2022 will be the year of 5G in Mexico, as recognized by Alejandro Navarrete, head of the Radioelectric Spectrum Unit of the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) in an interview with El Economista.
Although other countries such as Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Brazil have already tendered spectrum for 5G in different frequencies, Mexico is in a position to join a second wave of countries that make spectrum for 5G available to the market.
Remember that the fifth generation of mobile communications has several main advantages such as higher speed, massive device connectivity and, the most important quality, lower latency: the time it takes for the signal from being sent to being received is considerably reduced.
5G is not a technology, but a chain of technologies, all of them integrated: frequencies, Cloud, fiber optics, Edge Computing, Internet of Things, semiconductors (chips)… However, an essential element for 5G is the radio spectrum. The IFT has already identified susceptible bands for 5G, has already integrated a 5G Technical Committee and is already preparing the public consultation and the frequency tender.
5G is novel in many ways. Unlike previous wireless generations, 5G networks are broadband and cloud-native. Everything in 5G will be data, but massive. The Ericsson company forecasts that 5G data traffic will exceed 4G in just five years in Latin America. In Mexico, 14% of the total connections will be 5G in 2025 (GSMA).
This will be possible not only because end consumers like you or me will consume more mobile data, but also because cities will be more connected and different industries such as transport are becoming digitized, generating a massive explosion of data.
There are already 5G smartphones in stores and in Customer Service Centers of operators, precisely enabled with the frequencies identified for 5G services. Most of these phones are high-end and quite expensive, but manufacturers are already massaging the technology and cheap 5G smartphones will soon be available.
The interesting thing about 5G is that, again unlike previous mobile generations, phones are just one link in the 5G technology chain.
One of the first 5G services or use cases is called Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). The operators will offer you a modem to connect from the 5G mobile network in your home, industry or SME. FWA has a speed experience similar to fiber optics but its access is wireless.
You no longer have to dream of your convenience store or restaurant having ultra-fast, enhanced wireless Internet because that’s what happens with 5G. You will no longer worry about speed but will have to figure out what to do with it and how 5G will benefit your business with more services, customers and revenue. Even if you sell food or groceries, your production process will be digitized and you will be able to offer innovative services to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
FWA 5G has another wonderful potential: it can help bridge the digital divide in rural areas. Yes, the truth is that it is very difficult and expensive to bring fiber optics to the field, but the 5G mobile network can be present. We’ve all seen telecommunications towers in the middle of rural nowhere. That tower may have a 5G antenna. It is not unreasonable to imagine miscellaneous stores, ranches or public squares with a 5G modem with Internet speed similar to fiber.
Again, forget about access and start figuring out what to do or how to innovate with 5G. Will you continue to use the Internet to consult social networks? That would be a waste. As the digital issues analyst Jorge Fernando Negrete says, that would be equivalent to making an underdeveloped use of developed technologies.
Better think that 5G is going to allow you to open Internet platforms and contract your services efficiently. Have telemedicine. Consume online courses without internet interruptions. Hold video conferences without freezing or having to turn off the video. You will be able to open businesses and sell online to the world. Produce your own marketing content and upload it quickly to the web to attract visitors, customers or income. Consuming streaming series and movies will be common, but in 4K or 8K quality.
I told him that smartphones are only the consumption link of 5G networks. One promise of 5G is to automate production processes and transform industries, it’s called Productive Internet. There are already 5G connected mining use cases: a dangerous and harmful industry for the health of miners can extract and produce remotely, intelligently and cleanly. There are also 5G ports; all logistics depend on connectivity.
The same happens with 5G manufacturing, an industry in which Mexico has great potential. Automakers are interested in setting up their own private 5G networks to produce their chipped vehicles using robotics and software. Transport, agriculture, electricity, energy, entertainment, public services… all connected to 5G.
What’s the matter? Why, if everything reads so beautiful and with so many benefits, why did it take so long to have 5G? Because everything has its dark side: industries are delaying their digital transformation, despite the fact that this will be their factor of competitiveness and possibly survival in the market; governments without digital or technological vision charge a lot for the use of the spectrum; some have no public policy, digital agenda or 5G roadmap; still others, especially municipalities, impose regulatory barriers to the deployment of infrastructure, hinder or delay the installation of towers and equipment.
5G does not arrive and that’s it. No, operators have to make investments; request financing from banks; develop business models; plan, install and deploy the infrastructure, because the 5G network is new and completely different from the previous ones.
Imagining 5G costs nothing, but countries like South Korea, China, the United States or Spain have already gone from saying to doing and want to lead 5G. Because that is also 5G: a development model.
President of the Mexican Association of Right to Information (Amedi)
Media and telecommunications analyst and academic from UNAM. Studies the media, new technologies, telecommunications, political communication and journalism. He is the author of the book media presidentialism. Media and power during the government of Vicente Fox.