5G has started to make its presence felt in Latin America, with many countries testing and preparing to deploy over the next few months.

The region is making immense progress in 5G with the launch of commercial 5G services in several countries, including Brazil, Colombia and Peru, while others like Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Uruguay are planning to launch 5G services soon.

Brazil already boasts of 1.2 million 5G subscriptions, as of December 2021, according to National Telecommunications Agency. On the other hand, Claro Peru has expanded 5G coverage to 19 districts in the Lima metropolitan and two other provinces. 

LATAM: The 5G Story 

By 2025 5G will have 86 million subscribers constituting 12% of the connections excluding licensed cellular IoT in Latin America, according to GSMA. Furthermore, the capital expenditure of the service providers is likely to peak in 2024 to touch $13.1 billion in Latin America because of the growing investment in 5G, says GSMA report.

"At the regional [Latin America] level, we have some countries that are making strong headway in this direction. For example, in Peru, they have already launched the services; in Brazil, they have conducted auctions; in Argentina, they are launching from the existing spectrum. So the region is moving forward. This is a trendsetter region,” says Lucas Gallitto, Head of Latin America, GSMA. He was speaking at the recently concluded panel discussion on The Road of 5G Lighting up Digital LATAM.

Unlike previous technology standards, 5G is not just about better speeds. With extremely low latency and high speed, 5G promises to boost the region’s economy and improve people’s lives. For instance, it will likely provide a $117 billion boost to the Brazilian economy, according to Deloitte. Further, 5G deployment can generate $20 billion in business for companies and startups in Brazil over the next decade. This includes productivity increase and cost reduction as a result of the Industry 4.0 approach.    

Speaking on similar lines, Lucas Gallitto says, "We have noticed that focusing on the social benefit, focusing on innovation is what will allow Latin America to emerge stronger. Previously I have noticed that it is not about we being able to download the movie very fast, but how productivity models are going to change, how the manufacturing industry is going to be more efficient and 5G will play a relevant role in that."

The launch of 5G services is having a transformative impact on the people in the region. "Why we deployed 5G so fast is because there was a latent demand. 5G is a technology that is not going to be immediately installed because it requires a lot of work to strengthen the transport network etc but the idea is to fulfil the needs of our people," says Juan David, Chief Technology Officer, Claro Peru.

Maximizing 5G Gains

This need was particularly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing norms and frequent lockdowns changed the way we worked and lived. "During the pandemic, we realized that we have to work harder in Fixed Wireless Access [FWA] because we knew people had to work from home. We need to have a balance between the fixed and wireless approaches because we see great opportunities in both markets," adds Juan David of Claro Peru.

Several technological innovations can help Latin American service providers in maximizing the benefits of 5G. Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO),  Meta AAU and BladeAAU are allowing service providers across the world to improve 5G monetization.

"In countries and regions where 5G has been deployed the high-bandwidth Massive MIMO is helping the telcos provide high-quality 5G network experience to the users. It can provide ten times cross-generation experience for 5G user. Huawei has a full range of solutions to help the LATAM operators deploy 5G easily and quickly. The need for bandwidth is there in LATAM and it is going to grow more and more, making it crucial for service providers to use 5G to meet the growing demand," says Cullen Xu, Vice President, 5G Product Line, Huawei. 

It has been three years since the launch of commercial 5G services in China and around the world, there are more than 200 5G networks and more than 700 million 5G users. All three Chinese operators have recorded a growth in Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) since the launch of commercial 5G services three years back.

Apart from Massive MIMO, MetaAAU (Active Antenna Unit) is also helping the carriers improve coverage and gain energy efficiencies. Its Extremely Large Antenna Array (ELAA) enhances the network performance while bringing down the operational cost by reducing energy consumption. In addition, it helps in improving the user experience by 30% and brings down energy consumption by 30%.

"In Latin America, Antenna installation space is often limited for 5G networks and BladeAAU with active and passive antennas combined allows 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G to be deployed on a single port thus addressing the space constraint," says Cullen Xu. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for quality connectivity in Latin America, and the time is right for the service providers in the region to accelerate 5G deployment to meet the growing demand for high-speed and low-latency communication. 5G will also play a crucial role in improving the social and economic parameters of the region. In addition, technologies like high-bandwidth Massive MIMO, MetaAAU and BladeAAU can further help Latin American service providers to maximize the gains from 5G.