Our September 2014 report on 4G described how the technology had its foot in the door, but now in most countries it is standard practice to measure LTE subscriptions in millions rather than hundreds of thousands. Hardly surprising, considering there are now 73 LTE networks in 29 Latin American or Caribbean countries.

In our March 2013 report on broadband in general, mobile internet was already the dominant form of internet access in several countries, but note that we say 'internet', not broadband. OTT services like Netflix had yet to establish bandwidth and speed as desirable qualities on the mobile side.

With the advent of LTE, LTE Advanced and now a lot of talk about 5G, it is becoming increasingly acceptable to pool mobile lines with fixed line connections for a general measure of broadband adoption.

True, most mobile broadband in Latin America is 3G, and for 3Q14 the Akamai 'State of the Internet report' put the average mobile internet throughput speed in South America at around 2Mbps, whereas in many countries fixed broadband connections of 10Mbps and above are relatively common.

Outside Uruguay, Chile and Mexico - which cluster around an average throughput of 5.7Mbps for fixed broadband - there is another cluster of seven countries with a group average of 4.0Mbps in the 2Q15 Akamai report.

Akamai did not assess mobile connection speeds in the report after 3Q14, but assuming the average has not increased much since then, it is still not far off from the 4Mbps-or-less fixed line broadband average seen in the majority of Latin American countries.

Although current LTE coverage and adoption cannot compare to fixed line broadband, its potential for further closing the fixed vs mobile speed gap is obvious. According to 4G service mapping firm Open Signal the average LTE connection speed across Latin American operators ranges between 10Mbps and 20Mbps.

There are relatively few people on data plans that give them preferential access to 4G networks, estimated by 4G Americas as 4.9% of mobile users in the region. This could be one reason why 4G subscribers are reporting these impressive real-world speeds, since 4G doesn't suffer the network congestion that 3G users commonly complain of.

Also, Latin American operators have not yet built 4G coverage to the same extent as 3G, and 4G users may find their connection reverting to 3G for a number of reasons, such as their location or the type of content they are accessing. Therefore, another measure of 4G prevalence is the amount of time an active 4G-capable device actually spends connected to a 4G network, a metric that Open Signal dubs 'time coverage'.

For the majority of South American operators this rate is less than 60% of the time devices spend connected to a network, although Peru's Entel stands out with 76%, Colombia's ETB with 68% and Bolivia's Tigo with 67%.

South Korean operators show that 97% uptime is indeed possible, and the operator LGT actually scores 100%. This in a market where reportedly the majority of mobile users are connecting to LTE, which implies that the good average connection speeds reported by Latin American users are not necessarily due to the low number of people accessing the network.

In this report BNamericas looks at the different paths being taken in Latin America to bring broadband to more people and to upgrade existing subscribers to better services.

Figure - Internet Penetration Today


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