Latin America - Mobile Infrastructure
Spectrum auctions improving LTE rollouts across Latin American
In recent quarters mobile network operators in Latin America have been under increasing pressure to develop revenue growth. This can partly be attributed to unfavourable currency exchanges, but it is also exacerbated by poorly performing economies. Most countries in the region have seen stagnant or at best low economic in 2015 and into 2016, while those of Brazil and Venezuela have been particularly badly affected. Political turmoil in these countries suggests that potential economic recovery is some time off. The telecom sector has been impacted by these pressures, as customers gear down spending on services.
In addition to economic pressures, operators are seeing lower revenue as a result of regulated voice and data tariffs, ongoing reductions in terminations rates, and lower SMS traffic in the wake of customer adoption for OTT messaging services. Operators are responding by maintaining investment programs aimed at further developing mobile data and broadband services. As a result, non-SMS data revenue is steadily increasing as a proportion of total mobile revenue.
With 3G almost universally available, the emphasis has been on developing the capabilities of HSPA and LTE infrastructure. Most operators by mid-2016 provided LTE population coverage of between 60% and 80%. This will be extended further to the end of 2016 and into 2017. Following a number of recent spectrum auctions, including that in Mexico in February 2016, additional spectrum resources are being made available to operators which will enable them to improve network capacity. Most licences have conditions attached, which often include requirements to host MVNOs but also, commonly, to extend coverage to rural and underserved regions.
A range of technologies are being deployed to improve network infrastructure. In May 2016 Telefónica Mexico deployed Ericsson’s Radio Dot System to improve mobile coverage and signal strength in areas such as shopping malls, airports and commercial buildings in Mexico City. Vendors are also deploying carrier aggregation technologies to push data rates to 300Mb/s and upwards, as also LTE Broadcast technology which is expected to be widely deployed during the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
These efforts are helping to keep up with demand as consumers increasingly adopt OTT video services, themselves facilitated by the popularity of smartphones equipped with larger screens which are beginning to supplant tablets in the device market. Commonly, data traffic doubled or tripled for most operators in the region in the year to March 2016. This trend is set to continue for the next few years, and though market competition and pricing pressure will slow data revenue growth the data sector will soon become the key component of total mobile revenue, thus further stimulating investment in mobile infrastructure.