Guatemala – World Bank invests in mobile network infrastructure, helping migration to 4G
Growth in Guatemala’s telecom sector has been affected by the continuing global economic downturn, which has reduced spending power in both the residential and corporate markets. The fixed-line market shrank for the first time in 2009, a trend which has been maintained since. The broadband market has continued to grow but at a slower rate while the mobile telephony market has shown remarkably strong growth in recent years, largely stimulated by consumers finding an alternative to fixed-line communications. Indeed, poor infrastructure has led to the country having one of the lowest fixed-line teledensities in the region. As a result, broadband availability is limited. This has been exacerbated by very low GDP per capita, which has stymied consumer take-up of services where available, as also the popular use of computers. The outlook for 2013 and 2014 is characteristic of former years, with the fixed-line market likely to stagnate while the fixed broadband and mobile sectors develop steadily.
The anticipated growth in GDP per capita in coming years will provide more disposable household revenue and so stimulate demand for telecom and ICT services. This would be more marked should the country free itself from its legacy of violence, poverty, and corruption, factors which continue to inhibit prospective investors.
Among the poorer countries in Latin America, Guatemala’s telecom infrastructure has suffered from years of underinvestment from state and provincial governments. Network upgrades, in both the fixed-line and mobile sector, have largely been undertaken by the private sector. A number of key players, including Telefonia and América Móvil, are regional and global powerhouses which can tap into expertise and financial resources to bolster their Guatemalan businesses. Given the commercial impetus of these operators, insufficient government financial investment has resulted in many regional areas remaining with poor or non-existent services. Nevertheless, the country benefits from one of the most open regulatory frameworks, with all telecom sectors having been open to competition since 1996.
América Móvil controls about 70% of the fixed lines in service through its subsidiary Claro. Mobile telephony has been the most developed telecom market in Guatemala for several quarters and is likely to remain so for the next few years given the poor condition of fixed-line services. The intense competition amongst operators has helped to improve services and lower prices. Mobile penetration is on a par with the regional average, while the strong growth in the mobile subscriber base is a further indication that consumers are leaning to mobile telephony as an alternative to fixed-line services.
- Telephony services range from the modern network in the city of Guatemala to non-existent infrastructure in many rural areas. As a result, teledensity remains low. Without regulator stimuli these commercially unviable areas are likely to continue depending on mobile telephony services in coming years.
- International mobile money remittance services are expanding, with Tigo launching services with Western Union.
- The wireless market has showed strong growth in recent years, with the number of subscribers increasing by some 550% between 2004 and 2011.
- Due to the deficiencies of the fixed-line infrastructure, WiMAX and mobile broadband have become important alternatives to meet Guatemala’s growing broadband demand.
- Digicel, which has an operating license in the 900MHz band, has yet to launch mobile services in Guatemala, though in 2012 it signed an agreement with Claro to integrate their networks in both Guatemala and El Salvador.
- A mobile wallet service from Movilway may pave the way for wider consumer use of the m-payment platform in coming years.
- In 2013 Telefonica signed an agreement with CMI, divesting a 40% stake in its Guatemalan subsidiary.
- Congress passed legislation in late 2012 extending existing license concessions for a further 20 years. Without charging for the extension, the State thereby lost out on significant revenue.
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