Telecoms industry eager for Mexican regulator to adopt speedy Wi-Fi 6

A man looks his mobile phone in downtown Mexico City

By Aida Pelaez-Fernandez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The Mexican telecommunications regulator's delayed approval of Wi-Fi 6, a new wireless technology already operating in Brazil, is depriving Mexican homes and businesses of a "historic" increase in internet speeds, sector experts say.

Wi-Fi 6 is part of a new generation of innovations, like 5G technology, offering faster connection speeds and greater bandwidth. It operates on the radio frequency between 5925 and 7125 megahertz (MHz), generally called the 6 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum.

While other regional countries, like Brazil, Chile and Guatemala, have already granted concessions for the 6 GHz spectrum, Mexico's Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) is still in the midst of awarding the licences for the 6 GHz spectrum.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has pledged to expand internet access across Mexico since his campaign for office in 2018, but only about 60% of households in the country are connected, according to the latest data from the IFT.

Internet access is a challenge for most countries in Latin America, where large portions of the population live in rural areas.

Utilizing the 6 GHz segment would make more frequencies available, providing a speed boost to devices connected to Wi-Fi networks.

Regulators, however, are still catching up with advances in technology, said Carlos Rebellon, an executive at U.S. chipmaker Intel.

"Wi-Fi 6 is a disruptive change that is interesting for startups or innovators, who are ready to implement it, but regulators are not ready," said Rebellon, adding that the technology would bring the biggest leap in speed in Wi-Fi's 20-year history.

Wi-Fi 6 is only available for phones and devices that support this connection. The latest releases from Apple, Samsung and Huawei are already compatible with the technology, in addition to new Asus, Dell and HP laptops.

Pursuing a digital transformation through 5G and Wi-Fi is challenging and demands steps to anchor the technology and make it available throughout the population, said Jose Luis Solleiro of Mexico's Institute of Applied Sciences and Technological Development (ICAT).

"It is necessary to invest in research and innovation, not only in towers," Solleiro added.

The IFT can approve the new frequency band for Wi-Fi 6 entirely or use part of it to expand 5G services.

The United States allocated its 6 GHz band spectrum solely for Wi-Fi services, while Chile decided the band will be shared between free internet use Wi-Fi and licensed use, which leaves room for 5G.

(Reporting by Aida Pelaez-Fernandez and Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Brendan O'Boyle and Christian Schmollinger)