Bolivia’s broadband prices drop, but are still the regions most expensive
Bolivia is one of the poorest and least developed nations in Latin America, with correspondingly low telecom indicators. For example, mobile penetration is the fourth lowest in the region after Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua. This, however, is no less than would be expected considering Bolivia’s GDP per capita is likewise the region’s fourth lowest.
The structure of Bolivia’s fixed telecom market is different from most other countries. Local services are provided primarily by 15 telecom cooperatives. These are non-profit-making companies privately owned and controlled by their users. Since liberalisation, the cooperatives also provide long-distance telephony, and several offer broadband and pay TV services.
Bolivia has a multicarrier system where consumers can choose a long-distance carrier for each call by dialling the carrier’s prefix. A number of operators have adopted VoIP, while others use fixed-wireless technologies, and some rent fibre-optic capacity.
State-owned Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Entel) is the country’s incumbent long-distance operator. It also offers local telephony, ADSL broadband access, and satellite pay TV services. Its subsidiary Entel Movil is Bolivia’s largest mobile company.
Entel has cut it ADSL tariffs by 30%, but Bolivia’s broadband services remain the slowest and the most expensive in Latin America. Being a landlocked country, Bolivia has no direct access to submarine cable networks. It must therefore connect to the rest of the world either via satellite or through terrestrial links across neighbouring countries.
After it was renationalised in 2007, Entel has focused on providing telecom services in rural areas, under a project known as ‘Territory with Total Coverage’. This project aims to increase telecom coverage through mobile rather than through fixed networks.
Bolivia has more than ten times as many mobile phones as fixed lines, and the trend towards fixed-mobile substitution continues. Besides Entel, another two companies offer mobile telephony: Tigo, wholly owned by Luxembourg-based Millicom International, and NuevaTel, trading as Viva and controlled by US firm Trilogy International.
All three mobile companies offer 3G services. Considering the poor quality and high cost of fixed broadband, 3G could be an attractive alternative in Bolivia. On the other hand, growth is limited by the country’s high levels of poverty, as well as by insufficient mobile bandwidth. Users complain of slow and erratic connectivity in the larger cities, where networks suffer from congestion problems.
Entel has been criticised for advertising its HSPA+ services as 4G, a definition which is internationally used for Long-Term Evolution (LTE) services (strictly speaking, even LTE is defined by the ITU as only a pre-4G technology). The misleading marketing ploy, however, is used by numerous mobile operators throughout Latin America, including Bolivia’s Tigo.
LTE is unavailable in Bolivia. In 2011, Entel conducted LTE trials in La Paz, but commercial deployment is unlikely in the short term.
Under the ‘Territory with Total Coverage’ project, Entel has expanded its mobile network and installed more than 1,500 base stations, reaching 337 of Bolivia’s 339 municipalities.
Cooperative federation Fecotel is striving to become Bolivia’s fourth mobile operator.
Bolivia is the Latin American country with the largest WiMAX share of broadband customers. While in the rest of the region WiMAX began to shrink in 2009, in Bolivia growth has been continuous.
The state broadcasting network Bolivia TV has launched the country’s first digital terrestrial TV (DTT) services, initially in La Paz.
Bolivia’s fixed-line, broadband, and mobile statistics – 2010 - 2012 Sector | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 (e) Fixed-lines in service Total subscribers | 755,000 | 782,000 | 790,000 Broadband Total subscribers | 115,900 | 120,200 | 125,000 Mobile telephony subscribers Total subscribers (million) | 7.18 | 8.35 | 9.60 (Source: BuddeComm based on industry data)
The Bolivian telecom market has significant long-term potential and a long way to go before it catches up with its neighbours. The report covers trends and developments in the fixed-line, mobile, Internet, broadband, and pay TV markets.
Market and industry analyses, trends and developments; Facts, figures, and statistics; Government policies and regulatory issues; Major players (fixed, mobile, broadband, and pay TV); Infrastructure developments; Internet and broadband market (ADSL, cable modem, WiMAX); Mobile market (including 3G and mobile broadband).