DPL News | 1,200 MHz of free spectrum to improve Internet access in Mexico

DPL News | 1,200 MHz of free spectrum to improve Internet access in Mexico

This article was originally published in DPL News on 7 February 2022. 

Recently, arguments have circulated regarding new uses of the 6 GHz band, where the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) has held a public consultation proposing that the 1,200 MHz band would be considered free spectrum. This consultation had a high level of participation, showcasing interest in the band, and it is expected that the IFT will make a decision shortly.

The free spectrum allows its frequency bands to be used by anyone who follows the IFT’s technical guidelines, without the need for a concession. Wi-Fi is one of the technologies that uses free spectrum and today has a new technological development aimed at taking advantage of the 1,200 MHz of the 6 GHz band: Wi-Fi 6E.

Determining that a band is free spectrum means establishing an additional use to those currently existing in the band without affecting them, in the case of the 6 GHz band, it adds to satellite services and point-to-point links. In this sense, the technical guidelines to be established by the IFT should guarantee the coexistence of existing services with the new free-to-use devices. This coexistence between services has already been tested in the United States, Europe and other countries. In fact, the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance has presented simulations that guarantee coexistence with free use in the case of services offered in Mexico.

Additionally, another relevant element in the IFT’s proposal to declare the 1,200 MHz as free spectrum is that several countries in the Americas have taken the same decision, which allows the harmonisation of equipment and the generation of economies of scale to benefit the cost of products offered to the public in the United States, Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru and Chile, for the time being. This decision pre-empted the 100 MHz band studies being carried out by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for the Americas, known as ITU Region 2.

The reason for this decision is due to the low expectation that the studies will ensure coexistence of IMT services with existing services, as well as the opportunity cost of boosting internet use and the development of new services with Wi-Fi 6E in the 1,200 MHz of the 6 GHz band, where coexistence with free spectrum devices is proven.

These aspects had already been identified since it was resolved to study the band at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019, but African countries insisted on their interest, so the study is mostly focused on this region of the world. On the other hand, it is worth noting that in the public consultation conducted by the IFT regarding the use of the 6 GHz band, the satellite sector has expressed its opposition to the use of the band for IMT services, as it considers coexistence with free spectrum services feasible considering the available evidence. Likewise, the Ministry of Infrastructure, Communications and Transport (SICT) has expressed its interest in ensuring that the determination of free spectrum does not affect national security satellite services.

As noted, the coexistence between existing and free-to-use services is guaranteed given the studies carried out, which is reinforced by the satellite sector’s position, so the SICT’s concern is resolved. However, if the SICT is concerned about free use whose studies guarantee coexistence, would it then be able to support the use of IMT services in the 6 GHz band when the satellite sector is against it? We have commented that there has been a debate on the use of the 6 GHz band in the Americas; however, given the above, the question is: what is the debate about? Those interested in operating with IMT to offer 5G services have expressed their opposition to identifying the 1,200 MHz for free use, which is why they propose to identify only 500 MHz of the lower part of the band and wait for the results of the studies conducted in the ITU for Region 1, regarding the use of the remaining 700 MHz.

This is in the expectation of obtaining more mid-band spectrum for IMT. This is without prejudice to the fact that the IFT has identified 16,925 MHz usable for IMT and plans to auction this year the 600 MHz, 3.3 GHz, 3.5 GHz and L-band bands as suitable for the provision of 5G services. It is important to note that the 700 MHz study4 is only applicable to Region 1, which includes Europe, Russia, Africa and the Arab countries, and not to Region 2, which includes Mexico and the rest of the countries in the Americas. In addition, studies have not been able to endorse the operation of IMT in the band, given the complexity of coexistence between IMT and existing services and the lack of consensus within the group studying the issue, which has opposing positions, especially from the satellite sector that currently occupies the band.

This is why some countries in Region 1 itself, such as Saudi Arabia, have opted for the free use of the 1,200 MHz and to take advantage of the opportunity cost that the band offers as free spectrum. In this sense, the result of the ITU studies for Mexico, which so far have not demonstrated the possibility of coexistence, would only be applicable for 100 MHz of the 6 GHz band and not for 700 MHz as it is purported.

However, it has been pointed out that Mexico could include its name in a footnote in the Radio Regulations and not adopt the Region 2 use but join the countries that have an interest in using 700 MHz of the band for IMT, such as Russia, China and African countries. It should be recalled that the ITU’s division of the world into three regions is intended to promote compatibility in the use of the spectrum in each of these regions and to encourage the development of services at affordable costs for the public, thus achieving the best use of the spectrum for the benefit of the people.

In this sense, and theoretically forgetting the need to guarantee the coexistence of services, the proposal that Mexico should be the exception in the Americas with respect to the use of the 6 GHz band would not allow us to take advantage of economies of scale with our main trading partners, the United States and Canada, nor with the rest of the region, for the use of a technology with free access to the entire public in the 1,200 MHz band that will allow us to promote greater and better use of the Internet.

This would mean that the use of technologies such as Wi-Fi 6E, which is generally available to the public, would not be the same as that used by our trading partners, so the potential scale of use in the Americas would not be exploited by Mexico. In addition, it has been estimated that the adoption of 1,200 MHz in the 6 GHz band for free use in Mexico has the potential to generate an economic benefit of 150 billion dollars by 2030, through increased coverage and higher speed broadband services; cost reduction for telecommunications providers; development of the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality, municipal Wi-FI services and free public access; economies of scale benefits; increased download capacity of mobile networks and access to Wi-FI equipment.

In the theoretical scenario that Mexico decides to adopt only 500 MHz, manufacturers who want to offer their equipment would limit the capacity of their equipment by firmware. As a result, consumers would purchase “penalized” equipment in terms of capacity utilisation related to their speed and latency, as well as in terms of product diversity. This is without prejudice to the fact that the projected economic benefit would not be achieved.

Therefore, the question is what does Mexico gain by postponing the decision to classify the 1,200 MHz of the 6 GHz band as free spectrum? The arguments for the use of the 6 GHz band have been reflected in the public consultation, some of which have been briefly discussed in this article. Today, the only remaining action today is for the IFT to take the decision that will enable the best use of the latest technical advances for the benefit of all, and for the use of this band in a rational, efficient and economic manner, as established in article 44 of the ITU Constitution.

Let us hope that this is the case and that the IFT will soon declare the 1,200 MHz of the 6 GHz band as free spectrum to improve Internet access in Mexico.

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