Nokia CTO calls for more spectrum to be allocated in Colombia to take advantage of 5G

Nokia CTO calls for more spectrum to be allocated in Colombia to take advantage of 5G


Capacity investigates the opportunities and challenges for digital infrastructure that will arise in Colombia as 5G rollouts get under way.

As Colombia moves towards the next stages of its 5G rollout, regulator attitudes to spectrum need to shift. Currently, Colombia’s ICT Ministry (MinTIC ) implements spectrum caps, intended to create competition and prevent a single MNO from dominating the market with more spectrum than its competitors.

Several of Colombia's MNOs are now at or approaching this cap.

“It is important that the MinTIC take actions in order to increase the spectrum caps,” Juan Marino, customer experience CTO for Colombia at Nokia told Capacity.

“This way, we can avoid wasted spectrum assets so that industry’s and consumers can benefit from the

connectivity it can unlock”.

With 46.7 million people and 76 million mobile subscribers, Colombia is one of the largest telecom markets in Latin America. But while regional peers such as Brazil and Chile have allocated 5G spectrum and launched services, Colombia has lagged behind.

That all changed at the end of 2023. A spectrum auction hosted by the ICT Ministry (MinTIC) saw all four mobile operators; Claro (American Movil), WOM, Tigo (Millicom) and Movistar (Telefonica) acquire 5G licences.

Tigo and Movistar bid together after forming a joint venture in June to acquire 5G spectrum and rollout their services.

Telecall Colombia, a national subsidiary of Brazilian MVNO Telecall, also participated in the auction.

The four bidding parties each secured 80MHz of spectrum within the 3.5GHz band, with Claro bidding on additional spectrum in the 4G suitable 2.5GHz band.

In total the spectrum auction netted the government COP1.37 trillion ($352.73 million).

Opportunities in fibre and fixed wireless access (FWA)

While a significant amount was spent on the 3.5GHz band, no operators bid on additional spectrum available in the 700MHz or 1900MHz bands.

Initial investment in this manner is common across the world. The GSMA describes the 3.5Ghz range as the basis for the first implementations of 5G globally, due to the balance it strikes between coverage and capacity.

Notably, highband (or millimetre wave) spectrum, which operates at 24GHz and beyond, was emitted from the first spectrum auction. A follow up is planned for April.

Jim Poole, VP of business development and 5G subject matter expert at Equinix, a global data centre company, thinks this reveals the initial strategy and direction for deployment from the government and Colombia’s operators.

“I suspect we’ll see lots of fixed wireless access terminals as a replacement for expensive copper or fibre to the home,” he tells Capacity.

Fibre penetration in Colombia and across Latin America is low compared to North America or Europe, whereas the number of handsets is way above the national population.

With most consumers accessing content and data services through mobile devices, the initial investment in the 3.5GHz spectrum, could point towards a drive to increased fixed wireless access.

“It's a whole lot easier to run fibre to towers in urban areas and be able to reach out into adjacent suburbs and rural areas," Poole says. "Certainly that seems to be that the goal of the Colombian Government with what it's making available,”

While he points out that densely populated areas in major cities will be targeted first, as per the conditions of the auction, the rollout will expand to other urban zones.

“Following this, 5G rollout will be used to offer fixed wireless access to suburban areas, where fibre to the home deployment is too costly or not viable because of the geography,” he tells Capacity

Marino says that 5G will be used to improve the penetration of broadband in this manner for consumers, households, businesses, and industry.


Private networks and IOT

Improving connectivity for industry is a key objective of 5G.

“While 4G was really designed to focus on density of people, 5G is designed for density of devices,” Poole says.

This will be true in Colombia as well. Nokia have already been working on deploying 4G LTE private networks and expect this trend to continue as 5G is rolled out.

“We have been deploying private networks over LTE mainly for mining and ports. These industries have been the first movers” Morino says.

But he acknowledges the opportunity for private network and IoT deployments for a range of industries in Colombia, from airports, logistics and oil and gas to manufacturing and transportation.


Data centre investment

Poole is confident the rollout of 5G will result in more demand for data centre capacity in Colombia, as more telco

operators have come to realise the data centre business and the access businesses are very different.

“Telecom operators are now much more focused on putting people online rather than housing the content and services that they want to access,” he says.

This is evidenced by Equinix’s initial entry into Colombia, acquiring Verizon’s data centre in Bogota in 2017.

In addition to hyperscalers and network providers, Equinix have local cloud companies, gaming companies and many content companies who deliver into the Colombian market as customers in its facilities.

Since then they have opened a second data centre just down the road to meet increasing demand.

5G use cases such as cloud gaming or augmented reality require network providers to establish points of presence multi tenant data centre’s like Equinix’s, where cloud access and caching infrastructure from CDNs and gaming companies is aggregated. 

“The reason we have such good network density in Bogota is because our network customers in Bogota are serving all of that content and cloud access out into the local market,” Poole explains.

“Services and applications that make intensive use of video content, high interactivity and high volumes of data are prone to take advantage of 5G in Colombia,” Marino agrees.

Gift this article