Hutchison Telecom HK is ready to make its 5G debut this week – but it also hopes to challenge the government's 3.5GHz spectrum exclusion zones.
Hutchison and rivals HKT and China Mobile HK all plan to start 5G service in Hong Kong on Wednesday, the first day on which their 5G spectrum is available.
But Hutchison CEO Kenny Koo says the operator is still hopeful of overturning the exclusion zones, which cover approximately 10% of the city's population.
To prevent interference with legacy satellite broadcast services, mobile operators are forced to deliver 5G via other spectrum bands. (See Hong Kong Telcos Upset by 5G 'Exclusion Zone' .)
But Koo said that with demand for 5G about to grow sharply, Hutchison was keen to seek a long-term solution.
"We will pursue with the government the idea of releasing the spectrum now occupied by satellite players back to the mobile operators so that we can have full coverage," he told Light Reading.
Customers in the restricted zones should have the choice of using 5G with 5G spectrum, he said.
In the meantime, Hutchison will deploy in the restricted areas via refarmed 2.1GHz spectrum.
Koo said the coronavirus outbreak had not altered the "investment or pacing" of the operator's 5G deployment, but had introduced some unexpected factors.
One was in the supply chain, with production lines of both vendors and component suppliers impacted by the contagion.
Koo said Hutchison HK benefits from the purchasing power across the CK Hutchison parent company, including the Three Group in Europe. It is offering device bundles with Samsung S20 and Huawei MateX at launch, although he adds that with 5G already launched in mainland China imported devices are already widely available.
He expects up to 20 models to hit the market in the second quarter and to drive take-up.
Koo says that with 5G already launched in neighboring mainland China, imported devices are already widely available. He expects up to 20 models to hit the market in the second quarter and to drive take-up.
One issue slowing 5G rollout for all operators is access to Hong Kong government premises.
The government has made available around 1,000 locations – including buildings, sports facilities and street furniture – as cellsites but the individual agencies have been slow in providing final approval.
The delay may be exacerbated by the number of civil servants working from home, Koo says. But he has called on the government to set hard deadlines on approvals to expedite the process.
Koo expects that new 5G functionality such as 4K and 8K video, low latency and AR/VR will spark early demand for video and gaming apps in Hong Kong, as seen elsewhere.
He believes that in the enterprise sector, 5G combined with AI, robotics and other new tech will generate demand from Hong Kong's big service sector, such as retail and building management.
Local business will also likely be attracted by the security and flexibility of a 5G private network, he said.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading