Latin America’s mobile penetration is well ahead of the world average

Mobile penetration

Consumers in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are turning increasingly towards mobile solutions and away from the traditional telephone. In terms of usage, the region is well ahead of the world average, having reached an estimated 115% mobile penetration at end-2012 against a global rate of around 96%. However, over 80% of LAC’s mobile subscribers are on prepaid plans.

Mobile operators

Six major multinational operators serve roughly 80% of the region’s market: América Móvil, Telefónica, Telecom Italia, Millicom, and Digicel. América Móvil is the leader, followed by Telefónica. In fact, América Móvil and Telefónica compete against each other in most of Latin America’s major economies. Between them, they serve about 61% of the region’s mobile subscribers (down from 64% in 2008).

América Móvil, owned by Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, operates in 16 LAC countries. In its home ground, Mexico, it uses the brand name Telcel. In all other countries, it provides mobile services under the unified name Claro. Spain’s Telefónica provides mobile services in 13 LAC countries, using the name Movistar in all markets except Brazil, where it operates under the brand name Vivo.

3G mobile networks

Almost all countries have operating UMTS networks with the exception of Belize, Cuba, Suriname, and a few Caribbean island nations. UMTS technologies in Latin America include HSPA, HSDPA, HSUPA, and HSPA+. Most operators use HSPDA to provide mobile broadband, multimedia downloads, mobile games, and video calling. Several companies also offer mobile TV.

Mobile broadband

Partly due to the inadequate fixed-line infrastructure, mobile broadband has become an important option for broadband services in the LAC region. The service is commonly used with either a USB modem that plugs into a computer, or with netbooks, notebooks, or laptops that have a built-in receiver.

Smartphones and social networks

The enormous popularity of social networks is driving sales in a booming smart phone market. Social phones, which bridge the gap between traditional phones and smartphones, are extremely popular, as they allow access to mail, Twitter, and Facebook. Seven Latin American countries are among the world’s top thirty in terms of Facebook users. Brazil has the highest number of active users in the region, while Chile has the highest ratio of users per capita. With penetration upward of 52%, more than one out of every two Chileans is, in fact, an active Facebook user.


In general terms the mobile sector, largely buttressed by mobile data services, dominates the overall telecoms market in the region, a legacy of inadequate fixed-line infrastructure which has made mobile voice and broadband services a preferred option for many customers. As such, mobile comms is likely to be the focus for most operator capex during the next two years, incorporating network upgrades as well as the acquisition of spectrum.

A new BuddeComm report provides 198 tables and 43 charts illustrating the mobile statistics for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), both for individual countries and the region as a whole. Very brief summaries are given in some chapters, but the original documents should be accessed for full descriptions and commentary.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see:

Latin America – Mobile Communications Statistics (tables only)



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