A study published by GSMA Intelligence and presented during the Mobile 360 Series Latin America in Buenos Aires – Argentina, found that 4G mobile connections – LTE technology – went from 8% in 2015 to 38% in 2018 in Latin America, which reached 37% in 3G and 25% in 2G for the same period, showing an advance in mobile Internet penetration throughout the region.

The same study found that there were 450 million unique mobile subscribers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018 and that there are 674 million mobile connections. In relation to mobile broadband, the market reached 480 million connections and the use of Smartphones reached 65% (Adoption of Smartphones).

Regarding future forecasts, if the market continues to maintain a stable compartment, the study predicts that 4G mobile technologies will represent almost two thirds of total connections by 2025, while the deployment of 5G will be advancing throughout the region and by that same year there will be at least 529 million unique subscribers and 775 million mobile connections, with 733 million expected to be broadband.

Why are the results of this study important for Latin America?

GSMA, the author of the report, is a global organization that gathers and associates cell phone operators from all over the world, as well as mobile and portable device manufacturers, software companies, equipment suppliers and Internet companies, as well as sectorial organizations. GSMA also produces the industry-leading MWC events held annually in Barcelona, Los Angeles and Shanghai, as well as the regional Mobile 360 Series conferences.

“GSMA Intelligence” is the sectorial observatory and the most complete reference source for data of the mobile sector in the world, with analysis and forecasts of the operators publishing reports and accredited studies on the sector.

Entitled “The Mobile Economy: Latin America and the Caribbean 2018“, the report presented in Buenos Aires highlights that 4G is reaching 82% of the population of the region, through an industry that contributes 280 billion dollars to the regional economies, representing 5% of the total gross domestic product of Latin America, generating 700 thousand direct jobs and around 900 thousand indirect ones. In addition, it contributes 36 billion dollars to the public finances of the region, through regulatory fees and compensation for exploitation of the radioelectric spectrum.

This report, apart from presenting revealing figures that allow a very exact diagnosis of what is happening in Latin America, shows that the digital gap is beginning to decrease in the region. Likewise, the study proves something that had already been revealed by the annual ECLAC study, which is that mobile broadband is exceeding by far in penetration to fixed broadband, which greatly restricts connectivity, since unlimited mobile plans are very scarce in the region.

You can read more about this in the article: “X-ray of the connected audiovisual in Latin America”.

Regional asymmetries:

The study is revealing in showing that more than two thirds of the population in the region is connected to a mobile network, however, there are marked differences between the different countries that make up Latin America and the Caribbean. In terms of mobile Internet user penetration, Chile, Uruguay and Panama are in the lead with 83%, followed by Argentina with 82%, Puerto Rico with 81% and Costa Rica with 77%. In the average range of the region are Peru with 71%, Colombia with 69%, Brazil with 68% and the most backward of this group is Mexico with 63%. Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti are below 60%, and Cuba and Nicaragua are in the last places not reaching the 50% threshold.

“With 124 active LTE networks in Latin America and the Caribbean, 4G coverage in the region continued to expand and today reaches 82% of the population, equivalent to 529 million people. Operators have reached critical mass in terms of coverage and are also investing heavily in network upgrades to support the acceleration of smartphone and data usage. For example, there are currently 30 LTE-Advanced networks active in 20 markets in the region, while implementations of the latest standard, LTE-Advanced Pro, are also underway.

The combination of improved network coverage and growing smartphone adoption, combined with increased use of data services and demand for higher speeds, demonstrates that consumers are already rapidly migrating to 4G services and entering a new era of digital connectivity in many of the region’s markets.” According to the study.

The implementation of 5G Technology in the region

The study also concludes that 5G technology (still in the development stage) will enter Latin America with great power and predicts that most of the launches will begin in the first years of the next decade.

You can read more about this in the article: “The impact that 5G will bring to telecommunications”.

However, the estimates presented in the study, calculate that 5G would start to launch by 2025 when it reaches a little more than 40% of the population, at the time when the technological deployment reaches the critical mass in key markets, with projections indicating that 5G connections will exceed 62 million by 2025, which will be equivalent to 8% of the total connections in the region.

Public policy and regulation:

The study argues that public policies shall promote intelligent and equitable accessibility, fostering economic and social development, recommending regulators to promote and enable new value chains in the global context of a fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4. 0), “focusing policies on the promotion and development of digital infrastructure, innovation and investment, providing forward predictability and legal certainty, recommending public policy frameworks that are flexible and ex-post, which aim to provide certainty and predictability“, not only for companies to continue investing in networks, but also to ensure that users can access the benefits of having quality connectivity, regardless of their geographic location or purchasing power.

The study also invites governments to ensure the availability of spectrum in high, medium and low bands, in order to respond to the demand not only of users, but also of the Internet of things.

You may be interested in the article: ” Understanding the Internet of Things”

The Role of Content:

In the past five years, the study recognizes that content, applications and other services were the fastest growing part of the ecosystem, but simultaneously the sector that represented the most challenges for mobile companies, since the demand for broadband grew exponentially, marked mainly by the consolidation of Video OTT platforms such as Netflix and the growth of Youtube.

Regarding the possibilities of content creation, the study states that:

“The widespread availability and growing adoption of mobile services and, in particular, smart phones in Latin America, also drove a paradigm shift in the creation, distribution and consumption of content in the region. With a young and dynamic population, Latin America’s millennials are at the center of this content transformation.

According to the GSMA Consumer Survey, the millennial smartphone users in Latin America count among the most active users of free online video services for their age group worldwide. For example, in Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico, more than three-quarters of millennials watch free online video at least once a month on their smartphones.

In conclusion, although the results of the study are encouraging and show a growth of mobile broadband in Latin America, a small decrease in the digital gap and a vigorous, stable and growing telecommunications sector, the great asymmetry that is being generated with regard to fixed broadband, which is finally what guarantees unlimited and quality connectivity in people and homes, so there is still a great deal of work to be done throughout the region.

For more information on the subject, you can read the article: “The Broadband Fallacy in Latin America”.


Gabriel E. Levy B.