HK cellcos call for clear spectrum roadmap

26 May 2017
Daily News

Hong Kong's mobile operators are all calling on the government to develop a clear spectrum roadmap that covers the release and allocation of spectrum for 5G services.

HKT has called on the government to perform an “urgent and radical overhaul” of its mobile spectrum policies and practices to prepare for the introduction of 5G mobile technology.

The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) must improve its “archaic mobile spectrum principles and practices,” or the telecoms industry and Hong Kong as a whole will suffer irreparable damage, the operator has argued.

In a response to the government's public consultation on the re-assignment of 900-MHz and 1800-MHz mobile spectrum, widely used for mobile services, HKT said a new, forward looking plan for spectrum management is needed to meet the future needs of the industry and Hong Kong society.

The operator called an earlier attempt by the government to attract new market entrants “an example of the complete failure of its policy.”

While 21 ViaNet originally bid for 30 MHz of 2.3-GHz spectrum with the stated aim of launching mobile services, the company subsequently decided to use the spectrum for local fixed services, and then reduced its use of the valuable spectrum to only cover certain village houses. HKT said this wasted “valuable mainstream mobile spectrum which is in short supply in Hong Kong.”

“Hong Kong is facing a severe spectrum deficit and is seriously lagging behind the other developed markets in policy making. The government’s current spectrum rollout plan has failed to set the stage for early adoption of 5G,” HKT group managing director Alex Arena said.

“Along with the archaic principles and practices adopted by the CA for building access, spectrum charging, and spectrum management, this poses a clear and substantial threat to Hong Kong’s services based economy, consumer satisfaction, our role as a telecommunications hub, our ability to service as a gateway to Mainland China, and our ability to be a creative center.”

HKT wants the government to provide a clear roadmap for the release of adequate spectrum to the industry, classify mobile operators as utility providers and facilitate their access to buildings and land for cell site installation and manage spectrum in a way that incentivizes investment by industry.

In addition, HKT is calling for an overhaul of the current spectrum utilization fee (SUF), replacing the current system of charging on a per MHz basis to reflect the large bandwidth that will be required for 5G.

The operator said in 2016, spectrum costs represented 12.2% of its operating costs, well above OFCA's calculation of 3-4%.

“As we move into the information economy, our telecommunications infrastructure is a vital national resource. There is no time to waste. The Government needs to resolve these matters now,” Arena said.

“HKT, together with the rest of the industry, looks forward to engaging in active dialogue and discussion with the Government about the way forward.”

In a separate submission, rival SmarTone also called for the development of a clear spectrum roadmap.

The operator indicated that it supports the adoption of a hybrid approach combining administrative acquisition of spectrum with a market based approach to its release, one of the three options being proposed for the future management of spectrum assets.

Meanwhile 3 Hong Kong's submission has asserted that the regulator should be giving existing licensees of 900-MHz and 1800-MHz spectrum a right of first refusal while reallocating the frequency bands.

The operator argued that taking spectrum away from mobile operators would hinder long-term investment and innovation and risk disrupting customer service continuity. An excessive SUF is the equivalent to a spectrum tax on mobile users and is against the public interest, the submission added.

A version of this article was first published in Computerworld Hong Kong

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