Hong Kong’s regional telecoms hub role, 5G mobile plans imperilled by US block of cable system link

Hong Kong’s status as a telecommunications hub in Asia, along with its roll-out of 5G mobile services, could be imperilled by Washington’s move to block a major undersea cable network from linking the city to the US West Coast.

That gloomy prospect looms larger for Hong Kong after the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector on Wednesday recommended that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deny an application for a direct undersea fibre optic cable link between the city and Los Angeles, California, based on national security concerns.

“This is a blow to Hong Kong as a regional telecommunications hub,” said legislator Charles Mok, who represents the city’s information technology sector, in an interview on Thursday. “It will be more and more difficult to have such trans-Pacific cable connections and other systems involving US partners to come to Hong Kong.”

Stretching 12,800 kilometres, the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) was to be the longest and first high-capacity submarine fibre-optic cable system between Hong Kong and Los Angeles. This advanced fixed-line network, which bypasses high seismic areas near Taiwan and Japan to avoid service interruptions, is to connect international data centres between the two cities, while providing increased bandwidth to support next-generation mobile applications.

“The recommendation not only hinders the telecommunications development between Hong Kong and the US, it also harms the interests of US investors and entities,” said a spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) in a statement on Thursday, adding that the concerns raised by the US committee were unfounded. “We attach great importance to the security and integrity of our telecommunications networks.”

A direct fibre-optic cable system link between Hong Kong and Los Angeles, California, has been blocked by Washington over national security concerns.

The inter-agency committee, led by the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, moved to block approval for the PLCN’s Hong Kong-to-Los Angeles segment because one of the project’s significant owners, Pacific Light Data Co, is a subsidiary of Chinese telecoms service provider Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group Co, according to Wednesday’s announcement. The PLCN’s proposed Hong Kong landing station “would expose US communications traffic to collection” by China, according to the committee.

Meanwhile, the committee recommended that the FCC grant portions of the PLCN application to connect the US, Taiwan and the Philippines. Those segments are separately owned and controlled by subsidiaries of Google and Facebook. In April, the FCC granted Google’s request for Special Temporary Authority to commercially operate the US-Taiwan segment of the PLCN for six months.INSIDE CHINA TECH NEWSLETTERGet updates direct to your inboxSUBSCRIBEBy registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

Mok warned that the US committee’s move could make it more difficult for the city’s 5G mobile network operators to get the bandwidth they need. “We can have fast 5G, but international bandwidth growth may become limited,” he said.

Google, 5G mobile network operators HKT and SmarTone Telecommunications, and fixed-line infrastructure services provider HGC Global Communications did not immediately reply to separate requests for comment.

Submarine fibre-optic cable systems form the backbone of the vast global telecommunications infrastructure, as it carries most of the world’s internet, voice and data traffic between continents. These systems have become more critical by linking data centres around the world, which has helped expand the use of cloud computing. PLCN, designed with the latest ultra long-distance transmission technology, is to provide the largest total capacity – 144 terabits per second – among all fibre-optic cable systems in the Asia-Pacific.

The US committee’s decision to block the system’s US-to-Hong Kong leg has come amid a worsening recession in the city, where many businesses have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and anti-government protests.

It could also cast a pall over the city’s nascent 5G market. HKT, 3 Hong Kong, SmarTone and China Mobile Hong Kong each launched 5G mobile services around two months ago.

While this latest US move may heighten tension between Washington and Beijing, it would have no impact on the city’s 5G mobile services in the near term because of the extensive international fibre-optic cable infrastructure in place, according to a senior telecoms firm executive who requested anonymity.

Linked to 11 external submarine optical fibre cable systems, Hong Kong also has 20 overland fibre-optic cables and 11 communications satellites that connect the city to the rest of the world, according to the CEDB. It said existing and planned capacity “are expected to meet the medium to long-term external telecommunications demand in Hong Kong”.

China Telecom Global, the international arm of the country’s largest fixed-line network operator, announced on Thursday plans for a new regional submarine cable system. The Asia Direct Cable consortium, which China Telecom co-founded, aims to complete a 9,400km cable system by the fourth quarter of 2021. It will connect the mainland and Hong Kong to Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.

“The existing and planned capacity [of international fibre-optic cable systems] are expected to meet the medium- to long-term external telecommunications demand in Hong Kong,” the CEDB spokesman said.

originally posted at:https://www.scmp.com/

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