State of 5G in Brazil

According to the research center CPqD, Brazil will only start to see the adoption of 5G connections by 2030, but how does this prediction fare in comparison to market expectations?

Brazil is known to be the country that is either on the bleeding edge or is 5 years behind Europe or North America in terms of adoption of new technologies. To many, it is unthinkable that Brazil has one of the most modern banking systems in the world while by as late as 2018, only 63% of Brazilian households have access to any type of internet connection as of 2017.

Development of mobile networks in Brazil

Mobile networks have become over the years a key enabler to bringing connectivity to the country through a government programme to promote the universalisation of internet in Brazil, the Plano Nacional de Banda Larga. Even though the value of these types of connections have initially been undervalued by those who conceived the programme, mobile broadband turned out to be one of the most important components to allow massification of connections, especially in remote areas.

The importance of mobile connections for the success of the broadband programme served as an important incentive for the expansion of 3G and later of 4G networks in the Brazilian territory, allowing a much faster and cost effective deployment of broadband connections.

Regulatory scenario for 5G in Brazil

One of the first steps in the development of 5G in Brazil was taken in February 2017, when representatives of the industry, government, and research institutions gathered to launch the initiative Projeto 5G Brasil, to build an ecosystem to drive 5G forward in Brazil. This initiative enabled Brazil to participate in international discussions and become part of a selective group of decision makers that will set standards for the technology together with EU, US, South Korea, Japan and China. Projeto 5G Brasil, also known as Projeto 5G has as one of the pillars to bring 5G to the remotest areas with limited backhaul links, by using sub-1 GHz operation, high transmission power, high propagation delay, interference management, and integration with satellite backhaul.

Later the same year, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications signed a MoU with Huawei, to strengthen Brazilian R&D and technical cooperation in telecommunications and IT. Even though the scope of the MoU is relatively broad, it includes developments within mobile networks based on 5G, an indication that the government is continuously relying on this technology as an aid to bring broadband to the entirety of the Brazilian territory.

Anatel’s agenda for 5G in Brazil

Brazilian telecommunications agency Anatel is also closely watching the development of the technology and engaging in discussions on an international level regarding the deployment of the 5G standards. Preliminary information indicates that the agency is to allocate the 3.5GHz or 28 GHz band for the roll out of 5G in Brazil.

A resolution published in 2010 determined that the 3.5 GHz band should be primarily attributed to mobile services in Brazil, and this resolution is expected to be reviewed by Anatel in 2018. According to Anatel’s agenda for the 1st semester in 2018, the agency will elaborate a regulatory impact analysis on the use of the 3.5 GHz frequency band for 5G.

Industry and operator drivers of 5G in Brazil

Though still very incipient, there is already some interest from the industry to push 5G connection rollouts in Brazil. One example of this is operator Claro/Embratel, the Brazilian operation of America Móvil. The company announced in early 2018 that they have already begun investments in their IP networks to support future 5G connections by integrating legacy IP and optic networks using photonic technology, and by January 2018, 15% of their existing network received an upgrade to operate with SDN and virtualization.

Operations of 5G will be feasible by 2019 both in terms of software for operators with Ericsson having announced commercial software for 5G radio networks, and hardware with Qualcomm providing chipsets to all major device manufacturers. Even though Brazil has witnessed some of the leading tests of 5G conducted by Ericsson and Claro during Futurecom 2016, it is unlikely that Brazil will start to get 5G speeds by 2019, or anytime over the next few years for that matter, considering that the operators are still heavily focused on the deployment of 4G networks.

Brazilian operators have coverage targets imposed by Anatel during the bidding process for the bands frequencies, so they will be focused on meeting these targets until the deadline, due in 2019 for the 4G frequencies. Anatel has also recently reallocated the 700 MHz spectrum which was previously used for analogue TV to LTE, allowing the operators to begin LTE-Advanced operations. Currently, Vivo, Claro and TIM are rolling out LTE Advanced connections in Brazil.

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