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2011 Latin America - Mobile Voice, Data and Forecasts

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Last updated: 18 Apr 2011 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 167

Analyst: Lucia Bibolini

Publication Overview

This report covers developments in the mobile voice and data markets of Latin America and the Caribbean. The countries covered in this report include: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Caribbean countries, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Researchers:- Lucia Bibolini, Lawrence Baker
Current publication date:- April 2011 (10th Edition)
Next publication date:- April 2012

Executive Summary

Mobile phones rule in Latin America

Mobile penetration in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is over 94% and well above the world average of 76%. However, the vast majority of mobile subscribers in the LAC region are prepaid.

In South and Central America, 11 countries have passed the 100% penetration milestone: Panama, Uruguay, Suriname, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Ecuador, Honduras, Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil. In the Caribbean, most of the small island nations are above the 100% mark and some are over 200%. The highest rate has been registered in Turks & Caicos, which has a baffling penetration of 453%. In these countries, however, subscription numbers are sometimes pumped up by tourists or migrant workers who are not counted as part of the population.

The success of mobile telephony in Latin America is due in large part to the inadequacy of the basic telephone infrastructure. Also, natural factors have contributed to wireless popularity in a continent where mountainous terrain and remote rural areas make the laying of cable uneconomical, and where hurricanes and earthquakes have caused major destruction to fixed-line networks.

Mobile penetration in Latin America surpassed fixed-line penetration in 2001. By end-2005, cellular subscribers had overtaken their fixed-line counterparts in every Latin American country except Cuba. Paraguay leads the trend, with about fifteen mobile phones for every fixed line in service.

Latin America - fixed and mobile market share − 1998 - 2011

Year

Fixed share

Mobile share

1998

74%

26%

1999

62%

38%

2000

55%

45%

2001

50%

50%

2002

47%

53%

2003

43%

57%

2004

35%

65%

2005

29%

71%

2006

24%

76%

2007

21%

79%

2008

19%

81%

2009

17%

83%

2010 (e)

16%

84%

2011 (e)

16%

84%

(Source: BuddeComm based on ITU, Global Mobile, and industry data)

UMTS

In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), mobile broadband based on 3G UMTS technology took off in 2009, becoming an attractive alternative for Internet users in a region where fixed broadband suffers from slow speeds and is unavailable in many places.

In LAC countries, mobile broadband is commonly used either with a USB modem or with netbooks/notebooks/laptops that have a built-in 3G receiver. Several mobile operators have entered into agreements with manufacturers to offer mobile broadband plans with a netbook or notebook included.

Commercial UMTS services first reached the LAC region in late 2006, launched by Puerto Rico’s Cingular in November and by Chile’s Entel PCS in December. Argentina and Uruguay were the next countries to see UMTS services, in mid-2007. By end-2007, all mobile providers in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay operated UMTS networks. Brazil saw its first UMTS services in November 2007, and Mexico in February 2008. Several other countries rolled out UMTS in early 2008. By 2011, practically all LAC markets had operating UMTS networks with the exception of Belize, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Suriname, and a few Caribbean island nations.

As of March 2011, there are 64 UMTS networks operating in 27 LAC countries (up from 54 UMTS networks in 25 countries a year earlier), plus there are another six networks planned and two in deployment.

UMTS technologies in Latin America include HSPA, HSDPA, and HSUPA. Most operators use HSPDA to provide mobile broadband, multimedia downloads, mobile games, and video calling. Several companies also offer mobile TV.

Latin America – UMTS subscribers and penetration − 2007 - 2011

Year

Subscribers (million)

Annual change

Penetration

2007

0.0

n/a

0.0%

2008

4.3

+11,137%

0.8%

2009

16.0

+271%

2.8%

2010

38.5

+141%

6.6%

2011 (e)

77.0

+100%

13.0%

(Source: BuddeComm based on Global Mobile and 4G Americas)

Long Term Evolution (LTE)

LTE has been labelled 4G, being the next technological step after 3G. Like GSM, it requires the use of a SIM card.

In late 2009, when Scandinavia’s Telia Sonera launched the world’s first commercial LTE, Chile was conducting LTE tests. In fact, Chile was the first country in Latin America and the fifth in the world (after Sweden, Norway, Japan, and the USA) to test LTE technology. Subtel, the national regulator, announced that it would hold an LTE auction in 2010, but the event has been repeatedly postponed and is now scheduled to take place in the second half of 2011. The Chilean government expects commercial LTE services to be launched in 2014. Meanwhile, operators argue that the 60MHz spectrum cap imposed by Subtel is severely limiting for LTE.

Colombia seems destined to be the first LAC country that will have commercial LTE services. Having won 50MHz of spectrum in the 2.5GHz band, fixed-line company UNE announced that it would use its mobile licence to deploy an LTE network. UNE plans to launch LTE services in a few major Colombian cities during the second half of 2011.

Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.

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