LCQ17: Installation of mobile base stations
Following is a question by the Hon Charles Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (February 7):
It is learnt that the use of and demand for mobile data have been rising rapidly in recent years. This, coupled with the upcoming introduction of the next generation (i.e. 5G) mobile communications services, has made it necessary for mobile network operators (MNOs) to install more radio base stations for mobile communications (base stations) so as to expand the coverage and capacity of their mobile communications networks for providing dependable and stable mobile communications services to members of the public. However, quite a number of members of the public are concerned that the radiation emitted from the base stations affects human health and demand MNOs to remove their base stations. As MNOs have difficulty in identifying suitable locations to install base stations, the coverage of their networks and the services provided by them have been affected. It was reported that two base stations in Lam Tsuen, Tai Po had to be removed at the end of last year due to objections raised by residents in the neighbourhood, resulting in the mobile communications services in the vicinity being paralysed. Regarding the installation of base stations and the development planning of Hong Kong's mobile communications, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of complaints received by the authorities in each of the past three years about the coverage and the quality of mobile communications networks, broken down by District Council (DC) district;
(2) whether it knows the number of base stations removed in each of the past three years, with a breakdown by DC district and reason for the removal;
(3) of the number of applications received from MNOs by the authorities in each of the past three years for installation of base stations in government properties, and set out by DC district (i) the respective numbers of applications received, approved and rejected, as well as a breakdown of the number of rejected applications by reason for the rejection, and (ii) the average time taken for vetting and approval of such applications; a breakdown by DC district of the current number of applications pending for vetting and approval as well as the average time since these applications were submitted;
(4) of (i) the procedure for MNOs to apply for the installation of base stations in the following types of government properties and (ii) the government department(s) responsible for vetting and approval of such applications (set out in the table below);
(5) whether the Government will (i) streamline the procedure for MNOs to apply for the installation of base stations in government properties and shorten the vetting and approval time, as well as (ii) identify more locations in government properties which are suitable for installing base stations; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(6) as MNOs will need to install base stations which are more densely distributed than that of the present in preparation for the introduction of 5G mobile communications services in 2020, whether the Government (i) has plans to review the situation of the overall infrastructure facilities for communications networks in Hong Kong (particularly in remote and rural areas) and to draw up plans for improving such infrastructure facilities, as well as (ii) has formulated policies and measures to encourage MNOs to expand their mobile communications networks and to assist them in identifying locations for installing base stations; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
In consultation with the Government Property Agency (GPA) and the Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB), the consolidated reply of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) is as follows:
(1) In the past three years (i.e. 2015, 2016 and 2017), the number of complaints received by the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) concerning coverage and quality of mobile phone services are 186, 185 and 254 respectively. The complaints at issue included low data speed, unexpected service disconnection, poor signal reception, inadequate signal coverage, and even no coverage at certain locations, etc. OFCA does not have the breakdown by districts as categorised by District Councils.
(2) Mobile network operators (MNOs) will, from time to time, adjust their radio base station (base station) settings having regard to their own network planning and actual needs. In the past three years, MNOs installed 5 900, 7 000 and 4 800 new base stations and removed 340, 2 200 and 150 base stations respectively. These base stations are located in different areas across the territory. OFCA does not have the breakdown by districts as categorised by District Councils.
(3) & (4) MNOs intending to install base stations at government properties should first submit applications to GPA. GPA will in turn require the MNOs to submit details of the setting of base stations concerned to relevant government departments, including the department responsible for the management of the premises concerned (premises management department) (see Annex 1), Lands Department, Planning Department, Architectural Services Department, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department and OFCA, for consideration under their respective purviews. Upon agreements of all relevant departments, MNOs will sign a lease agreement with GPA before proceeding with the installation. According to GPA's record, for the past three years, the status of applications submitted by MNOs for installing base stations at government premises and the time required are set out at Annex 2.
(5) The Government has all along been actively encouraging and assisting MNOs to enhance network coverage and capacity by expanding their network facilities, including allowing MNOs to install base stations at government properties. If MNOs, having regard to their own network planning and coverage needs, intend to install base stations at certain government properties, they may submit applications to GPA. If necessary, OFCA will coordinate with relevant departments to assist MNOs in meeting the approval requirements of the departments.
In addition, the Government allows MNOs to install base stations on highway facilities (e.g. lampposts, footbridges and flyovers). To facilitate the submission of applications by MNOs, OFCA issued the "Guidance Note for Submission of Application for Installing Micro-cell Base Station on Highway Facilities or on Unleased and Unallocated Government Land" which sets out in details the procedures, requirements and relevant matters concerning the application for installation of micro-cell base stations at the said locations.
In order to expedite the vetting and approval of the applications of MNOs, the Highways Department (HyD) has provided MNOs with a list of pre-approved lampposts which are available for the installation of micro-cell base stations. The list contains information of the lampposts, such as their locations, capacity to support the weight of extra equipment, wind exposure areas, heights, etc. MNOs can also, according to their needs, submit additional information to HyD to apply for using other lampposts for installation of micro-cell base stations. OFCA has in coordination with HyD and MNOs come up with a standardised design of micro-cell base station, so as to streamline the vetting and approval procedures and to shorten the processing time.
(6) To ensure that Hong Kong's telecommunications infrastructure capacity can meet the long-term demand, CEDB has commissioned a consultancy study on future supply of and demand for telecommunications infrastructure capacity in Hong Kong. The study is expected to be completed in the second half of this year.
In the meantime, the Government has put in place a number of facilitating measures to assist MNOs in extending mobile networks so that the public can enjoy better quality of services, including facilitating MNOs to expand their mobile networks to remote and rural areas, allowing operators to use Government buildings or facilities at hilltop sites to install base stations, leasing Government land at nominal rent for MNOs to install new base stations, allowing MNOs to use microwave stations to connect to their base stations in remote areas, assigning additional radio spectrum to MNOs and waiving the relevant spectrum utilisation fee, etc.
The Chief Executive announced in the 2017 Policy Address that financial incentives in the form of subsidies will be provided to fixed network operators to encourage the extension of fibre-based network to villages in remote areas. OFCA has commenced the preparatory work for the subsidy scheme, and will report progress and seek comments from the relevant Panel of the Legislative Council in May. Thereafter, funding approval for the amount involved in the scheme will be sought from the Finance Committee. It is estimated that tendering work will commence in the first half of 2019. Upon completion of the project with fibre-based networks extended to villages in these remote areas, MNOs can make use of the fibre-based networks to install new base stations, thereby enhancing the mobile coverage and capacity in these areas.
Furthermore, the Policy Address also announced a multi-functional smart lampposts pilot scheme. According to information from ITB, starting from 2019, the Government will install some 400 multi-functional smart lampposts at selected urban locations to collect various real-time city data, enhance city and traffic management and provide data network and digital facilities. Space will be reserved in the multi-functional smart lampposts under the pilot scheme for interested MNOs to participate in installing base stations for rolling out 5G network services.