SmarTone Preps 5G Enterprise Apps as It Targets Mid-Year Launch

For Hong Kong's SmarTone, planning a mid-year 5G launch, the new generation is all about the enterprise.

"Consumer is one thing, but the real exciting area is enterprise," said CEO Anna Yip. "We're a systems integrator. We are not just a telecom business."

Like most telcos, SmarTone has assembled a clutch of 5G use cases, like a connected ambulance with a remote-controlled haptic glove, drone inspection and a robot that makes coffee.

But Yip singles out the construction industry as a source of some of the biggest opportunities.

She says while manufacturing has largely disappeared from Hong Kong, the city has a huge construction sector.

One of its key features is the stress on safety. "If you have one accident, everything stops."

SmarTone's solution, which has been running on a local building site for six months, is a smart helmet equipped with sensors and a 5G connection that monitors the wearer's health status and issues an alert if the worker is injured or falls over.

Its partner is construction firm Sanfield, an affiliated company also owned by local property conglomerate Sun Hung Kei.

Aside from construction, Yip cites hospitality, health, fleet management, logistics and transport as major local industries that SmarTone is targeting.

She said in working with enterprise partners for two years, one of the big lessons was to be able to solve their "pain points" -- but typically it is only the partner that has the insight to identify problems.

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This makes partnering one of the big challenges, she acknowledges. The telco has teamed up with startups to offer innovative services, yet Yip says in order to solve the pain points it needs to acquire domain expertise, either by hiring new staff or finding ways to collaborate.

She admitted that the city's political conflict, with almost weekly anti-government protests, has also slowed down the process.

"Because of the current situation, some of the initiatives will take more time to push, particularly on the government side."

SmarTone expects to debut its 5G network in the second quarter. CTO Stephen Chau says it will likely cover 70-80% of the population within 12 months of launch.

The operator, which has deployed Ericsson equipment in its 2G, 3G and 4G networks, is still considering bids from 5G vendors.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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