Latin America and the Caribbean include some of the world’s most important emerging markets. This report covers trends and developments in telecommunications, mobile, Internet, broadband, pay TV, and converging media.
Fixed gives way to mobile in Latin AmericaTelecommunications is generally a high-growth industry in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), particularly the mobile and broadband sectors, but the fixed-line market is mostly stagnant.
Telecom infrastructure varies from rudimentary or even non-existent in some of the poorer rural areas to well advanced in the major cities. Despite a low 19% teledensity (in most Western European countries teledensity ranges between 40% and 60%), fixed-lines in service have grown little since 2001, with consumers favouring mobile devices over traditional phones.
In fact, Latin America’s fixed-line market is even shrinking in some countries, with incumbents reluctant to invest in fixed infrastructure. New entrants using VoIP, wireless technologies, or triple play solutions are attracting a growing number of subscribers, but their market share remains comparatively small. Almost invariably, the incumbents continue to dominate the fixed line industry.
Local Loop Unbundling is rare in this region and wholesale activity not very well developed. In the broadband sector, most incumbents have secured a virtual monopoly in the delivery of ADSL access. The only broadband competition is across technologies, from cable modem and WiMAX services.
The concern many governments face is the shortage of fixed line infrastructure, tied to the fear that operators will cease to invest in their network if they are forced to unbundle their local loop or lower wholesale prices. Of course, telecom companies have done their best to encourage this fear.
Nevertheless, a few governments are looking into network sharing and Local Loop Unbundling (LLU), which could boost both the fixed-line and broadband markets. The implementation of fixed number portability in several Latin American countries may also help new market entrants.
The fixed broadband options available in the region are ADSL, cable modem, wireless broadband, and Internet via satellite. Of these, ADSL has emerged as the clear leader.
Estimated broadband penetration in the LAC region is about 6.5%, well below the world average of over 8.0%. The slow uptake of broadband in the region can be attributed to poverty and unequal income distribution as well as to industry-specific factors such as limited bandwidth, high prices due to insufficient competition, and insufficient fixed-line structure to carry ADSL.
On the positive side, bandwidth has been increasing in most countries, leading to higher speeds and lower prices, and the fixed broadband market is expected to increase substantially over the years to 2020. With the growing awareness of how important broadband penetration can be for a country’s economic development, governments are looking at ways to promote Internet access through universalisation projects and regulatory reforms.
On the other hand, fixed broadband is close to saturation in some of the region’s major urban centres, while provincial towns and rural areas may end up turning to mobile rather than fixed broadband.
Indeed, mobile broadband has become an important option for broadband services throughout Latin America. The service is commonly used with either a USB modem that plugs into a computer, or with netbooks, notebooks, or laptops that have a built-in 3G receiver. In 2008/09, several Latin American mobile operators entered into agreements with manufacturers to launch mobile broadband plans with a netbook or notebook included.
Like the rest of the world, Latin America is turning increasingly towards mobile solutions and away from the traditional telephone. Actually, Latin America is well ahead of the world average, having reached 93% mobile penetration in mid-2010 against a global rate of around 73%. We must bear in mind, however, that over 80% of the region’s mobile subscribers are on prepaid plans.
Many Latin American countries have passed or are close to passing the 100% mobile penetration milestone, and growth is set to continue beyond this mark. More and more people own multiple mobile accounts - either one phone for work and one for personal use, or one phone for each mobile company in order to take advantage of special offers. The growing popularity of mobile broadband also means that an increasing number of users require at least two SIM cards, one for their mobile phone and one for their USB modem.
Number portability has been launched in Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, and is in the process of implementation in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic.
Telecom liberalisation is under way in Costa Rica, with the first alternative operators launching services in mid-2010 and a mobile spectrum auction to be held before end-2010.
Telmex and America Móvil have announced plans to merge operations, creating a single regional telecoms giant capable of offering bundled fixed, mobile, broadband, and pay TV services.
Telefónica is changing its trading name to Movistar in order to unify all services (fixed, mobile, broadband, and pay TV) under the Movistar brand, previously used only for mobile telephony.
Panama has become one of the first countries in the world to offer free wireless access nationwide with a speed limit of 256Kb/s, reaching 80% of the population.
Brazil’s government has been drawing up plans to spread broadband across the vast country in one of the world’s largest infrastructure projects.
A new media law in Argentina seeks to open the broadcasting market to new players, promote competition, and restrict monopolistic trends in the pay TV market.
América Móvil and Telefónica compete against each other in most of Latin America’s major economies. Between them, they serve about 62% of the region’s mobile subscribers.
For every minute spent talking on a mobile phone, the average Venezuelan sends two SMS messages.Driven by the shortcomings of the fixed broadband market, the growth of mobile broadband in Latin America - and especially in Brazil - has been nothing short of spectacular. The success of mobile broadband is expected to continue, especially when the faster speeds of 4G mobile (LTE) become available.Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.