Telemedicine is top of Chile’s 5G wishlist

Chile has formally opened its 5G licensing process and it is clear from the outset that connecting hospitals is high on the government’s agenda.

President Sebastián Piñera kicked off the spectrum licensing process on Monday with the usual fanfare around the benefits 5G will bring to the country and its people, according to regulator Subtel. Top of the list was telemedicine, with spectrum winners facing requirements to connect up Chile’s hospitals in the first phase of rollout.

Piñera outlined a two-stage licensing process. “The first will be technical in nature to ensure that applicants meet the quality and coverage requirements set, while the second, when applicable, will be a tender to ensure the best economic offer,” he explained.

The licensing conditions will ensure at least four operators will win spectrum to maintain competition. While that should be reassuring to Chile’s four existing mobile network operators, there is little indication that they will have an easy ride from a financial point of view.

The regulator will hold four simultaneous 5G licensing contests across the four available bands with a view to strengthening competition, it noted. Further, the government is talking up the increased investment that came with 4G licensing seven years ago, something that it expects to be replicated with 5G. A timely reminder for the would-be auction participants – although it’s doubtful that they needed it – that 5G rollout will require plenty of cash before they even get to the market competition stage.

It is likely that Chile’s four MNOs – Entel, Telefonica’s Movistar, America Movil-owned Claro and WOM, formerly Nextel – will take part in the tender process. The state has 1.8 GHz of spectrum up for grabs in the 700 MHz, AWS, 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands.

Chile expects to be the first in Latin America to award 5G licences. Subtel has opened a consultation period into the auction guidelines which is due to run until 7 September, with responses to be published later that month. Entrants will be able to submit their applications in mid-October.

Operators in the region’s other big economies are carrying out 5G trials, with spectrum auctions expected to take place next year, for the most part. However, with the economic impact from Covid-19 as yet unclear, 5G spectrum licensing and network rollouts could well be further away than many Latin American governments would like.

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