Let's Have Really Healthy Growth With 5G (只提供英文版本)

By Xu Yan, Associate Dean of Business and Management, HKUST


The global race for fifth generation supremacy is under way, with countries competing to be the first to provide 5G mobile broadband services.

The ultra-fast network will prompt inventions, of which today we cannot even dream.

Countries around the world have devoted much resources to developing, manufacturing and deploying the new equipment necessary for 5G transmissions.

China, for instance, has recently become highly influential in the field with its ability to develop infrastructure for 5G systems worldwide.

In Asia, Hong Kong has been blamed for being slow to launch the new service in comparison with the mainland, South Korea and Japan.

Actually, a delay is not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows Hong Kong to have a longer testing period to ensure a more reliable and decent 5G mobile service.

Hong Kong's privately-owned telecom market is very competitive and cautious.

Similar to what happened with 3G, the operators will not make a move until the 5G technology has been proven to be mature enough, such as being stable and cost effective, until it can be introduced to the market.

Vendors like Huawei have worked closely with operators in testing the 5G technology.

Hong Kong offers a good testbed for vendors to improve their systems with its unique environment, such as densely located buildings.

Like in Hong Kong, many mobile network operators in other countries are in fact only testing their 5G mobile operations in a limited area and with limited coverage in a few cities.

The patchy and inconsistent coverage is not good enough for practical usage by consumers, and that is not accidental.

Although the millimeter wave spectrum of 5G is incredibly fast and able to transfer a large amount of data at once, it has problems traveling far from the cell site and does not easily penetrate materials, such as buildings, presenting problems that need to be fully solved, such as using the topology of small cells, which calls for more base stations.

According to the Office of Communications Authority's spectrum roadmap for 2019 to 2021, the government will gradually provide more bands in the 5G spectrum, allowing operators to provide better services.

Since 5G will require more base stations, the government is also proactively opening up at least 1,000 of its premises for this purpose, allowing mobile network operators to catch up with their counterparts in Asia.

However, because of the increase of base stations, concerns have been raised that the increased radio frequency surrounding us could be detrimental to our health, especially when 5G will massively increase our exposure.

Currently there is no research to back such claims.

I believe the governments in Hong Kong and other places should look into this to address public concerns.

The article was published in The Standard on July 10, 2019.