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CLT19 | Latin America moves forward to 5G, but new networks will require a better environment to be sustainable

  • The first day of the Latin American Telecommunications Congress kicked off with an ITU Forum: “Spectrum management heading to the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019” and with the annual academic meeting of the industry: CPR LATAM.

Córdoba, Argentina. Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are the Latin American countries that have released plans and consultations regarding 5G. The former is considering the 2.3 GHz, 3.5 GHz and 24.5 GHz-27.5 GHz bands. Mexico is including the 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.3-3.6 GHz, and 24.25 to 52.6 GHz bands. Meanwhile, Colombia: 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 3.3-3.7 GHz and 24.25 to 86 GHz bands. Carolina Limbatto, from Cullen International, stated that, heading to 5G, the region is under completely different circumstances, beginning with the spectrum that has been assigned to mobile operators.

Brazil, with 649 MHz; Chile, with 470 MHz and Mexico, with 458 MHz, are the ones in Latin America with the largest amount of assigned spectrum. They are followed by Argentina (390 MHz), Peru (383 MHz) and Colombia (370 MHz). Allan Ruiz, Executive Secretary of COMTELCA, pointed out that there is low spectrum assignment for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) compared to what has been identified for these services. He argued that, before auctioning any spectrum bands, it is necessary to determine what their purpose will be. “Providing a clear picture so that operators have the legal certainty to make the necessary investments.”

In that regard, Víctor Martínez, coordinator of the Technical Bureau at CONATEL Paraguay, indicated that, from the perspective of telecommunications regulation, revenue is important, but it is even more important that that money be invested in the development of a network and the expansion of coverage. However, the Ministry of Finance thinks otherwise.”

In addition, Luis Delamer, Vice-President of Strategy, Regulation and Trade Negotiations at Telefónica, pointed out that connectivity companies make 70% of investments in the digital ecosystem, but they only get 40% of the revenue due to the emergence of applications. He said they do not expect applications to be regulated in the same way as operators, but they do want to rethink how to conduct the deployment, given that, with the growing demand for data, it has become a structural issue. “The industry has changed a lot during the past 20 years, and it is still regulated in the same way,” he argued. Moreover, he said that, if connectivity is so important for the productivity of the country, then “as little money as possible should be taken out of the industry.”

The current pricing model in spectrum management will not work with 5G
“Modifying spectrum management is vital to deploy next generation mobile technology,” highlighted José Ayala, Director of Government and Industry Relations for Latin America at Ericsson, during his presentation at the CLT.  He mentioned that the current model is 20 years old, and warned that it was not going to work for 5G. “High fees and taxes lead to underinvestment in infrastructure and high costs for users.” This will hinder 5G from enabling the digital transformation.  More than 10 million 5G subscriptions and around 50 networks are projected worldwide by the end of 2019, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report. Sebastián Cabello, an expert in telecommunications, believes that policymakers must know for sure what the purpose of the spectrum will be: better coverage, new services or competition. “The State must determine the better use, but on the basis of transparent processes, which should provide legal certainty, weighing the cost against the benefits.”

“Satellite companies should be flexible enough to be able to provide solutions in this changing ecosystem,” said Jennifer A. Manner, Senior Vice-President of Regulatory Affairs at EchoStar Corporation/Hughes Network. The demands of consumers for a greater capacity are pushing satellite operators towards higher frequency bands, which are also wanted by terrestrial operators. According to Jennifer, no single technology can meet all the needs anywhere at any time individually, so we need a reasonable combination.

The value of millimeter frequencies     
By 2034, Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to have made a contribution of $ 20.8 billion out of a total contribution of $ 190 billion made by the Americas region to GDP as a result of 5G mmWave technologies, highlighted Luciana Camargos, Senior Director of Future Spectrum at GSMA, during the opening ceremony of the Latin American Telecommunications Congress 2019 (CLT19). During the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Forum, the Director explained that the total socioeconomic impact of 5G depends on the access to a variety of spectrum resources, including millimeter wave bands between 24 GHz and 86 GHz. mmWave spectrum allows for the increase in bandwidth and capacity required by many 5G applications.

To date, some of the mmWave bands have been made available for mobile in certain countries. Bands between 24 and 86 GHz are also under evaluation, and are being considered for the identification of International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) in the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19), in order to support the development of the 5G network. It is worth mentioning that the 28 GHz band is not included in the discussion for 5G in the WRC-19, in spite of being assigned for fixed and mobile services worldwide. However, for high bands, frequencies from 24 GHz to 27.5 GHz are in the agenda.

Oscar León, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), urged countries to adopt the Recommendation ITU K.52 on complying with limits for human exposure to electromagnetic fields, for a successful and optimal 5G deployment. He stated that some countries have adopted much stricter measures, which must be updated. Otherwise, 5G deployment will not be possible. As regards the bands for the next generation of mobile services, León pointed out that, even though there is no agreement in the region, it is expected to establish boundaries to avoid interference with other services. So far, there are 22 proposals ready for the ITU, eight of which have already been sent. There are also 27 preliminary proposals.

David Meltzer, Secretary General of Global VSAT Forum, emphasized that Latin America is a unique region, with a mixture of urban and rural areas, geographical challenges, and diverse communities and interests. Therefore, no single solution will be enough to meet all the different needs regarding satellite alternatives.

Transforming the telecommunications industry
Simultaneously, the CPR Latam 2019 opened before scholars and researchers from the industry in the region. Robert Pepper, who leads Global Connectivity and Technology Policy at Facebook, stressed the need to transform telecommunications and highlighted that regulatory frameworks must promote innovation, investments, and new business models for global data traffic. He noted that the telecommunications industry is shifting from a voice model to a data model; from copper networks to competition with new technologies; and from regulation to public policy to provide digital services to the population.

Facebook suggests using drones to bridge the digital divide     
Connecting the unconnected poses problems regarding lack of infrastructure, extremely high costs and lack of local content. In order to foster connectivity in remote areas, Facebook suggests the HAPS solution by using drones, as Lester García, Head of Connectivity and Access Policy of Facebook, stated. During a discussion on spectrum management with social impact, he explained that drones allow for a 100-kilometer-wide coverage, which can reach remote areas on land or sea, and they can operate up in the sky for 12 months using solar energy. Once this solution is deployed, it is expected that its cost be 80% lower than other backhaul options like optic fiber. As applications, he foresees rural broadband, disaster and emergency assistance services, multicasting and communications in temporary locations.

This technology can support other mobile or satellite services. Nevertheless, García explained that access to a sufficient amount of harmonized spectrum is the missing key to achieving the development and deployment of broadband HAPS. Existing HAPS spectrum identifications are not enough to support the uses of broadband due to limited bandwidth, limited geographical coverage and other technical issues. CITEL has identified the 47-48 GHz band in the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and Mexico for HAPS.

Initiatives in Latin America        
Luis Ottati, Spectrum Planning Director of the Planning Undersecretariat at SETIC, stated Argentina suggests a rule for accessing spectrum for common use without authorization, in frequency bands for common use. Its purpose is to enable spectrum access for SMEs, community networks, and entrepreneurs in order to provide Internet access services in rural areas. Ottati announced that the results of the first call for 450-470 MHz spectrum for rural areas was of two thousand, with 536 received applications, 146 direct awards, 126 possible awards and 71 published tenders.

Karla Prudencio, Political Advocacy at Redes AC, said Mexico has spectrum allocation for social community use or indigenous use by direct awards. The goal is to connect specific markets no other operator can reach. These community allocations can provide phone, radio and TV services.