MEXICO CITY – Latin American companies and governments discussed on Monday the pressing need to carry out a complete and inclusive digital transformation, a process needed to strengthen economic development and ensure the region seizes its opportunity to join the current industrial revolution.
Representatives of governments, international organizations and companies agreed at the online forum “Connectivity for Shared Prosperity,” organized by Agencia EFE (Spain’s international news agency) and Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the needs of the new digital economy.
Huawei Senior Vice President Catherine Chen opened the event by calling for “a true consensus on technology” and its appropriate use worldwide, saying that will be necessary if the unstoppable process of technological development is to be implemented without disputes and controversies.
“Due to ideological barriers efforts are being made to halt technological development, and that will only halt progress and development. So it’s very important to reach a consensus,” she said.
Chen, who is also a member of Huawei’s board of directors, also said a global consensus on technological development is essential for meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
While mentioning perceptions about 5G as “a high-risk platform,” she said the latest generation of mobile internet connection is a technology that offers “high bandwidth, low latency and (a level of) connectivity” that will provide enhanced benefits for society.
GSMA Latin America’s director of technology and strategic engagement, Alejandro Adamowicz, said for his part that the mobile phone industry accounted for 7 percent of the region’s gross domestic product in 2020, a year in which network traffic grew by up to 50 percent in some cases.
He added that commitments are in place to spend around $99 billion on mobile infrastructure investment in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next five years.
The International Telecommunication Union’s regional director for the Americas, Bruno Ramos, said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the most advanced countries in the digital economy are better prepared to overcome the current global crisis.
Given the need to increase digitization and reduce the digital divide, the region faces the challenge of boosting internet connectivity in rural and urban areas.
Peru’s minister of transport and communications, Eduardo Gonzalez, said during the forum that his country “has developed connectivity” even though only 8.2 percent of households in rural areas have access to fixed Internet, far below the 41 percent level in urban areas.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, 46 percent of children between the ages of five and 12 live in households without Internet service, Fernando Rojas, economic advisor to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, said.
Mexico’s director general of telecommunications, Rocio Mejia, acknowledged that her country’s situation is similar to Peru’s in terms of connectivity, noting that the problem is of particular concern during the pandemic.
She called for using those digital platforms to improve access to education, contribute to social coexistence, facilitate medical services and make social and government services more accessible.
The governor of the Brazilian state of Goias, Ronaldo Caiado, spoke about the benefits of technology and 5G connectivity for agriculture and the livestock sector, saying they can help industries grow while “preserving the ecosystem and improving products for consumers.”
Caiado said experiments are being carried out in Goias with the goal of “increasing productivity, reducing costs and seeing how to use fewer and fewer herbicides and pesticides to care for the environment” through the use of technology developed by private companies, such as Huawei, and academic institutions.
The president commissioner of Mexico’s Federal Telecommunications Institute, Adolfo Cuevas, said the Latin American region should make the most of the 5G revolution because the opportunity “won’t always be there.”
Failing to seize upon this chance now would be no different than ignoring the development of the railroad industry in the late 19th century, he said.
Jose Guridi, an adviser to the Chilean government, confirmed that the process of digital transformation is “fast, cuts across different sectors and is obligatory, even more so after the pandemic.”
In pursuit of that goal, Huawei’s director of strategy and marketing in Latin America, Joaquin Saldaña, called for investment in technology-focused public policies and consideration of “technology skills training” for both end users and “the professionals responsible for these transformations.”
Huawei’s regional vice president of public relations, Cesar Funes, said digital technology “kept the world functioning, families connected and businesses open” in an extremely difficult 2020.
“Technologies such as 5G, cloud computing and smart devices are accelerating the digital transformation of industries and everyday life,” he observed at the close of the forum, while also stressing the need for “a fair and open vision to drive technology cooperation.”