The pivotal role of 5G in Hong Kong’s economic future

August 11, 2020 08:02

Since the first auction of radio spectrum in the 4.9 GHz Band for the fifth generation technology standard for cellular networks(5G) development in 2019, the Hong Kong government has announced a further round of public consultations over the second auction of 5G development in July this year. After this upcoming round of auctions, we may see up to two new Mobile Network Operators(MNOs) introduced in Hong Kong.

The global 5G industry chain investment will reach approximately USD 4 trillion between 2020 and 2035 – with approximately 30% in the Mainland China market, according to Deloitte’s reports. The industrial application driven by 5G technology will create a turnover of over USD 12 trillion globally. In the era of 5G development, this game changer will prove pivotal in enabling countries to develop competitive advantage over their rivals.

On the other hand, the Huawei ban in the UK clearly evidences that for all its technical merits and perks, 5G has also emerged as the site of a tech battle Between China and the West. We may well be witnessing the beginning of a new Cold War, as countries seek to decouple from one another in areas pertaining to communicative and informational technologies. Given the calamitous global climate, where lies in the future of 5G research?

What role, if at all, could Hong Kong play in this escalating “Tech War”? What role, if at all, could 5G serve in our city’s future economic developments?

The Spectrum Policy and 5G development

The Spectrum Policy refers to an approach to 5G development that seeks to match particular functionalities or purposes with the most fitting and appropriate electromagnetic wavelengths, as well as one that allocates the available wavelengths to best uses. Radio spectrum is a finite public resource. So as to minimise interference and overlapping wavelengths as much as is possible, the electromagnetic spectrum must be prudently managed and regulated by the government, with different segments of the spectrum assigned to a plethora of uses, including public service (such as emergency service communication system and the monitoring devices of observatory), public broadcasting (radio and television) and private market (telecommunications).

The required amount of investment into telecommunications infrastructure is considerable. MNOs expected a predictable and profitable environment under the management of the Communications Authority (CA). Similar to other countries or regions, the policy inclination is that a market-based and technology-neutral approach in spectrum management will be adopted in Hong Kong. The ideal end-state is one where the CA regularly hosts auctions over the spectrum, such that MNOs could maintain and update their preferred technology in accordance with the latest economic developments..

Hong Kong’s Hidden Gem: ASTRI

The Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI) has developed a 5G solution for cooperation since 2017. The “Made in HK”, all-in-one solution provides tailor-made services to its users, through ASTRI's open sourcing of professional advice and software designs. ASTRI works closely with Foxconn Industrial Internet in mapping out the prospective infrastructure of Hong Kong’s very own 5G data regime.

5G promises vast improvements in responsiveness, speed, and scale that would support all kinds of bandwidth-intensive technologies and applications. With maximum download transmission speed of 20 Gbps, downloading a HD movie of up to 2 hours would take only 10 seconds. The data transmission process has a delay as low as 1 millisecond, thus rendering it capable of supporting high-demand interaction communication services, such as autonomous driving. Last but not least, 5G also supports large-scale terminal device connections (up to one million devices per square kilometre), which is extremely important for the development of the Internet of Things.

In short, according to the definition of International Telecommunication Union(ITU), 5G has 3 major methods of application:

1. eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband), which provides greater data-bandwidth complemented for the development of today’s mobile broadband use cases. For instance, emerging AR/VR media and applications, UltraHD or 360-degree streaming video.
2. uRLLC (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications), which provides the foundation for automated factory, telemedicine, smart retail.
3. mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications), which provides inter-device communication for Internet of Vehicles or Smart City.

For any corporation to build an independent corporate network from scratch, it would require huge volumes of resources, not to mention the substantial overheads involved, such as maintenance costs and costs pertaining to cyber-securitisation. On the other hand, cooperation with other parties would lead to an easy win-win situation for all.

A World-class 5G solution – Made in and by Hong Kong!

The emergence of 5G has introduced many new opportunities for Hong Kong's industrial transformation and economic growth. As a densely populated city with well-developed infrastructure, and common law system with nevertheless room for synergy with the continental law system of the Greater Bay Area, Hong Kong has notable room for both the development and application of 5G solution.

For example – consider the idea of ‘Smart Traffic’. Having practised “right-hand traffic” for more than 100 years, we may otherwise find it incredibly difficult to adapt Hong Kong’s roads to the needs of non-Hong Kong drivers. If we could establish the right kind of balance between local users and visitors’ needs through calibrated information technology, some roads of ours – those more frequented by mainland-Hong Kong drivers, perhaps – could be rendered more amenable to these “right-hand drivers” under 5G.

Or consider the healthcare industry – which is one of the six industries where Hong Kong enjoys clear comparative advantage, and which the government has repeatedly emphasised the importance of developing and strengthening. The conjoinment of mobile medical equipment under 5G could allow for better remote surgeries and high-quality telemedicine. This would enable our doctors to provide high-quality medical healthcare to individuals, even at a literally significant physical distance.

To sum up, a well-planned 5G solution would depend heavily on the cooperation of 5G MNOs, APP developers, and different industries. Yet 5G would also enable us to rebrand and rejuvenate the distinctive “Hong Kong brand”. Over the coming 5 to 10 years, 5G would only become precipitously important. The Hong Kong government should take the lead in the initiative of promoting 5G development for us, the rest of China, and the world at large.

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BEd (Chinese History) at EdUHK