Mexico represents one of the four largest telecom markets in Latin America, alongside Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. As of December 2019, Mexico had 122,040,789 mobile cellular subscriptions and 22,717,180 fixed telephone subscriptions. According to officials at the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT), 83% of mobile users have prepaid plans and 17% postpaid plans: around 101 million and 20 million people, respectively.
As in other countries, the importance of mobile internet access is increasing, and Mexico is expected to contribute 16 million more subscribers to Latin America’s mobile user base by 2025. Nonetheless, the median proportion of users accessing the internet exclusively through mobile is 43% in Mexico, 26 points below the global median (69%). In 2018, Mexico attained the second fastest download speeds (Mb per second) among countries in Latin America, only after Uruguay.
This steady growth has been possible due to a series of changes introduced in the telecommunications sector in the early 2010s. In particular, the creation of the IFT in 2013, Mexico’s autonomous regulatory authority, has been crucial to developing an efficient and competitive telecommunications market. Among its most recent actions to encourage market competition and expand connectivity was the consolidation of Red Compartida, a wholesale open-access network. This infrastructure consolidation project and the IFT’s focus on developing a collaborative relationship with telecom providers have increased the sector’s investment and provided telecom users with broader service access, better service quality, and lower prices. Despite these achievements, Mexico ranked 46th in the 2021 edition of the Inclusive Internet Index due to the low availability of fixed broadband and the slower speeds that characterize fixed broadband services.
In December 2020, the IFT published the Estrategia IFT 2021-2025, a comprehensive roadmap that defines long- and short-term strategies and actions to pursue a “desirable integral scenario” for the national telecommunications sector. According to GSMA, this national strategy greatly supports digital transformation and AI. Nonetheless, this course of action was abruptly brought to a halt on March 30, 2020 when the Mexican government declared a national health emergency and urged all sectors to stop most of their activities.
The IFT stopped all of its non-essential activities but continued coordinating with telecommunications service providers since their services were officially considered essential and their productive activities needed to help confront the emergency created by the emergence of SARS-CoV2.
From April 2020, the IFT developed a communications strategy under the name “Frente al Coronavirus, las Telecom están de tu lado” (The telecoms are on your side against coronavirus). Its microsite became the main channel to disseminate the IFT’s telecommunications policies to support national actions to mitigate the spread of the virus. Under the banner “La industria te apoya” (The sector supports you), the IFT advertised a series of actions jointly developed with telecommunications providers to help the Mexican public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As early as March 20, 2020 and before the national health emergency was declared, the IFT deployed a series of measures to support telecommunications customers. The initial measures enabled mobile telephone users to access the official coronavirus-dedicated website and to receive free, official information updates about the pandemic via SMS. In April, the IFT announced further measures to guarantee access to telephony services nationwide, prompting telcos to offer affordable plans and other benefits during the emergency.
Between April 6 and 19, the IFT announced various agreements with national and regional telephone and internet providers that detailed the offers and benefits available for telecom users. These plans were designed to balance the greater needs customers had during the pandemic against the providers’ abilities to make concessions that directly affected their companies’ and the country’s finances. For this reason, pre- and post-paid telecom users were offered multiple different emergency plans that included: options to defer payments; free or extra voice minutes, SMS, or data for a specific period; validity extensions for prepaid plans; and a fee-waiver policy for temporary or permanent migration to lower cost plans.
“Plan de Emergencia” was a one-time, free emergency plan for prepaid mobile telephone and internet users provided by AT&T, Telcel, and Movistar. In their plans, the three providers included 100 minutes for national calls, 150 SMS messages, free access to the official coronavirus webpage and app, and free calls to emergency numbers including the government’s dedicated health emergency hotline. Since each provider set the terms and conditions for its service, the name and duration of the plan varied across companies.
AT&T created “Plan de emergencia 5.1” and “Plan de emergencia AT&T y UNEFON 1.0,” and made them available between April 7 and July 15, 2020 on the condition that the user’s last top-up had been purchased within the previous 90 days. Once activated via SMS or phone call, AT&T’s plans were valid for up to 15 days. Telcel named its plan “Amigo Contigo” and offered the same services as AT&T for prepaid users under similar terms and conditions. In addition, Telcel’s emergency plan offered options to postpaid users, which included controlled data consumption and a fee-waived migration scheme to lower cost postpaid or prepaid plans. Telcel’s options for postpaid users were valid for up to three months once activated. Movistar named its emergency plan for prepaid users “Paquete de Servicio Mínimo Garantizado COVID-19” (Guaranteed Minimum Service COVID-19 Package) but instead of 15 days, it was valid for up to 30 days once activated and added an extra 1GB to top-ups equal to or above 50 pesos (2.4 USD). For postpaid users, Movistar also offered discounts, increased data allowances, and deferred payments.
Subscribers to telecom providers affiliated with the Altán Red Compartida (Addinteli, ADS Mobile, Bait-Bodega Aurrera Internet y Telefonía, Diri, Diveracy, Grupo Inten, IENTC, Megacable, Newww, Retemex, Servitron, Vasanta, and Wimo) benefited from the “Quédate en Casa” (Stay at Home) plan. For 100 pesos per month (4.8 USD), this plan included unlimited voice and SMS services, 10GB of data, free calls to emergency numbers, and free access to the official coronavirus website and app (for comparison, the cheapest voice and data plans at the time from competitors include: Megacable 270 pesos and Retemex, 249 pesos). In addition, Altán made its data limit policies flexible, increasing allowances for both mobile and fixed internet users. As part of a different agreement with the IFT, Izzi, Maxcom, Megacable, Telmex, and TotalPlay fixed telephone and internet subscribers benefited from the “Apoyo por Contingencia,” a 100-peso contingency support plan. This included the option to migrate temporarily and free of charge to a lower cost plan with up to 2Mbps internet speed, unlimited access to email and instant messaging, and deferred payment dates. To be eligible, a user’s payments must have been up to date through April 30. Gigacable and HughesNet fixed internet and TV subscribers also benefited from the “Pa’que te quedes en casa” plan (For you to stay at home), which included a fee-waiver installation and activation policy.
Finally, 23 telecom providers affiliated with the Asociación de Telecomunicaciones Independientes de México (ATIM), which supply internet and TV services to rural and suburban areas, offered the “Línea de Vida” (Lifeline) plan. From May 15, 2020, their 580,000 subscribers could apply to this 100-peso plan which included up to 2Mbps internet speeds, access to national TV channels, and a free cancellation policy if users cannot pay for the service during the emergency.
The agreements between the IFT and the telecommunications operators in Mexico provided users with multiple free and low-cost fixed and mobile plans in the aftermath of the health emergency declaration. The participation of Telcel, AT&T, and Movistar—Mexico’s major providers—implied that the benefits of these measures could reach 98.1% of the country’s total mobile subscribers. Because of their focus on prepaid users, these measures became available for 83% of the total mobile voice and data service users, equivalent to 101 million people. Given the predominance of the prepaid segment in Mexico, these measures implied that each provider benefited between 75% and 98% of their subscribers.
The implementation of payment deferral and fee-free migration policies helped temporarily keep accessible both fixed and mobile internet and voice services for postpaid users. The low-cost nature of some of these plans and the increased data allowances kept internet access in Mexico more affordable during the pandemic. When compared to costs in 2019 for internet services, these plans were cheaper than the cheapest plan(s) providing at least 1GB of broadband data over a 30-day period.
In light of the extended emergency period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Telcel, AT&T, and Movistar decided to extend the “Plan de Emergencia” (Emergency Plan) from May to June, thus adding 30 days more of support to their prepaid and postpaid plan subscribers. This represented a continuation of the collaborative relationship between the Mexican telecommunications regulator and industry to guarantee the provision of essential services during the pandemic.