In 2019, Ecuador launched a digital strategy to accelerate the public and private sectors’ digitalization. A majority of government services will be only accessible online by 2023—a measure which guarantees transparency, speed, and equal opportunities for citizens living across the country.
“We have a platform, www.gob.ec, which concentrates more than 4,000 procedures,” Andrés Michelena, the Minister of
Telecommunications and Information Society, recently told TBY, while explaining Ecuador will “eliminate paperwork by 2021 and digitalize about 80% of government-related transactions.”
This objective, however, will not be achieved unless the nation’s access to high-speed internet grows considerably in the next couple of years. The digital transformation roadmap intends to raise the high-speed internet penetration rate to 98% by 2023—from its current figure of 35%.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC), some 7.5 million people have upgraded their mobile internet connections to 4G, though the government will also install over 1,000 public Wi-Fi access points in strategic locations across the country for the benefit of those who still do not have access to high-speed internet.
Meanwhile, the government is keen to lower broadband and 4G costs to encourage more citizens to sign up. Although going online is a relatively easy matter in Ecuador, a broadband connection or its mobile equivalent may cost as much as USD25-50 per month—which is not within the means of some citizens.
Although the expansion of 4G will be a good move, Ecuador is aware that the world is already embracing the next generation of mobile connectivity. President Lenín Moreno has emphasized the importance of 5G in Ecuador’s digital strategy, especially as the technology has wide applications in the IoT that can empower some key industries including agriculture and manufacturing.
IoT-powered drones are already used in Ecuador’s world-famous banana plantations as tools for plant health monitoring, and their efficiency has been well established. Bird-like drones, armed with an array of sensors and infrared cameras, can inspect and instantly analyze up to 80ha in under 20 minutes, allowing timely corrective intervention.
Given the importance of Ecuador’s billion-dollar banana industry, this leap in efficiency can translate into notable increases in profitability, proving that the use of 5G is something more than a technological statement and has a direct impact on the nation’s economy.
To launch 5G or expand the 4G coverage, however, the country needs to utilize a larger percentage of the available frequency spectrum. The Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Society intends to raise the spectrum assigned to mobile communication from 26% to 65% by 2021.
The ministry is holding a tender for the 700MHz and 2.5GHz bands, and the contract for the 3.5GHz band will be awarded to the winning operator in 2020. While the two high-frequency 2.5GHz and 3.5GHz bands are often used for 5G, the sub-1GHz bands—including the 700MHz—are used to support “widespread coverage across urban, suburban, and rural areas, and help support IoT services,” according to a policy position document released by the GSM Association (GSMA).
A strong correlation between the degree of connectivity and economic development has been reported in emerging markets such as Latin America. Michelena told TBY that “For every 10% growth in the spectrum bandwidth, the country can grow 1% of its GDP.”
Michelena also pointed out that the ministry has raised around USD1.7 billion by assigning the spectrum over the last five years, adding that, “Following the model of countries such as Chile or Colombia, that money will be reinvested in the sector.”
The authorities are convinced that the digital transformation program will not only add to the efficiency of operations in different industries and in the public sector, but also create more jobs by increasing the demand for ICT-related skills. The ministry, meanwhile, will launch an investment fund to support and promote innovation in these areas.