Latin American companies launch LTE, but should they consider 4G?

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This week, two Latin American companies announced LTE launches: Sky in Brazil and Antel in Uruguay. Previously, Colombian UNE EPM announced its LTE antenna and U.S. carrier AT&T plans to deploy LTE in Puerto Rico as part of its strategy to expand networks improvements to 15 markets with HSPA+ and LTE.

However, although companies say they are launching 4G services, experts say that in some cases, 4G speeds are not being offered. “Based on announcements from Sky Brazil and Antel Uruguay, their LTE networks don’t provide better speeds to those already provided by HSPA+,” said Jose Otero, president of Signals Consulting. “In the case of Sky, TIM HSPA+ offers peak speeds of up to 42 Mbps, much higher than the advertised speeds from Sky. T-Mobile Puerto Rico also offers higher peak speeds to those advertised by the local LTE networks.”

Otero drew a distinction between LTE launches by mobile operators and those by operators such as UNE EPM and Sky, which “will use the technology to provide wireless broadband services. Mobile operators will launch LTE services mostly for marketing purposes and to serve niche segments of the population, especially when the variety is limited and their cost is high.”

Although the International Telecommunication Union has not yet set a definition of 4G, the U.N. technology agency said this month that LTE-Advanced and WirelessMAN-Advanced should be accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced.

“As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as 4G, although it is recognized that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMAX, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third-generation systems now deployed,” the document said.

According to 4G Americas, there currently are 30 HSPA+ networks in 19 countries, with LTE trials in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Mexico (America Móvil’s Telcel plans launch LTE in 1.7/2.1 GHz in the begiging of 2012) Nicaragua and Peru.

There were 163 HSPA+ and 37 LTE networks worldwide in this year’s third quarter, according to the Global mobile Suppliers Association, or GSA. “The growth of 88% of the HSPA+ networks confirms the trend that carriers may maximize their investments in such networks before migrating to LTE,” said Teleco Vice President José Luiz Souza.

Even without 4G speeds, LTE might not be a ordinary migration. Different from HSPA+, upgrade to long-term evolution requires changes in the networks and lots of investments.

“It is also needed to take into account that investment on 3G technologies is still taking place. In other words, prior to fully committing themselves to LTE operators will continue expanding their HSPA+ coverage. On the other hand, UNE  and Sky look to complement their current service portfolio with a broadband offering, thus deployment of LTE makes sense,” said Otero of Signals Consulting.

Some LTE trials in Latin America

Argentina:

Telecom Personal, June 2010 in 2.6 GHz
Telefonica, December 2010 in 1.7/2.1 GHz

Bolivia: Entel Movil, first half 2011 in 700 MHz

Brazil:

Oi, June 2011 in 2.6 GHz

CTBC (Algar) in 850 MHz and 1800MHz

Chile: Entel, December 2009 in 2.6 GHz

Dominican Republic: Wind Telecom, September 2011, 2.6 GHz

MexicoAmerica Móvil/Telcel, in 1.7 / 2.1 GHz

Nicaragua: America Móvil, second half 2011 in 700 MHz

Puerto Rico:

America Móvil, in 1.7 / 2.1 GHz

Open Mobile

Peru: Telefonica, June 2010 in 700 MHz

Source: 4G Americas

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