|Issue:||Latin America II 1996|
|Topic:||Wireless in Latin America|
|Author:||Rita P. Gomez|
Growth in wireless systems in Latin America since the beginning of the 1990’s has been phenomenal. Here Rita Gomez of MTA-EMCI describes the success of this type of communication system in the region.
During the 1990s wireless communications have experienced tremendous growth in Latin America. No single factor is responsible for this growth, but rather a series of interrelated events have driven and will continue to propel wireless growth in the future. Over the last few years, the telecommunications sectors of most countries in Latin America deregulated and privatized to various degrees. As a result, the wireless industry has benefited from an influx of foreign investment and from competition between carriers and technologies that have fostered decreasing service and equipment prices, increased coverage, and the introduction of new services. Demand for cellular is dominant among wireless technologies in Latin America. The first public cellular system came on-line in Venezuela in 1988, followed in 1989 by the first private networks in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. By the end of 1995, the cellular subscriber base in Latin America had exceeded 3.9 million subscribers, over a three-fold increase from 1993. Cellular carriers have shifted from targeting high-end business users to personal users in middle income segments of the population. Further, competing cellular operators have been licensed in several countries thus promoting rapid growth through lower service prices and subsidized end-user equipment. Cellular carriers throughout the region are currently considering and implementing digital technologies, primarily TOMA and COMA, in an effort to alleviate capacity constraints in densely populated areas and to provide increasing numbers of value added services. The 1990s has also seen the licensing of carriers for both new and existing technologies, such as paging, trunked mobile radio, and wireless local loop. Though some of these services have been available for several years, new technological developments have revitalized their market presence through increased functionality and reliability. For example, paging services have been available in some countries since the 1960s, but were mostly tone-only systems with limited functionality and high service costs. The introduction of alphanumeric paging over the past few years has promoted subscriber growth through increased services and coverage. High service costs and limited distribution, however, continue to constrain growth in many countries. New technologies are currently being deployed throughout the region and some, particularly wireless local loop, are being licensed in an effort to increase telecommunications access. Latin America has suffered from low telephone line penetration, particularly in non-urban areas, as well as from low quality of service and poor market demand response. Other technologies, such as Personal Communications Services (PCS), are currently being licensed or are under study by government regulatory bodies in several countries. PCS will serve both as a direct competitor to cellular and potentially as a fixed wireless provider. The usage characteristics of cellular in Latin America – low mobility in dense urban areas, high usage rates, and popularity of portable phones – provide the precise conditions for PCS to compete directly with cellular. PCS will also serve as a platform for wireless local loop, providing basic services in countries with inadequate telephony infrastructure. Conclusion Latin American wireless industries offer vast opportunities for service providers, manufacturers, and foreign investors. In the next five years, the wireless industry is projected to experience tremendous growth as new services are deployed and competing carriers come on-line. Cellular and PCS subscribers are projected to reach over 21 million by the year 2000 while paging subscribers will total nearly 4.4 million. Wireless local loop applications are expected to mushroom, reaching nearly four million subscribers by the end of the decade, while subscribers in the mobile satellite and trunked mobile radio industries are projected to reach three-quarters of a million.