Latin America is a vast region with huge economic potential – but amid backlash against Brazil’s recent destruction of natural environments for agricultural purposes, it’s clear that industrial growth cannot come at any cost.
We spoke to Nokia’s CTO for Latin America Wilson Cardoso about how 5G will be able to push the potential of the continent’s industry by making it smarter – with greater productivity enabling a reduced impact on the environment.
You recently commented that Brazil’s upcoming 5G spectrum auction had the potential to be the world’s largest – how does the country compare to its neighbours in the region? Will it overshadow them or are they on track to be major 5G players as well?
Brazil’s upcoming auctions will be the largest single spectrum sale yet worldwide; the government aims to auction 20MHz in the 700MHz band, 100MHz of 2.3GHZ spectrum, 400MHz in the 3.5GHz band, and 1.6GHz of 2.6GHz mmWave spectrum. This is because the government wants to encourage mobile operators in the country to move not only towards mobile broadband, but also towards applications related to ultra-reliable latency, to push industry evolution and agricultural applications. The plan is to extend coverage to rural regions in the coming years.
You also mentioned that you believe 5G will have the greatest impact on industry…
In Latin America, industry productivity has suffered in terms of both facilities and logistics. With 5G we can examine how we can better use the industry’s facilities, how we can improve logistics without investing too much in roads, and better use the assets that we have today - whether roads, harbours, airports, or logistics centres. There is a strong belief that we can increase productivity without making big investments in physical assets, but by increasing the speed at which we exchange and move goods between the production centres and the export/import centres. It’s about smarter, not bigger.
Given the current situation in the Amazon with fires being deliberately started for farming, is an expansion of agriculture in Brazil desirable? Or do you believe widespread use of 5G could have a more positive impact – enabling a smarter, more effective and environmentally sound agriculture system?
For sure – for example, we are working with operators and machine producers on how we can make better use of the existing plantation areas to increase productivity by 30-40% without moving into new areas. We’re also looking at how to rely less on contaminating products and make better use of water. 4G plays a bigger role in this today but 5G will increase productivity in the future. The government has the same mindset as us in this regard – they are making investments in some of the projects that we’re working on with operators and machine producers. A lot of our R&D is aimed at incentivising connected agricultural products to make more efficient use of connectivity for this sector.
Speaking of the environment, the GSMA has just announced an initiative aimed at developing a mobile industry climate action roadmap in line with the Paris Agreement. While this is aimed at operators, what should vendors be doing to reduce their impact on the environment? Are they in fact worse than operators in terms of their impact?
Compared to 4G, 5G transports more bits per Hertz using the same power. In this way, the new technology reduces power consumption and increases efficiency. We are applying technologies to increase the capacity for systems, and from the design point of view, we can recycle more and more elements for our production levels today. This is what we’re doing; moving towards 100% recycled components, reducing energy consumption, and using energy more efficiently. 5G offers power control on an application-by-application, session-to-session basis – this has never been available with 2G, 3G or 4G. It’s much more power efficient than previous technology generations.
But 5G technology overall requires much greater power consumption, so is the improved efficiency really just offsetting this?
It’s true that 5G requires greater power consumption, but if you compare the power per bit of 5G, it’s 2-3 times less than that of 4G on average.
Another vendor eyeing up Latin America is Huawei, as evidenced by them setting up a device factory in Brazil. You described Nokia as “the western alternative to Huawei’s products and their direct competitor” – given that Huawei is looking to emerging markets in the wake of security concerns in the west, and taking into account its track record in these regions, why is Nokia well-positioned to hold its ground against the Chinese vendor?
Our proposition to the Latin American market covers our end-to-end portfolio featuring IP/optical and radio/core solutions with analytics – this spans 5G, but also fixed and wireless. We aim to deliver our whole solution to customers in the region, going back to the first commercial 5G project we launched in Uruguay in April this year with Antel, Uruguay’s state-owned provider. We have a long-term partnership with them; they have the constitutional duty to deliver broadband services to all citizens, but the country has areas which are very difficult to serve with fibre – whether because the terrain is too challenging, or if there are heritage or environmental protections in place. We designed a customer solution based on mmWave which is very similar to fixed wireless access and delivered it to these areas as a last mile – or, last 300 metre – solution to bring broadband to users. It was first deployed in two Uruguayan cities and has now spread to ten, and we aim to extend it to other areas where wireless solutions are more competitive than fibre solutions.
Including to other countries in the region?
Yes, we have very similar solutions in other countries. Latin America has some of the lowest fixed broadband penetration in the world, particularly in remote areas. Many of Latin America’s exports come from two sectors – agriculture and mining – and we’re collaborating with governments to deliver connectivity to areas of industry.
Is industry driving investment in remote connectivity?
Exactly – if you have a mining area that’s 1000km from a big city, you need to push fibre microwave links to this area. If you do this, the mine will cover the costs of the backhaul which is the heaviest upfront investment, and then we have a route to push connectivity to people nearby for a minimal additional investment, which means we have an appealing business case for connecting people in remote areas. This is the intention, and how we’re building the cases; it’s the same for big farms.
Could this not be seen as unsustainable in the long term?
We always need to consider the environmental impact of our solutions. If you look at Brazil, only around 20% of the country’s area is covered by farms, and we’ve measured that in some cases we can increase productivity of the land by 36%-40%, depending on factors such as the crop in question – whether its soya beans or cotton. This makes for a much more effective investment than expanding into new areas, and has the potential for a great environmental and economic impact worldwide, not just in Brazil.
What we intend to do is increase productivity by bringing connectivity to people and making better use of existing assets; we have a big environmental focus in our agenda. The way to better use resources is to connect them and control them; when a farm can control how contaminants are used, how much it’s producing and how this is transported, this taps into a wider more productive ecosystem that encourages growth.