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In February, the Brazilian regulator Anatel (Agencia Nacional de Telecomunicacoes) cleared a proposal that will see the 6 GHz (5925MHz-7125MHz) frequency band opened for use by license-exempt wireless technologies. In an exclusive interview, Commissioner Carlos Baigorri explains the thinking behind this decision.
How big a role does Wi-Fi® play today in enabling Brazilian consumers and companies to get connected?
People generally access the Internet through their smartphones using Wi-Fi, either Wi-Fi from public spaces or Wi-Fi that they share. So Wi-Fi is a really important tool for connectivity here in Brazil, especially for the people who don't have so much income.
Why did you take the decision to open up the entire 6 GHz band for license-exempt use?
Anatel is really engaged in the ITU discussions and one of the ITU’s best practice guidelines is to ensure sufficient unlicensed spectrum to drive innovation and investment in the range of technologies that can complement and support networks to provide access at low cost.
You mentioned innovation. Is that about enabling more high bandwidth services, such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality?
For unlicensed services, the channels that we have available in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands would not allow new use cases like virtual reality and augmented reality. Also, in Brazil, we are seeing fiber networks being deployed to households. But inside the household, it's all through Wi-Fi. If you imagine, you would have a huge throughput through fibre, and with Wi-Fi in 2.4 GHz, there would be a bottleneck. You would have strangled the connectivity.
The idea is to create the conditions for Wi-Fi, so that the people in the households would be guaranteed a high level of access to the Internet comparable to the one they would be receiving through the fibre networks.
What advice would you give to other regulators looking to make this band available?
The IMT operators wanted us to give a part of this spectrum for licensed use, arguing that it was important for 5G. If we wanted to do that, we would have to wait until 2024 to start the discussion about that and maybe in 2027 we would have the deployment.
Considering the moment that we are in right now, considering the pandemic, considering the need for connectivity for everyone for the recovery of the economy, considering all of that, we understood that we could not wait until 2024 or 2027 to start using this frequency band. That’s so important. We decided to start using it right now, because right now we have the equipment, we have a Wi-Fi 6E ecosystem.
If we waited more than six years to take this decision, these are six years that we lose all the innovation, all the revenues, all the development this frequency band may bring to our economies.
When do you expect Wi-Fi 6E equipment to become available in Brazil?
We are in the final steps to establish the certification process. Once companies can certify their equipment, they can deploy it in the Brazilian networks. That will happen this year.
When you are expecting this spectrum to have a significant impact on connectivity?
As a regulator, we do not control all the elements of the economic ecosystem. But we see this is a great opportunity, because, together with the U.S., we are the leaders in Wi-Fi 6E in the region.
We hope to attract a lot of attention from the industry and be the place in which all these innovations start to show up. So I think that, by the end of 2022, we'll be able to see great usage of this frequency here in Brazil.
Is there demand for the wider channels in both the consumer and business markets?
In our decision, we are allowing 160 MHz and 320 MHz channels. When we talk about private networks with 5G, we always think of huge factories and huge companies. But when we think of smaller and medium-sized companies, Wi-Fi 6E may be a good solution for them to bring some level of autonomy and some level of innovation to their production process.
Will Wi-Fi 6E be used to offload some of the traffic from the IMT networks?
Yes, for sure. Wi-Fi is really used today for offloading of the mobile networks and I think that will continue with Wi-Fi 6. With 5G, I don't think we will have a change in the business models from the operators that we have in 4G: I don't expect to see unlimited data plans here in Brazil, because they lead to tragedy of the commons behavior. Because of that it really makes sense to have the offload of the networks on to Wi-Fi.
Are you working with other regulators in the region to harmonize spectrum policy around the 6 GHz band?
Anatel is going to bring to CITEL1 our position to harmonize the use of the 6 GHz band to unlicensed and the technical conditions of the spectrum.
This discussion is happening through the region and when we have the two biggest economies deciding in the same way, I think we have the momentum to have the whole region going in the same way.
In telecoms, scale is the secret for having the deployment of the network and the equipment, so I think that it's natural for the region to follow the decisions of the U.S. and Brazil. Of course, there is no obligation, but it is something that makes sense from an economies of scale perspective.
Do you plan to make further spectrum available for license-exempt use?
I cannot promise that we will find new spectrum for unlicensed use. But I promise we will keep searching… Spectrum, according to the Brazilian Constitution, is a public asset and we are the keepers of this public asset and we have to guarantee that this asset is used in the most efficient way.
1 The Inter-American Telecommunication Commission
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