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Mexico Faces Challenges on Road to 5G, Say AT&T Panelists

Mexico needs to invest heavily in infrastructure and education and address local regulatory barriers and high spectrum costs to realize the potential of 5G, said telecom executives, regulators and academics in an AT&T Mexico-hosted webinar Friday. Mexico has the spectrum needed to offer 5G, but it will be “as if this spectrum didn’t exist” without the proper supporting infrastructure, said Instituto Federal De Telecommunicaciones (IFT) Commissioner Javier Juarez Mojica, via an interpreter. The IFT is Mexico’s federal communications regulatory agency.

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Harnessing 5G is important for Mexico because the country has many auto manufacturing and mining jobs that would be affected by the technology that allows for more automation, said John Mayo, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy. Mexico’s productivity has grown slowly compared with other countries, and 5G could also help address that, Mayo said. “By 2035, of the job positions we have today, less than 40 percent will remain as is,” said AT&T Mexico CTO Nicole Rodriguez van den Branden, via an interpreter. “We see a great opportunity in Mexico for manufacturing and factories.”

Building out the infrastructure for 5G in Mexico is challenging because of a patchwork of local regulations, said Juarez. Many local town halls “don’t have the human resources” to employ telecommunications specialists and impose rules intended to govern home construction on projects to build broadband, he said. Requirements for installing telecom facilities are “not standardized” across municipalities in Mexico, said Qualcomm Senior Director-Government Affairs Hector Marin, via an interpreter. Resources should be devoted to training programs for local authorities, said Juarez. Other challenges come from the distribution of data centers in Mexico, which are clustered in just a few places, and variations in the availability of the power supply in different regions, said Raul Romero, Nokia Mexico general manager, via an interpreter.

The country also needs to prepare for 5G by educating engineers, said Romero. An ecosystem of science, technology, engineering and math education will be required, he said. “We will have to start from scratch in Mexico, said Rodriguez. There are technology and processes for shifting to 5G in the more developed countries, but they're less available for emerging markets like Mexico and will have to be created, she said.

Several speakers also cited Mexico’s relatively high spectrum costs as an issue. Countries seeking to encourage 5G development should prioritize the efficiency of spectrum rather than maximizing revenue when allocating it, said Verena Weber, head of the telecom policy unit at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Several speakers said that hasn't been Mexico’s policy to date. There are many entities working on 5G with disparate approaches and end goals, which led to “a misalignment of objectives,” said Elena Estravillo Flores, a former IFT commissioner and CEO of Centrio. To make 5G happen, the company needs a “broad collaborative effort,” she said.

Mexico also needs “a robust policy and regulatory framework” to attract 5G investment, because companies want “investment certainty,” said Weber. It's important “to know the rules of the game will be stable,” said Juarez. “The benefits are going to depend on the strength of the institutions Mexico puts in place to complement these developments,” Mayo said.