Appropriate public policies can enable more mobile innovation in Latin America
By David George, GSMA Intelligence
Operators, vendors, analysts and public authorities from Latin America congregated last week in Buenos Aires, in the framework of GSMA’s Mobile 360 – Latin America event. During two days, keynotes and roundtables examined opportunities and challenges in key innovation topics, including 5G, IoT and AI. There was some caution over the likely timelines for 5G launches, with delegates also calling for appropriate regulation and political stability to realise the full social and economic impact of these technologies.
Industry stakeholders share conservative timelines for 5G deployments
Industry leaders shared timings for 5G network launches, which suggest these will still take time to materialize in Latin America, and behind more mature markets. Several operators stated that, while they are currently developing 5G technological capabilities, they still do not see a business case for massive deployment in the region, and that 4G investments still need to be recouped. Both operators and vendors agreed first launches will happen beyond 2021, and that fixed wireless access (FWA) , which uses mobile technology rather than cables to provide last-mile fixed broadband, will be the initial driver. Until then, operators will continue to invest in 4G (whose penetration will surpass 3G by the end of the year, according to GSMA Intelligence ) and in capacity expansion, in order to accommodate the ongoing data traffic growth fuelled by strong video and entertainment use in the region.
While 5G took a fair share of the event, several sessions discussed the status of IoT and AI innovation in the region, and the socioeconomic impact and business opportunities these create. Intel presented market-ready, scalable IoT solutions for verticals (including predictive maintenance, logistics and transport), which they expect to explode in the region in coming two years, and said MNOs can see sizeable revenue from monetizing sensors data. The event also put forward applications of AI for business digitization, particularly on customer service and operations. However, public policy consultants said Latin America is still lagging behind in AI readiness, and called for governments and industry to collaborate in R&D, with workers’ readiness for future employment changes being a key area of focus.
Operators keep urging authorities to assign affordable spectrum and for more flexible regulatory regimes
A considerable part of the event was devoted to discussing the need for regulatory reform –with an unusual degree of agreement between operators and regulators on a number of points. In order to incentivize 4G and 5G investment, operator CEOs agreed on the need to assign more spectrum, and expressed the need to review spectrum caps limiting MNOs from acquiring more spectrum. These caps impede operators from increasing network capacity in key markets, including Argentina, Brazil or Chile. Operators also urged governments to ensure affordable spectrum, prioritizing the socioeconomic benefits of mobile connectivity, rather than short-term revenue collection – a statement that found support from a number of public authorities in a roundtable of regulatory and competition authorities.
Beyond spectrum, operators outlined additional regulatory barriers, including sector-specific taxation reducing incentives to invest, local regulations that impede rollout of new sites or prohibitions to offer converged services. Delegates from some regulatory authorities aligned with these views, explicitly questioning the need for prescriptive, ex-ante regulation, and arguing that the fast-moving nature of mobile technology requires general regulatory principles and an ex-post approach. Most delegates across several roundtables agreed connectivity now requires less stringent regulatory approaches, that MNOs’ market power analysis should take into account the increasing competitive introduced by OTTs and that authorities should ensure a level playing field.