Is Infrastructure in Mexico Ready to Deploy 5G Networks?
STORY INLINE POST
Over the past few years, we have all heard how our interaction with other people and machines connected to the internet will be positively and radically changed with the deployment of 5G connectivity. 5G is the fifth-generation mobile network. 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect everyone and everything, delivering peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, massive network capacity, and higher performance. In other words, the time it will take to process the data we send or receive will be shortened to a few milliseconds. Much to our surprise, we will be able to download movies and TV series in ultra-high definition in the blink of an eye and connect with and drive autonomous cars with little to no human interaction. As for the industrial sector, machines will be able to rapidly connect to other machines that will independently run our factories (of course, that raises another set of problems concerning potential workforce substitution).
All this sounds great and we look forward to living in this fabulous and tech-driven world, but achieving this depends on several factors, including a timely and cost-efficient deployment of the 5G network on existing or newly available infrastructure in both urban and rural areas, and also having access to large amounts of cash at reasonable rates. On the negative side, the current economic and political scenario due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the armed conflict in Ukraine could certainly derail or at least delay the deployment of 5G networks in both developed and developing countries, such as Mexico.
Telecommunications operators will have to invest in building and deploying the 5G core network and the access network. Bandwidth and coverage have to be bartered. Having more bandwidth implies less coverage and vice versa due to the intrinsic propagation properties of radio waves. Therefore, small 5G cells will have to be built and installed closer to the customer. Such deployment will have to be performed using existing infrastructure, including street fixtures, stoplights, streetlight poles, bus stops, and buildings. The cost of deploying a 5G telecommunications site could range from US$20,000 to US$50,000. On top of that, telecommunications operators will have to pay government fees to be able to use and enjoy licensed radio frequencies.
Deploying 5G networks will also require close and timely coordination with local and federal authorities. With this in mind, Mexico has a two-tier system of subnational governments, divided into 32 state governments (federated entities) and 2,458 local and autonomous municipalities and 16 alcaldias. As a general rule, the requirements to apply for authorizations to build and deploy infrastructure and the response time to attain such authorization vary from one municipality or state government to the other and could take one month to a full year in the worst- case scenario. At the federal level, the scenario unfortunately does not get any better. Operators will have to knock on several doors, such as the government-owned power utility company (CFE), the bureau that manages prehistoric, archaeological, and historic buildings (INAH), and the bureau that manages artistic and cultural buildings (INBAL). All this discoordination, lack of communication, and secrecy only create further delays and corruption.
Recently, major mobile operators in Mexico have begun offering 5G services to their respective customers in certain selected cities. The incumbent mobile operator announced that it is offering 5G services initially in 18 cities across Mexico. Its closest competitor has publicly stated its intention to deploy its 5G network in major cities within the next three years. Clearly, the incumbent has the upper hand mainly because of the telecommunications sites and infrastructure owned by one of its affiliates, which owns more than 19,000 sites nationwide.
With this intention in mind, what could be done to effectively facilitate the deployment of 5G networks in Mexico? First, an inventory of potential existing infrastructure in urban areas that can be used and, more importantly, shared among mobile operators to deploy small 5G cells must be put together. Second, an inventory of local and federal agencies or bureaus with some type of jurisdiction over the deployment of networks must be produced to design and execute these comprehensive proceedings. Thus, the smartest and most effective approach would be to file a single comprehensive application and get all local government entities involved simultaneously in a coordinated effort to answer such applications in a timely fashion. Third, requirements must be harmonized and fulfilled at the municipal and state levels and fees must be paid to attain the licenses or permits required to build out and deploy telecommunications-related infrastructure.
Such initiatives require a firm and long-term commitment from all three government levels. At the federal level, however, there is no governmental body with the political and technical wit to attain such goals. The deployment of 5G networks sounds like a good selling pitch for politicians but no actual compromise is being made to help the mobile operators get the job done.
*Written in collaboration with Octavio Lecona
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