Although LTE trials are under way in 11 countries, there are currently no commercial launches of 4G anywhere in Latin America. The first potential 4G launch in Latin America is expected in the first quarter 2012 by Mexico’s Telcel (in 1.7/2.1 GHz) and Colombia’s UNE (in 2.6 GHz). In Brazil, Sky made an agreement with Telebrás to offer 4G (fixed-Internet broadband).
Latin America still has a predominance of 2G networks, and before launching LTE services, carriers have a lot to do in updating their networks to 3G. “We will see two, three operators launching LTE, but they are few and they aim to position themselves as innovators,” said Jose Otero with Signals Consulting. “Operators still have to deploy 3G. In addition, LTE devices are very expensive.”
Indeed, many investments have been made, and telecoms operators may want to get the 3G payback before moving on. Several operators are considering migrating to HSPA+ before launching LTE. In either case — LTE or HSPA+ — they will need to invest in the backhaul.
However, governments across the region might set LTE auctions for next year, and carriers should and operators should set aside a reasonable amount of money to guarantee licenses for LTE deployments. “The governments have to consider that operators cannot invest only in LTE and they will have to secure funds to continue to update its current networks, so spectrum’s prices cannot be to high,” said Erasmo Rojas with 4G Americas.
Among spectrum auctions expected for 2012, Argentina’s government might bid 90 MHz in the AWS 1.7/2.1 GHz, Mexico may launch 30-60 MHz in the AWS 1.7/2.1 GHz, and Colombia could have two auctions: 90 MHz in the AWS 1.7/2.1 GHz and 140 MHz in the 2.6 GHz. Brazilian bidding of 190 MHz in the 2.6GHz frequency may happen in April 2012, since the government’s goal is to have 4G deployed by the FIFA World Cup, at least in the cities where games will be held. Chile is also set to schedule its 4G auction.
Although LTE’s deployment is in its beginning, Informa Telecoms & Media expects that by 2016 Latin America will be the world’s second-largest regional market for the 2600MHz FDD band, accounting for 16% of the addressable market with more than 36 million subscriptions.
In August, a consulting firm reported that the operators recently surveyed on their LTE plans expect the 2600MHz band to remain the most popular globally for initial launches of LTE. The bands around 700MHz to 800MHz are expected to be the next most widely used for initial launches, but Informa notes that in Latin America may favor a combination of 2600MHz spectrum for densely populated urban areas and 700MHz spectrum for rural regions.
Indeed the spectrum may be a problem. There are some controversial about which frequency band governments should bid, considering the 2.6GHz requires much more investment.
The greatest challenge is that in many Latin American countries, the 700 MHz band is used by analog TV services, and the switchover from analog to digital TV across Latin America won’t be completed for a number of years. As a result of the transition from analog to digital TV, this spectrum could have significant capacity to allocate digital dividend spectrum for mobile broadband technologies, such as HSPA and LTE.
A recent study conducted by Telecom Advisory Services at the request of the Global Mobile Suppliers Association and AHCIET showed that the allocation of “digital dividend” spectrum in the 700 MHz band for the deployment of mobile services could contribute almost $15 billion to the Latin American economy and would expand mobile broadband coverage to nearly 93% of the population.
The survey said that through the reallocation of digital dividend spectrum, mobile broadband coverage could increase from 75% to approximately 95% of the population in Argentina, from 75% to 95% in Brazil, from 53% to 90% in Colombia, from 39% to 94% in Mexico, and from 65% to 89% in Peru.
“Even if it is possible to launch LTE in the existing band, carriers may continue their 3G and 2G in their current bands and provide 4G in others bands,” noted José Ayala, the head of government and industry relations at Ericsson (Nasdaq, ADR: ADR).
According to the GMSA, 48 manufacturers have announced 197 LTE-enabled user devices, which is more than triple the total three months ago. The 700 MHz is the most used frequency band, with 106 devices. The second most popular has half of that: there are 52 devices prepared for 2600 MHz (Band 7), followed by the 800 MHz with 42 devices and 1800 MHz (Band 3) with 41 devices. There are 35 devices enabled for AWS (Band 4) and 32 enabled for 800/1800/2600 MHz 32.
Some LTE trials in Latin America
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
Oi, June 2011 in 2.6 GHz
- Chile: Entel, December 2009 in 2.6 GHz
- Dominican Republic: Wind Telecom, September 2011, 2.6 GHz
- Nicaragua: America Móvil, second half 2011 in 700 MHz
- Puerto Rico:
America Móvil, in 1.7 / 2.1 GHz
- Peru: Telefonica, June 2010 in 700 MHz
- Uruguay: ANCEL, second quarter 2011 in 1.7 / 2.1 GHz
Source: 4G Americas
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