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Argentine mobile operators ended August 2017 with 14,255 4G base stations in service, close to matching the 16,734 traditional mobile base stations deployed across the country over the previous 15 years.
The latest figures from regulator Enacom show that 4G base stations account for 46% of base stations in service, while 3G base stations make up 37% and 2G stations 17%.
When operators started rolling out 4G networks in mid-2015, they committed to covering Argentina's four largest cities, all province capitals, and 13 major highways (5,343km) by end-2016.
The operators are now carrying out a phase to cover all cities with over 50,000 people by mid-2018, as well as 11 more highways (4,607km). The license rules require all remaining areas to be covered by mid-2020.
Even so, industry association GSMA warned in November 2016 that Argentina would need to find 50% more tower sites by 2020 to prepare for the deployment of 5G networks.
State carrier of carriers Arsat is preparing to address part of that need with a program to lease space at some of the 1,400 sites it uses for its own network infrastructure and operations across the country.
Parallel to the access network rollout, Argentine operators are aware that they need to improve the backhaul networks that interconnect their towers. At the same time, Arsat is at the heart of the national quest to bring broadband to neglected areas, and to make it affordable for all.
Data from Enacom shows that, in most provinces, operators use a mix of fiber, microwave and satellite links to provide backhaul, the exceptions being Tierra del Fuego, which relies almost entirely on satellite connectivity; and metropolitan Buenos Aires, which is almost entirely fiber.
Overall, microwave links account for 49% of backhaul connectivity; fiber, 45%; and satellite links, 5%.
Breakdown of backbone links by type, per province
The microwave infrastructure consists of 66,275 transmitters, of which 40,877 (61.7%) are owned by telcos. The remaining 25,398 are most likely operated by government agencies and private enterprises, such as mining firms, utilities and public services cooperatives.
Within the telco microwave infrastructure, 35.6% of the sites are operated by América Móvil; 28.8% by Telecom Argentina; 22% by Telefónica; 7.3% by Level 3, and 5.8% by Nextel. British Telecom and 'Telefonía Pública y Privada S.A' each have about 1,100 sites.
Among the assets operated by Arsat is a 33,000km fiber backbone, of which 22,622km are in service, providing connectivity for small ISPs in 300 municipalities. Arsat expects this number to increase to 500 municipalities by end-2017, rising to 750 in 1Q18. The system is designed to eventually serve 1,300 municipalities.
In August, Arsat completed a submarine section that extended the fiber network to the island of Tierra del Fuego, but has yet to activate the final section extending to the city of Ushuaia.
BNamericas was unable to find a full breakdown of the fiber networks installed in Argentina, but is able to ascertain that Telefónica operates 28,000km; Silica Networks, 10,000km; and IPlan, 1,000km. América Móvil reportedly has a small amount of fiber only in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area.
Over the years, the Argentine government has authorized satellite services from nine firms operating geostationary fleets: Intelsat, Inmarsat, New Skies, Hispasat, Hispamar, Telesat, Loral Cyberstar, Arsat and Southern Satellite Corporation. These firms operate a combined total of 33 satellites with footprints that include Argentina.
There are also five authorized firms with operations based on non-geostationary fleets: Tesam, Telespazio, Omnisat, Iridium and SES.
Connections between all these different kinds of backbone infrastructure are made possible by Argentina's network of 21 IXPs, all managed by Cabase.
Pictured: The president of Argentina's state-owned telecommunications company (Arsat), Rodrigo de Loredo.