Hutchison HK jump-starts market with 5G price cuts

Hutchison's 3HK has seized on the iPhone 12 launch to light a fire under Hong Kong's dormant 5G market.

It has unveiled new 5G plans from as low as HK$288 (US$37.16) for 30GB, undercutting main rivals HKT and SmarTone.

CEO Kenny Koo said that with the iPhone now available he was aiming for "double-digit growth" next year.

The operator has completed the first phase of its 5G rollout, Koo said.

He won't disclose how much of the population is covered but says 5G has been deployed on 99% of basestations.

In the contentious "exclusion zone" in the city's northeast, where 3.5GHz mobile is banned because it interferes with satellite, Hutchison has deployed on refarmed 2.1GHz spectrum.

5G began symbolically in April when Hutchison, HKT and China Mobile HK all launched on the first day that spectrum became available.

But with limited coverage and handset choice, and retail demand throttled by the pandemic, subscriber interest has been tepid.

Operators instead have focused on expanding their networks, with each claiming broad coverage over most of the city.

To improve its own network coverage and quality, Hutchison has come up with the idea of encouraging customers to report network problems.

Koo says the first customer to identify an issue at a specific site will receive a monthly fee waiver.

He revealed that Hutchison's 5G doesn't apply DSS technology, though he doesn't rule it out at a later date.

"We found in our trials that it would discount the efficiency of the spectrum," Koo said. Hutchison may adopt it in the future "if we find a better solution on the DSS or the technology evolves."

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On the apps front, Koo said Hutchison is working with its parent CK Hutchison Group and affiliates on developing 5G apps such as gaming and e-commerce.

The operator has already deployed a healthcare app that allows patients to interact remotely with doctors and get a diagnosis online.

It is also working with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra on a 5G Live broadcast solution, which Koo describes as a new business model created by lowering the entry barriers for professional broadcast.

"It is now open to anyone from personal trainers, tutors, Wechat KOLs to big corporations or performing groups."

He said Hutchison had also partnered with recipients of grants from the government's 5G adoption subsidy scheme, which offers up to HK$500,000 ($64,515) for projects that can stimulate local 5G industry or the economy.

"We have a few projects already, so we are rolling out and we will announce soon when those projects are going to be deployed."

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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