RIO DE JANEIRO — Latin America in 2011 will present a whole host of challenges and opportunities for the world of wireless, said Erasmo Rojas of 4G Americas on Tuesday, speaking at Informa’s LTE LatAM summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Rojas said there were over 39 million broadband connections in Latin America by mid-2010 – and that the telecom industry was looking healthy with 64 networks in service across 27 countries with 38 million subscriptions.
With 3G doing well, HSPA+ is also trending in Latin America, with the technology being rolled out in seven markets by networks including CellularOne (Bermuda), Digicel (Bermuda), Entel Movil (Chile), Movistar (Chile), Iusacell (Mexico), AT&T (Puerto Rico) and T-Mobile (Puerto Rico).
Though it’s still early days, LTE is also seeing some buzz and momentum in the Americas, with the first scheduled launch of the new generation technology set for the second half of 2011 in Columbia by operator UNE.
Meanwhile, LTE trials are underway in several other LatAm countries; Argentina (Telecom Personal, since June 2010 in 2.6 GHz and Telefonica since December 2010 in 1.7/2.1 GHz), Brazil (Oi since June 2011 with 4 vendors in the 2.6 GHz band), Chile (Entel PCS since December 2009 in 2.6 GHz), Mexico (América Móvil, Lab test of 1.7 / 2.1 GHz), Peru (Telefonica first field data call, June 2010 in 700 MHz) and Uruguay (ANCEL, 2H 2011, in 1.7 / 2.1 GHZ).
Rojas outlined the specific challenges and opportunities faced in the Latin American market, which is characterized by its strong growth in Mobile Broadband (132% growth during 2010) but urgent need of spectrum to satisfy burgeoning customer demand for data.
For instance, while mobile penetration currently hovers at around 100%, broadband penetration remains under 10%. Also, while smartphones and tablets are quickly adopted, operators still face the challenges of a market where prepaid still accounts for 82% of subscriptions; meaning a relative low ARPU of about $ 13.
Another challenge, according to Rojas, is that more robust transport (backhaul) and backbone networks would be needed to deploy HSPA+ in large cities.
In a region where total mobile subscriptions currently rest at around 563 million, it certainly seems like that would represent a worthwhile investment.