Now, the focus is on the implementation of 5G technology. In Mexico, the deployment of the network is led by the large operators, such as AT&T and Telcel. However, a fundamental part of the infrastructure necessary for this network are the telecommunications antennas, responsible for allowing communication between mobile devices. These antennas are manufactured and supplied by Ericsson.
The Tlaxcala factory
Aware of the crucial role that antennas would play in the development of the 5G network, Ericsson acquired the antenna and filter division of the German company Kathrein in 2019. This operation included a factory in Tlaxcala, Mexico, which has become one of the company’s most important internationally, supplying the United States, Canada and South America.
Within this 36,936 square meter factory, women, mostly single mothers, are the protagonists in the production of Ericsson’s telecommunications antennas. The company decided that they should be the ones to lead the plant due to their skills and attention to detail required in the manufacturing process of these infrastructures.
For many of the workers, this was their first job opportunity or they came from other industries, which was initially challenging for them. However, they have learned and been empowered at each stage of the manufacturing process, building a network of mutual support both at work and personally.
“We have built a trust that allows us to support each other when we are sad or facing family problems,” says Azucena Villordo, a product technician.
The manufacture of telecommunication antennas is a complex and painstaking process. It starts from cutting and stripping wires, going through small welds and initial tests to verify that the process is being carried out correctly, until arriving at the verification of the use of energy and the transmission of the antenna in a chamber known as anechoic.
Although technology advances, a large part of the process is still artisanal, which demands specific skills on the part of the workers.
“It was quite a challenge because many of us do not have the studies to do this (manufacture and check antennas), but I learned it and I have even had the opportunity to participate in all areas of the factory”, adds Villordo.
Mara Mejía, a quality auditor, came to this factory because she wanted to embark on a different field, after working in the automotive industry. But unlike her old job, where there were highly automated processes, the assembly of the telecommunications antennas is highly manual.
“It’s very different. Here 80% of the process is manual and you have to be attentive to details and realize when something is not right, ”she says.
The workers have recognized that with the arrival of 5G, the manufacture of antennas for this new generation of networks requires even more meticulous attention. The complexity increases due to the assembly of a greater number of cables, which entails the possibility that, during the tests in the anechoic chamber, errors appear that must be detected and corrected in our hands.
However, as the demand for these antennas increases, driven by the need for faster connections for the fifth generation of networks, Ericsson has not yet set specific plans to expand and increase the production of 5G antennas. The company assures that this decision will depend to a large extent on the telecommunications operators.
The women who work at the plant have developed a clear awareness of the relevance of their work, not only for themselves, but also at a social level.
“Previously, I didn’t think my job was that important, but now I realize that if we don’t execute our job properly, an ambulance may not reach its destination due to a malfunctioning antenna, or a family cannot communicate at critical moments. I think that is the impact we have, and I feel proud when I walk and see those antennas,” shared Vania Ortega, from the quality department.