(Adds context and comments from Huawei and Oi’s executives)
By Gabriela Mello
SAO PAULO, May 22 (Reuters) - Social distancing measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic are boosting broadband usage by up to 50% in Brazil, but may end up delaying the country’s fifth-generation mobile network (5G) auction, the head of the country’s telecoms watchdog said on Friday.
“The pandemic certainly has an impact on the auction schedule and also in the 5G supply chain in the short-term,” Leonardo Euler de Morais, Anatel’s president, said in a webcast held by local think tank Aliança Conecta Brasil F4.
“In the long run, however, the pandemic fuels 5G deployment and fiber expansion by testing the importance of digital solutions,” Morais added.
The comments on 5G marked a slight shift in Anatel’s view since early April, when the regulator insisted on the possibility of carrying out the 5G auction late in 2020, adding further delay talks were still premature.
Even before COVID-19, the long-awaited 5G spectrum bidding schedule had been postponed from its initial March 2020 date, given the need to further investigate interference with other signals.
Late in March, Anatel indefinitely halted field tests for the 3.5 GHz frequency, but kept other 5G computer simulations going.
Morais praised telecoms firms for keeping a high-quality service even with an increasing traffic during the pandemic, as well as ongoing efforts to expand fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) infrastructure, which he sees as a key step before the 5G deployment.
One of them is Oi SA, Brazil’s largest fixed-line carrier. The company aims to raise capital expenditure on FTTH to between 4 billion and 5 billion reais this year compared with 3 billion reais in 2019, its Chief Executive Rodrigo Abreu said on the webcast, adding Huawei Technologies is a key partner.
Huawei’s new Chief Executive for Brazil, Sun Baocheng, noted demand for telecoms gear in Brazil has not suffered from the coronavirus outbreak.
“Fiber has become a basic demand for people like water and electricity... We’ll continue to bring the latest technologies to Brazilians,” said Baocheng, who replaced Yao Wei as Brazil CEO this week. (Reporting by Gabriela Mello; Editing by Andrea Ricci)