Latin America is set to reduce the digital gap, increasingly digitalising its industries while embracing new technologies. Broadband connectivity will play a crucial role in such endeavours across the region. According to official sources, spectrum auctions are set to occur in various Latin American jurisdictions this year, including Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay, with most aiming to allocate spectrum for 5G technologies.
On 21 December 2022, Colombia’s ICT Ministry (MinTIC) published the Action Plan for the 5G spectrum auction. The frequencies available consist of 10 MHz in the 700 MZ band, 10 MHz in the 1.9 GHz band, 30 MHz in the 2.5 GHz, up to 400 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band, and 2.8 GHz in the 26 GHz band. Per the consultation, the Ministry seeks to allocate the remaining spectrum below the 3 GHz band to improve 4G networks – the last auction was held in December 2019 – and allocate new spectrum for 5G networks in bands over 3 GHz. According to the Plan, the auction is to be held by Q3-2023. However, no additional details regarding the rules, conditions for participation, or technical considerations for the auction have been announced.
On 8 December, the General Superintendency of Electricity and Telecommunications (Siget) announced that they were licensing 30 MHz in the AWS band. The programme will open spectrum in the 1,710-1,780 MHz and 2,110-2,180 MHz ranges for national coverage. The licence was made available on 23 December, with lots of expected interest – principally from General International Telecom.
On 9 January 2023, the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) published an open consultation for the design of the upcoming 5G spectrum tender. The consultation defined two main groups among eight frequency bands: the first group (600 MHz, 3.3. GHz, and L Band) for use in new generation systems, such as 5G, and the second group (800 MHz, 850 MHz, 2.5 GHz, AWS, and PCS) for current networks and technologies, accounting for up to 380 MHz of spectrum available. Bands are expected to be used for next-generation systems while also benefitting the development of new technologies.
On 10 January, the Agency for the Promotion of Private Investment (ProInversión), in coordination with the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC), announced the relaunch of 2.3 GHz and AWS-3 special public licensing. The programme was initially scheduled for February 2022 but was delayed due to outside factors. The last date for base consultations and contract suggestions is 28 February, and the pre-qualification stage for new bidders lasts until 5 April. The AWS-3 band will be divided into two blocks, both featuring blocks of 2×15 MHz; the 2.3 GHz band will consist of one 30 MHz block. The project does not have a defined start date. However, developing better connectivity infrastructure is a top priority for the government, especially in rural areas.
On 28 December, the National Telecommunications Administration (Antel) announced the opening of two 100 MHz blocks in the 3.5 GHz band to expand 5G coverage. The 3,300-3,400 MHz and 3,700-3,800 MHz bands are open to private bidding, beginning at USD 28 million. The 3,600-3,700 MHz band was reserved for Antel. This initiative is a key component of Uruguay’s 2025 Digital Agenda, which seeks to expand the scope and quality of 5G coverage nationwide. There is expected to be significant private interest in the available spectrum, including from notable companies such as Claro and Movistar.
What’s at stake?
The rollout of new spectrum auctions in Latin America is a positive indication for the 2023 business environment, both for developing technologies and reinforcing existing systems. However, achieving reasonable spectrum fees and competitive conditions for each contest remains a major challenge for regulators and telecommunication companies seeking to operate across the region and expand broadband connectivity. Policymakers must set spectrum licence terms that can provide certainty for telcos while maximising digital connectivity and promoting economic growth. Increased coverage should be viewed as a first step towards reaching rural and remote populations, while new technologies should also be fostered for the burgeoning Latin American digital and technological markets, such as the recent examples of Colombia (2019), Chile (2020), and Brazil (2021).
Summary of countries and spectrum bands
|700 MHz, 1.900 MHz, 2.500 MHz, 3.5 GHz, 26 GHz||AWS (1.700-2.100 MHz)||600 MHz, 3.3 GHz, Band L, 800 MHz, 850 MHz, 2.5 GHz, AWS (1.700-2.100 MHz), PCS (1.900 MHz)||2.3 GHz, AWS-3||3.5 GHz|
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