SmarTone joins Hong Kong's 5G party, promising full coverage in a year

Hong Kong finally has a full house of 5G operators, with SmarTone joining the party.

The operator, the city's third largest by subscriber numbers, unveiled its 5G service Tuesday, eight weeks behind its three competitors.

The delay will make little difference. The rival launches were largely about starting service on the day 5G spectrum became available, with limited coverage and handset choice.

SmarTone execs said Tuesday the operator offers the "widest" 5G indoor and outdoor coverage, overlaying 3.5GHz and 28GHz 5G on its LTE network.

CTO Stephen Chau says the network will reach 80% of the population by year-end and the entire city by the middle of 2021.

Besides being last in, SmarTone is an outlier for another reason. It is the only Hong Kong operator not to deploy Huawei for 5G.

It announced earlier this year that it would extend its three-decade-long relationship with Ericsson into 5G.

CEO Anna Yip said she wouldn't go into details of vendor selection, but said Ericsson "showed outstanding performance" in price and capability.

By choosing a different vendor, the telco also gives itself some scope for differentiation: for example, dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS).

CTO Chau said the operator is the first in Asia to deploy Ericsson's DSS, which enables frequencies across 4G and 5G, allowing seamless handover and more efficient spectrum use.

In the consumer marketplace, SmarTone is offering an entry price subscription of HK$298 (US$38.44) for 100GB, with standard price at HK$398 ($51.34).

While rivals are selling packages for as low as HK$198 ($25.54), Yip said SmarTone was targeting higher-end users seeking customer experience and quality of service.

"We have conducted a lot of research," she said. "We target customers with high usage and high requirements – for example, vidconferencing and gamers. These kind of customers may be more inclined to use new technologies."

SmarTone has worked with partners to develop games, AR/VR apps, 4K video and videoconferencing services.

On the enterprise side, the company, which is owned by Sun Hung Kai, Hong Kong's biggest property developer, has developed a series of building industry apps. One enables creation of three-dimensional digital models, while another uses AR to overlay building plans onto a physical site.

Yip said the company is also collaborating with partners in retail, transport, healthcare and hospitality.

"5G is an opportunity for enterprises to improve productivity and reduce operating cost," she said.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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