LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 LATIN AMERICA, BOGOTA: While Telecom Personal Argentina said realising 5G is still a distant dream for the country, Tigo Colombia was more bullish in its vision, revealing plans for imminent trials.

Martin Wessel, head of technology evolution for the Argentinian operator, explained the country is still deploying 4G and coming to grips with the technology. 5G is much further down the path because it brings “complex demands” around bandwidth, latency and energy efficiency.

The executive said operators have been dealing with major challenges ever since 3G brought with it access to data, emails and mobile browsing, and 4G comes with its own “headaches”.

He noted Telecom Personal completed the shift to IP backhaul, a tremendous job bearing in mind the size of the country, and is working toward IoT middleware deployment. He believes sticking to this path will eventually make 5G easier.

Marcelo Cataldo, president of Tigo Colombia (pictured), said the operator’s immediate vision is to connect more people with both fixed networks and LTE. While he agreed commercial launches of 5G are “far away”, he said the technology is very much on the company’s agenda.

He said Tigo Colombia is planning to launch 5G trials in the next two weeks, the first operator in the country to do so, to enable it to understand the challenges it will face when trying to evolve its network. Tigo also wants to learn how it can monetise the opportunities presented by 5G and IoT.

Connecting more people
Cataldo said smartphone penetration in the US is 78 per cent, with Latin America 20 percentage points behind and Colombia 10 percentage points behind again. As for 4G, the US is at 63 per cent, whereas Latin America is at 20 per cent and Colombia 15 per cent.

The challenge, in his opinion, is to work with governments and vendors to get more people onto 4G and move the ecosystem forward. 2G still exists in the region and if more people don’t shift to 4G, there will be a point where 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G will exist at the same time, making it impossible for operators to focus on 5G.

Another challenge is monetisation. He said ARPU for the mobile sector in the US is $35, $25 in Europe and just $5 in Latin America.

He said the region must install the same infrastructure as other countries, but with the disadvantage of having much less revenue to play with: the capex to revenue ratio is much higher. In order to overcome the challenge, regulators need to help out.

Cataldo noted Tigo is the only operator in the country without low band spectrum and believes the operator should receive “special treatment” when the government decides to auction 700MHz spectrum.