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Colombia to have more LTE providers by end of year, says ICT minister

CARTAGENA, Colombia—”Before the end of this year, we hope to have more operators to offer LTE services,” said Colombian ICT Minister Diego Molano Vega, during the opening session Andicom (read all pieces), the largest Colombian ICT event. Colombia has already assigned all of its 3G spectrum frequencies and is now looking forward to auctioning frequencies for deploying LTE across the country. Currently, the public UNE EPM is the only telecom operator offering LTE services.

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According to the presented roadmap, the Ministry aims to auction 130 megahertz of the 2.5 GHz band and 90 megahertz of the AWS band this year. Next year, the goal is to auction 90 megahertz of the 700 MHz spectrum band. “We are in the middle of the process of validating and setting auction rules,” Vega said.  As he explained to members of the press, six possible scenarios are being evaluated by an expert committee. One will be chosen by October, and the auction of AWS and 2.5 GHz is set for December.

However, this scenario begged the question: why would carriers buy spectrum frequency bands in 2.5GHz or AWS this year if the more attractive 700 MHz will be auctioned next year? “Prices, rules and requirements will be different for each frequency band. They will be stricter for 700 MHz because it is less expansive to deploy LTE in this spectrum,” Vega said.

When questioned about foreign companies— a topic that the Colombian government has highlighted in past announcements—Vega said he has talked to carriers from other countries, but there is nothing set yet. “Oi is more concerned about resolving Brazilian issues,” he noted, dismissing the Brazilian carrier’s interest in Colombia.

Auctioning spectrum licenses is part of the Vive Digital plan, a government program which aims to boost Internet penetration in Colombia to decrease poverty, generate jobs, and improve and increase competitiveness and productivity. Among its goals, Vive Digital aims to achieve 8.8 million broadband connections by 2014. In the  first quarter of 2012, there were 5.5 million broadband connections.

To achieve this goal, Vega said that the government has based its work on four main pillars: infrastructure, services, applications and users. “There are 96 plans and programs to encourage the whole ecosystem,” he said. For example, 1,078 municipalities will have fiber optic access by 2014 (currently  325 have such access), and all rural communities are set to have at least one Internet connection.

In addition, Vive Digital aims to grow terminal penetration for Internet broadband access from 16% in 2010 to 34% by 2014, while increasing connected households  from 17% (2010) to 50% (2014).

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