Definition of standards, identification of bands, pilot tests, announcements of commercial launches: 5G is already pulsing in the day-to-day of the industry, apart from formal announcements that foresee the deployment of the new technology in 2020. Analysts and consultants agree that for the biennium 2023-2024, 5G connections will be around 10% of the total number of mobile accesses worldwide. No actor in the ecosystem wants to be set aside in the new scenario and Latin America is no exception.
By the end of 2017, 3GPP announced that the first formal standard, the 5G New Radio (NR), with which the main operators worldwide, such as AT&T, NTT Docomo, Orange, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, T-Mobile US, Verizon and Vodafone have already made trials. With the standards under definition stage, the industry puts the focus on the discussion about 5G bands that will be defined at the next World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19).
The regional discussion, within the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission (CITEL), takes note of the status of the high bands - above 24 GHz - and even already paying attention to "ultra high" bands that are contemplated just by means of brief references in the ITU Radio Regulations.
In the region, América Móvil and Telefónica conducted tests in different locations, such as Argentina, Chile and Colombia, with Ericsson and Nokia occupying the top positions among equipment suppliers. Telefónica also started a pilot deployment in two Spanish cities, with the umbrella of the Road Map for 5G published by the European Union in December 2017. AT&T's bet is stronger: it ensures that it will launch commercial 5G in a dozen US markets before the end of this year, although the impact in Latin America will be limited, because it only has regional presence in Mexico.
The future agenda coexists with a series of contrasts typical of the Latin American economy. The LTE coverage already exceeds 70% of the population and according to the GSMA, 42% of the lines will be 4G in 2020, in tune with the world average. Despite this, some 250 million people in rural areas and low income sectors have minimal access to ICT.
This scenario was compounded by difficulties of various kinds that occurred in the last year for several operators, such as the limitations to access the 700 MHz band, either because it was not tendered or because it has not yet been cleared; or the demands to revise the spectrum limits in view of the ever-increasing requirement of bands for the expansion of the mobile data business, a complication that will be further accentuated with 5G.