Social networks drive growth in Latin America’s smartphone market

Mobile penetration

Like the rest of the world, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is turning increasingly towards mobile solutions and away from the traditional telephone. In fact, the region is ahead of the world average, having reached an estimated 112% mobile penetration at end-2012 against a global rate of around 96%. However, over 80% of LAC’s mobile subscribers are on prepaid plans.

In South America, estimated mobile penetration at end-2012 was 123%. The highest penetration rates can be found in Suriname, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina. All countries have passed the 100% penetration mark except for Bolivia and Guyana.

In Central America, mobile penetration is slightly lower, with an estimated rate of 118% at end-2012. The mobile leaders are Panama and El Salvador. All countries have passed the 100% penetration mark except for Nicaragua.

Mexico and the Caribbean is the subregion with the lowest average penetration, the estimated rate being 82% at end-2012. The figure has been pushed down by Mexico, which has a vast population at 83% penetration, and even more so by Cuba, a sizeable country with an unbelievably low mobile penetration of only 14%. Other countries still below the 100% penetration mark include Haiti, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, and St Vincent & The Grenadines. On the other hand, some of the small island nations are the LAC mobile leaders, with exceptionally high penetration rates. The Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, and Bermuda have topped 200% penetration. In these countries, however, subscription numbers are sometimes pumped up by tourists or migrant workers who are not counted as part of the population.

Smartphones

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.

The popularity of social networks is driving growth in a bourgeoning smartphone market. In most countries, conventional and low-cost phones are still the best sellers, but they are losing ground to the smartphone. Argentina and Chile are the region’s smartphone leaders. In 2012, these two countries reached a key milestone: for the first time, smartphone sales outstripped both feature phones and low-cost phones.

3G/UMTS mobile services

3G/UMTS services include phone-based browsing, access to email and social sites, mobile games, video calling, multimedia downloads, and mobile broadband. Several companies also offer mobile TV. UMTS technologies in Latin America include HSPA and HSPA+.

Practically all LAC markets have operating HSPA networks with the exception of Belize, Cuba, and a few Caribbean island nations. In February 2013, there were 90 HSPA networks operating in 37 LAC countries (up from 79 HSPA networks in 32 countries in early 2012), plus there were another 12 networks planned.

Latin America’s first HSPA+ networks were launched in July 2010 by Movistar in Chile and by Digicel in Bermuda. In February 2013, 55 HSPA+ networks had been deployed in 27 countries.

4G/LTE mobile services

Puerto Rico was the first country in Latin America to have mobile LTE: AT&T launched the service in November 2011, Claro (América Móvil) in December 2011, and CDMA operator Open Mobile in April 2012.

Uruguay was the region’s second country to enjoy LTE, at the hand of state-owned Antel, which launched the service in Montevideo and Punta del Este in December 2011.

In mid-2012, LTE mobile services were launched by UNE-EPM in Colombia and by Orange Dominicana in the Dominican Republic. Another five service launches took place in late 2012: Sprint Nextel, in Puerto Rico; Digicel, in Antigua & Barbuda; Movil de Entel, in Bolivia; Claro, in Brazil; and Telcel, in Mexico. In February 2013, there were 42 operators in the LAC region planning to launch LTE networks.

Major mobile operators in Latin America

Five multinational operators serve roughly 80% of LAC’s mobile market. They are: Mexico’s América Móvil, Telefónica of Spain, Telecom Italia, Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular, and Ireland’s Digicel.

América Móvil is the leader, followed by Telefónica. These two companies compete against each other in most of the region’s major economies. Between them, they serve about 61% of LAC’s mobile subscribers. América Móvil, owned by Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, operates in 16 LAC countries. In Mexico, it uses the brand name Telcel, but in all other countries, it provides mobile services under the unified brand Claro. Spain’s Telefónica offers mobile services in 13 LAC countries, using the name Movistar in all markets except Brazil, where it operates under the brand name Vivo.

The remaining three multinational operators share a 19% share of LAC’s mobile subscribers. Telecom Italia operates in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Millicom provides mobile services branded Tigo in three Central American and three South American countries. Digicel is the leading mobile provider in the Caribbean.

LAC – mobile growth and penetration − 2007 – 2013

Year

Annual change

Penetration

2007

+24%

67%

2008

+19%

79%

2009

+12%

87%

2010 +12% 96%

2011

+12%

107%

2012

+6%

112%

2013 (e)

+6%

117%

(Source: BuddeComm based on Global Mobile and national regulators’ data)

Market Highlights

  • Mobile penetration in LAC is higher than the world average.
  • The popularity of social networks is driving growth in a bourgeoning smartphone market.
  • Practically all countries in the region have operating 3G/UMTS networks, and in a few, 4G/LTE services have been launched.
  • América Móvil and Telefónica between them serve almost one third of the region’s mobile subscribers.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Latin America – Mobile Voice, Data and Forecasts

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