Continuing investments in LTE supporting mobile broadband growth
The Latin American and the Caribbean regions contain a number of markets where mobile telecom services, both voice and data, have become the preferred communications platform for consumers. In a few markets, such as Haiti, the fixed-line infrastructure is so poor that operators can effectively sideline the sector and concentrate their investments in mobile networks alone. Many mountainous and rural areas across the region are in a similar situation, a legacy of under-investment and loose regulatory controls in previous years. A greater emphasis on universal access regimes, and on quality of service parameters, has stimulated operators to improve networks and infrastructure.
More spectrum is needed
The release of spectrum, particularly in the 700MHz band as broadcasters switch from analogue to digital signals, has improved the reach and capabilities of mobile networks and encouraged consumers to migrate from fixed-line to mobile services. Nevertheless, there remains some uncertainty regarding the continuity of spectrum licences in a number of countries. This can potentially discourage operators from committing the required capex to maintain growth momentum. In countries such as Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Uruguay some 2G licences acquired in the 1990s are due to expire within the next few years. Foreknowledge of licence renewals is needed for operators to maintain service quality, for regulators to work towards national ICT goals, and for the market to maintain stability.
Colombia’s renewal of licences held by Movistar and Claro in March 2014, for a further ten years, became an opportunity to add further service quality requirements. In addition, the regulator intended to allocate the money raised from the licences to its ‘Vive Digital’ program, aimed at expanding mobile coverage, subsidising tariffs for low-income households and providing free WiFi zones.
Smartphones and tablets
In common with markets in North America, Asia and Europe, smartphones now dominate new device sales. The popularity of social networking has also stimulated the tablet market. About 36 million tablets were sold in the region in 2013 alone, with growth in sales expected to remain strong for the next five years at least. A number of government programs have subsidised tablet purchases for students and schools as part of schemes to improve broadband availability and internet connectivity among citizens. Tablet use has in turn stimulated the WiFi market, encouraging operators to set up more hotspots and invest in backhaul to improve network capacity.
4G/LTE mobile services
Most countries in the region now have commercial LTE network s in place. A number of smaller operators, as well as players such as the broadcaster DirecTV, have also launched services in some markets. In the case of municipally-owned operators, such as Colombia’s UNE-EPM, LTE is provided as a practical alternative to fixed-line broadband.