In 2022, Latin America made decisive steps to advance the deployment of 5G networks. Brazil, Chile, and the Dominican Republic completed 5G auctions; Ecuador and Colombia unveiled plans to release spectrum; and Mexico and Peru launched services in current spectrum bands. Thus, in July 2022, Brasília became the first city in Brazil with an active 5G network, while AT&T Mexico’s 5G network reached 18 cities in the country by the end of the year.
A senior advisor to the IT committee of the Brazilian Senate trumpeted the country’s progress but warned there is still work to be done, “Brazil was, in 2022, Latin America’s undisputable leader in the deployment of 5G networks. By the end of December, more than 200 cities across Brazil had updated their regulations to enable the installation of 5G antennas. After Brasília, more than 20 other cities had installed 5G infrastructure by the end of the year, mainly in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Pernambuco. But the advances should not distract Anatel [Brazil’s telecommunications regulator] from improving the speed of the deployment as, according to their calculations, full implementation will take until 2029 and significant profits for the country are at stake.”
“Brazil was, in 2022, Latin America’s undisputable leader in the deployment of 5G networks.”
Senior advisor to the IT committee of the Brazilian Senate
He’s quite right, Brazil has delivered rapid progress in the deployment of 5G after holding the largest spectrum auction in the region last November. The country opted for a “pure” 5G 3.5Ghz standalone network which is currently available in 22 urban centres. While Brazil has made the most progress in absolute terms, Chile was Latin America’s 5G star – its 5G spectrum auction took place in February 2021 and is now operational in all 16 regions of the country.
5G has an important role to play in accelerating the development and growth of many Latin American countries and none more so than Brazil, according to the advisor, “It is extremely important for the new government to understand that 5G will play a key role in the re-industrialisation programme announced by [the president of Brazil] Lula. For instance, with new technology and autonomous production tools supported by 5G, the country could boost its productivity, while complying with sustainability goals, boost its trade, and attract more investments.”
In contrast with the advances made in Brazil and Chile, Colombia is struggling to attract the interests of operators. The lack of a comprehensive deployment strategy between federal and local administrations and the tendency for re-using existing spectrum have been hindering 5G implementation. Thus, to secure a smooth deployment of 5G networks, governments should aim to grant full 4G coverage; consolidate a solid fibre optics network; and establish 700 MHz bands as a priority.
“There’s a lot of excitement around the Ericsson initiative with Unicamp […] but my main concern is for the government not to lose focus on the country’s current top priority in telecommunications, 5G.”
Telecommunications executive, Brazil
Mexico is also struggling with 5G deployment. One of the main impediments to the growth of 5G coverage in Mexico, is the high price of radio spectrum, explained a member of the Mexican Association of the Right to Information (“AMEDI”), “the price is so high that it has become the main operating cost for operators, some, such as ATT, have even returned portions of the spectrum allocated to them. The cost of radio spectrum in Mexico is among the highest in the world so there is less and less interest in participating in the upcoming tender, but there is still no interest in adjusting the price. Even Telmex is cautious, because in concentrated market there will be even more restrictive rules for the dominant player.”
Meanwhile, back in Brazil, 6G research and development efforts have already begun, with the epicentre being the Ericsson RD&I centre in Indaiatuba, Sao Paulo. 6G’s first implementation is not expected until 2030 and it will require a larger network capacity and the full implementation of 5G first. A telecommunications executive in Brazil, while excited about the prospects for 6G, warned the industry not to lose focus on 5G, first, “There’s a lot of excitement around the Ericsson initiative with Unicamp [a public university in Campinas, Sao Paulo]. All good news, but my main concern is for the government not to lose focus on the country’s current top priority in telecommunications, 5G. Mostly, I’m excited about the investment made by international companies in telecommunications in Brazil. Yes, it’s an incredibly appealing market for them, but as I said, [private telecom operators] are delivering beyond initial expectations with antennas and then you see Ericsson’s partnerships here with 6G… let’s hope it continues.”