularly for gaming. And, later on, applications like medical services will require us to deploy this kind of special technology.”

All this will be supported by 5G-A’s potential to evolve to more than 10Gbps download speeds and 1Gbps in the uplink.

Exciting future
Huawei has played a key role in HKT’s 5G success so far (the two companies have partnered for the past twenty years) and the network company’s President of Global Sales, James Chen, is excited about the future ahead.

“5G-A has shifted from vision to reality now,” James explained. “The vision was first proposed back in the year 2020. By 2022, the end to end industry chain was more mature. Now all the frequency bands are evolving to 5G or 5G-A. And this lays a foundation for its global commercial use in the year 2024.”

James explained what’s driving the move to 5G-A.

“Ultra-high speed rates will enable operators to transform from traffic monetisation to experience monetisation. New business models based on speed rates, latency, and uplink experiences have become a trend, helping operators implement experience monetisation. In terms of the IoT, RedCap creates a blue ocean market for 5G medium- and high-speed IoT services, and Passive IoT for low-speed IoT services, supporting hundreds of billions of IoT connections. So the application of 5G-A is being accelerated in many industries and scenarios, and more than 10,000 factories are expected to be connected by 2025.”

HKT is a leading operator in Hong Kong with 4.8 million connections and a 28% market share, according to GSMA Intelligence. It already has 1.6 million connections running over its 5G network.

Sheldon explained that in order to make a success of a new network launch, many factors have to be taken into consideration.

“First of all, we need a very accurate understanding of our customer and then according to their requirement, we’ll have accurate network planning and we can deploy the network gradually, step by step,” he commented. “And then after one piece of the network is complete, that deployment, then we need to have accurate marketing to ensure our customer knows what we are providing to them. And then last but not least, the most important part is the accurate calculation of the time for a return on investment. We need to have continued information of all our resources to make sure the investment can continue over time.”

Sheldon explained that it doesn’t make sense to invest in multiple spectrum bands at the same time. HKT therefore started its 5G deployment in the 2100MHz band “to ensure all our customers can taste what 5G is in the very beginning.” And Sheldon noted that once the first group of customers were connected to the 5G network HKT was then able to start enjoying a return on its investment.

Following initial launch HKT deployed 5G in other C-Band layers to support fast growing demand for the network from customers. And now in 2023 HKT is focused on investing in indoor 5G coverage.

“Indoor is very important,” stated Sheldon. “Around 80% of our traffic actually is coming from the indoor environment. We have quickly finished initial investment in general coverage so that we now have sufficient resources to invest in indoor to ensure we can continue to build our 5G network.”

Sheldon described 5G as “a very complex technology,” running across different spectrum bands and a variety of vertical markets and different industries. Knowing “the right time to invest is very important,” he admitted.

New spectrum
Both Huawei and HKT recognise the need for the industry to open up in order to maximise the potential of 5G-A.

“My plan is to ensure we can evolve successfully from 5G to 5G-A,” Sheldon explained, adding that HKT will need to find new spectrum to support 5G-A services and is keeping an eye on availability of very high-band mmWave spectrum.

“5G is very important for both today and tomorrow,” concluded Huawei’s James. “The future use of new spectrum and continuous evolution of 5G standards will further unleash the potential of 5G.”