Hong Kong’s 5G networks went live in April this year, which not only expanded network bandwidths and increased speed, but can also work with new technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to enhance the application of technologies in various industries while consolidating Hong Kong’s inherent strengths, thereby bringing unlimited opportunities for future economic development.
Hui Chi-kwong: 5G Goes Far Beyond What People Think
Speaking of 5G, people would immediately think of the increase in network speed. Hui Chi-kwong, Chief Technology Officer of Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI), explained with a simple example: “Downloading an 8GB high-definition movie takes only about 4 seconds with 5G, while downloading the same movie takes 26 hours and 6 minutes with 3G and 4G, respectively.” Hui also said that 5G networks can be used to achieve smart management and operation in other areas.
5G has three main advantages
“Compared with 4G, 5G has significantly improved in three aspects: The first is faster transmission rate, the second is rapid response speed, and the third is high capacity. Compared with 4G which can support several dozen thousand connected devices, 5G can support up to one million connected devices per square km.”
Hui said that 5G’s greater role lies in the industrial and commercial sectors and it will change all aspects of human life.
“5G’s biggest application area is in the vertical market, where 5G enables extensive data uploading or low-latency remote control of robots, cloud games, cloud mobile platforms, etc. More 5G application scenarios will emerge in the future, such as mature AR technology and telemedicine.”
Smart travel subverts imagination
In Hui’s view, based on its ultra-low latency characteristic, 5G’s powerful functions will open up new paths in Internet of Vehicles (IoV) technologies. “Our Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology can improve road safety. The system will alert the driver of the connected vehicle when other vehicles or nearby pedestrians affect it.” This technology will be tried out at a 14km stretch of road in Sha Tin district in early 2021. It will be the largest regional C-V2X pilot project in Hong Kong.
Another development direction is autonomous vehicles, “The passenger only needs to select the destination on the dashboard display in the vehicle before sitting back to enjoy the journey.” Hui is convinced that this R&D project is an early milestone towards a completely driverless future.
Network deployment to connect the future
Hong Kong is now deploying 5G networks on low-band frequencies, which are relatively simple and can cover a wide range due to long wavelengths. As business and living needs continue to rise, Hong Kong has also begun to develop network frequency bands with a combination of medium and high frequencies.
Of the 5G spectrum allocated in Hong Kong currently, the 3.5GHz band is near the satellite earth stations in Sha Tin and Tai Po, which could cause interference. Nevertheless, Hong Kong still has several other frequency bands besides 3.5GHz available for commercial use, so it does not affect its overall 5G development. The government is working with the industry to find a solution to the 3.5GHz interference problem, while ASTRI is actively exploring other options with the government and stakeholders to minimize the potential impact.
Looking ahead, Hui believes that 5G technology can help the manufacturing sector balance efficiency, improve safety and reduce maintenance costs. In addition, 5G technology could be used in financial institutions’ one-way and two-way services, taking Hong Kong’s inherent strengths to the next level and driving it to become a leading smart city in the world.
Hendrick Sin: 5G Adoption Depends on Joint Efforts by Government and Industry
Hong Kong’s 5G networks have not yet been widely adopted in terms of applications. Hendrick Sin, President of Internet Professional Association (iProA), said that this has much to do with the difficulty of deploying base stations, and he hopes for appropriate support from the Government.
Sin is pleased to see that Hong Kong’s 5G networks have finally gone live, but he said that although Hong Kong’s telecom operators have already started deploying 5G services and are among the top 10% of operators worldwide in terms of progress, 5G is not yet widely adopted due to several obstacles.
Deploy more base stations to boost 5G services
“The major challenges facing the industry are not only due to the 3.5Ghz spectrum being used in 5G restriction zones, which interferes with satellites and cannot effectively provide 5G services, but also the difficulty of deploying base stations.” Sin said that 5G networks use higher electromagnetic frequencies than 4G, which means attenuation is faster, so telecom operators have to deploy more base stations to achieve the same coverage as 4G.
However, he said that private buildings in Hong Kong are resistant to telecom operators installing base stations due to the deeds of mutual covenant of private properties and buildings and many residents’ perception that the radiation generated by base stations will affect their health. Moreover, the procedure for telecom operators to apply to the Government for installation is cumbersome. Many telecom operators have stated that they encountered great difficulties in setting up base stations.
Multi-pronged approach to ease restrictions on the industry
Regarding when 5G technology will gradually be widely adopted in Hong Kong, Sin believes that the rate of technology iteration and adoption will continue to accelerate along with such factors as public acceptance and price reduction. According to his conservative estimate, wide adoption of 5G will appear in three to four years’ time.
“The pace of 5G adoption is largely dependent on the Government’s determination to promote 5G and telecom operators’ efforts on network deployment.” He added that the authorities could mandate that the deeds of mutual covenant of new buildings must set aside space for installation of base stations and simplify the application procedure for the industry in addition to regularising the funding support for the industry in 5G research and applications, rolling out a subsidy scheme that is similar to the “Technology Voucher Programme”, and encouraging the industry to conduct R&D on 5G applications on a matching basis. All these are feasible measures.
Smart home industries can benefit
In Sin’s view, industries engaged in smart home products, such as home monitoring systems, smart home appliances and wearable devices, are best-placed to benefit from greatly improved performance with 5G technology. “5G’s ultra-high speed is set to boost user demand for premium mobile apps, laying a solid foundation for industry development and upgrading.”
However, he also pointed out that although 5G applications cover many aspects, most residents are only aware of the enhanced mobile broadband that is specifically manifested in the increase in Internet speed. Consequently, telecom operators will only mention speed-related advantages and rarely mention how to use 5G in conjunction with the Internet of Things to bring more convenience. He hopes for improvement in this regard in the future.
5G applications improve medical services
“As the public’s understanding of 5G deepens and the technology becomes more beneficial as more applications emerge, especially in medical applications, 5G technology can be used for remote medical consultation and even surgery. 5G technology is set to bring more convenience to residents in their daily lives.”
In addition, as Hong Kong’s society ages, Sin expects a variety of 5G-enabled smart home monitoring systems and applications to provide better care for elderly people living alone, which should help ease the shortage of medical personnel in Hong Kong to some extent going forward. Regarding the prospects for 5G, Sin hopes for the industry to explore more opportunities and the authorities to take the opportunity to accelerate smart city development.
Alex Cheng: Actively Invest in 5G R&D for Smart City Development
Alex Cheng, Principal Engineer at China Mobile Hong Kong (CMHK), expected that it would take several years for 5G to become widely adopted and the next five years (2020 to 2025) should be a 5G development period. “The accelerated launch of 5G mobile phones on the market would make the adoption of 5G faster, allowing residents to enjoy more benefits of 5G services as soon as possible.”
Collaboration with Greater Bay Area to enhance competitiveness
According to Cheng, Hong Kong has two advantages in 5G development. First, Hong Kong can benefit from the country’s leading position in 5G technology development, bringing new technologies and applications from the Mainland into Hong Kong in a timely manner. At the same time, Hong Kong can rely on collaboration with Greater Bay Area cities and promote the development of the Greater Bay Area into an international technology and innovation (I&T) center.
CMHK set up the 5G Joint Innovation Centre Hong Kong Open Laboratory as early as 2018. The center is now closer to a wide range of I&T institutions after moving into Hong Kong Science Park. In August 2019, CMHK, together with Guangdong Mobile, Communications Association of Guangdong and CTM of Macao, drove the establishment of the Greater Bay Area 5G Industry Alliance with the purpose of setting up a platform for resource sharing and interaction, jointly studying 5G industry solutions for smart city development in the Greater Bay Area.
Facilitating smart city development
The maturity of the Internet of Things and 5G technologies has contributed to the development of smart cities. Cheng believes that: “5G networks not only are used for daily mobile communication services, but also provide the foundation for smart city applications. “In his view, 5G is like a fibre-optic network in the air acting as a catalyst for other technologies (AICDE). 5G provides basic network capabilities to support intelligent connectivity, smart city development, business services, and smart operations in conjunction with other technologies.
As the establishment of a 5G ecosystem can facilitate smart city development, CMHK actively joins forces with different industries and organizations to research and develop 5G-related applications and supporting services. “We have partnered with Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute and Hong Kong Science and Technology Park Corporation to develop a number of 5G projects, including the successfully completed smart driving trial.” They have also partnered with Sino Group to complete Hong Kong’s first in-mall 5G Experience Showcase at Olympian City 2, while Sino Group’s residential and shopping mall properties will use CMHK’s Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) solutions.
Get ready for the new era
5G not only boosts smart city development, but also drives innovative services in various industries. Early 5G services will be applications that require high speed, large capacity, and low latency. Hence, Cheng believes that industries such as entertainment, transportation and logistics will have advantages in 5G development. He suggested that for businesses intending to move into the 5G era, they can first consider where to improve automation, immediacy, labelling, AR/VR/MR, etc. in their current operations and services. They can then use 5G+AICDE to improve or innovate their operations and services. At the same time, they need to raise their employees’ and customers’ awareness of 5G technology applications.