State of play in Bolivia’s ICT industry

Bnamericas Published: Thursday, January 09, 2020
State of play in Bolivia’s ICT industry

Bolivia ended 1Q19 with 10.1mn internet connections, meaning a penetration rate of 89%, according to sector regulator ATT, which measures the population at 11.3mn.

Internet penetration is heavily reliant on mobile connectivity, which accounts for 94% of internet connections and passed 100% penetration in 2018. ATT reported 11.32mn mobile lines in service in 1Q19.

LTE coverage was last measured by OpenSignal in 2017, at 73.5% of the population.

As of September 2019, state operator Entel held a market share of 45.4% in mobile, followed by Tigo with 37.6% and Viva with 16.9%.

Entel is going from strength to strength thanks to a 2016 agreement with Peru's communications ministry MTC giving the landlocked country permission to build a data transport cable across Peruvian territory. At the time Entel depended on data wholesale carriers in Chile for connectivity to international transport providers.

The US$60mn project involved a 1,000km terrestrial connection to the south Peruvian port of Ilo, plus a 1,200km marine section to connect with the international cable landing point at Lurín, near Lima.

In July 2019 Entel was reportedly in talks with three international connectivity providers with connection points at Lurín, and by early December there were reports that the connection was active, with capacity of 300Gbps and potential to expand this to 8Tbps. Originally, the company hinted that it would reduce service prices because the new international connection would cut annual operating costs by some US$12mn, but in the end the firm opted to raise end-user connection speed instead. In October 2019 Speedtest clocked Bolivia's average fixed broadband connection speed at 13.4Mbps. 

Peruvian law requires that infrastructure owners must provide local services, forcing Entel to offer telephony, internet and TV in the five Peruvian regions where the cable passes. In Bolivia, Entel has been offering IPTV since 2015, and offers DTH nationwide thanks to the Tupac Katari satellite, which entered service in 2016.

Entel has 24,427km of fiber backbone on Bolivian soil, which were connected to 199 of the country's 340 municipal capitals according to reports in August 2019. The country's national broadband plan also calls for coverage of 204 smaller localities, of which 154 had been connected by that date.

The goal of the 2017-20 national broadband plan is to have internet service available in all localities of more than 50 people by 2020. It was 83% complete by August 2019.

In December the regional development fund FNDR estimated that the universal access fund PRONTIS would contribute 1.72bn bolivianos (US$250,000) to its budget in 2019. Entel's budget for 2019 was US$288mn, which included final work on the Pacific connection project, increased coverage in the interior and a 10% increase in the number of mobile base stations. 

Entel's fiber infrastructure leaves it well-positioned to prepare for 5G, leading the company to claim that it will be able to launch 5G commercially in 2020, starting in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. The firm ran tests with Huawei in September 2019, and expects its 2020 budget to include US$70mn-90mn for 5G infrastructure.

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