Though the fifth-generation of mobile service (5G) is expected to become popular only in mid to late 2030s when killer applications are introduced, the new technology is undoubtedly the future for the coming 10 to 20 years, given the unlimited potential in applications — from smart-home security to remote patient monitoring to autonomous vehicles.
IHS Markit, a research firm, estimated that the global economic benefit created by 5G would be as much as US$12.3 trillion by 2035 with new employment opportunities estimated at as high as 22 million.
Can Hong Kong capture the business opportunities? In terms of consumer market, Hong Kong is very small and of little significance. However, as a testing ground for new services, our scale and agility may become a unique advantage. Therefore, we should gear up to grasp the business opportunity.
Apparently, the government is aware of the global trend.
In late July, the Communications Authority announced that a total of 4,500 MHz of new spectrum in multiple frequency bands will be made available for provision of 5G services. And part of the spectrum will be offered for free to help drive down the cost and the accompanying service fee to end users.
Furthermore, in the latest Policy Address, the Chief Executive has indicated that appropriate government premises would open up “for the installation of 5G base stations by mobile service operators."
In addition, the government will install 5G infrastructure in form of 400 smart lampposts in four urban areas for trial 5G service. This is great news. As 5G needs many more transmission sites compared to 4G, the government’s advance planning would facilitate a timely 5G rollout.
This will equip us to capture new market opportunities and will facilitate the introduction of more applications of smart city and IoT powered by 5G technology, and give operators a competitive advantage in the global race to 5G adoption.
To achieve the goal, one of the urgent tasks is to resolve the dispute between mobile operators and satellite companies on the right to use a crucial part of the wireless broadband spectrum.
Equally important is opening the aggregated data of mobile service collected by operators. Currently, the treasure trove of data is kept restricted to the operators for their provision of the service. Mobile data, seen as the “new petroleum" is becoming a critical part for maintaining our position in the global economy. Singapore, Japan and the US have all made aggregated mobile data available to all. Hong Kong cannot afford to fall behind in this aspect.
Also, the government is putting emphasis on two smart city elements, namely artificial intelligence and healthcare technologies. 5G service is essential for their successful implementation.
In view of all this, I urge the government to rank 5G installation as the highest priority in the city development.
Dr. Winnie Tang
Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong