Thursday 18 February 2021

People of Chile Are Looking Forward to Promised 5G Nirvana This Year!


Chile has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in South America. The number of subscribers has fluctuated seasonally in recent years though the overall growth trend has been stable. Much of the growth can be ascribed to the extensive availability of LTE networks which has encouraged take-up to take advantage of mobile data services.

There exist four main operators: Movistar and Entel remain the market leaders, with a similar market share, while Claro accounts for about a quarter of the market. Nextel Chile was sold in mid-2014 by NII Holdings and rebranded as WOM in 2015. The company has rapidly increased its subscriber base, partly helped by roaming agreements with all three other network operators.

Mobile number portability has helped to increase competition and reduce prices for consumers. Intermodal portability was introduced in September 2016, which allows subscribers to port numbers between fixed and mobile networks.

All four MNOs had launched LTE networks by 2015, and during 2018 operators trialled 5G. The regulator has also adopted its National Plan for 5G aimed at developing a consensus on services and spectrum use. The significant growth in the number of LTE subscribers in recent quarters highlights operator focus on mobile broadband and data services as a source of revenue in coming years. This is being supported by the growing adoption of smartphones, in turn driven by the popularity of social media and near comprehensive LTE population coverage, as well as by the reduction in the price of devices.

Chilean 4G networks are on an upward trajectory as we see all four of the country’s mobile operators making improvements to their networks. According to Open Signal users on three of the four operators now report having more than 80% 4G Availability in the country, which is a big improvement from over a year ago, when none of the operators had achieved higher than 78.2% in 4G Availability. Meaning 4G users on three out of four networks in Chile, on average, were able to connect to 4G services more than 80% of the time.

Entel was the winner of the 4G Availability award with a score of 85.8%. Movistar was a close second with a score of 82.3%, followed by WOM with 80.5% and Claro with 75%. In Video Experience, all operators have achieved a Good ranking, which means they scored 55-65 on our 100-point scale. This means users may have a less consistent experience with slower loading times and some stalling.

In the Latency Experience category, Entel was the winner with a latency of 40.8 milliseconds, which was nearly 1ms less than its score in our August 2019 report, when it had a latency of 41.7ms. Entel’s score was also 3ms less than its next competitor WOM, which had a Latency Experience of 43.8ms.

We also see that all operators are making improvements to download and upload speeds. Entel was the winner of our Upload Experience award with a score of 9.7 Mbps. That was 2 Mbps faster than its Upload Speed measurement in the August 2019 report.

Entel also won the Download Speed Experience award with a score of 18 Mbps – 8% faster than its next closest competitor Claro, whose users saw average download speeds of 16.7 Mbps.

Entel was the winner in Opensignal’s 4G Coverage Experience with a score of 7.9 on a scale of 1-10. Movistar came in second with a score of 7.8. This is the first time Opensignal measured its users’ 4G Coverage Experience in Chile. Opensignal’s Coverage Experience metric analyzes the locations where customers of a network operator received a 4G signal relative to the locations visited by Opensignal users of all network operators.

Entel, short for Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, is the old state-owned provider for landlines and cellular services which was privatized some years ago. They were the first to bring GSM, UMTS and LTE to the country. 

Entel Chile has partnered with Ericsson to implement a plan for a reliable, stable network capable of delivering a superior mobile data experience to their subscribers, at the same time as it is constantly monitored and improved. Proactive Services has been developed by Ericsson to alert network operation center (NOC) teams when unexpected faults occur on the network. Actions can be proactively taken before a minor deviation becomes a major incident in the network. The result of the cooperation between Entel and Ericsson is improved network performance and stability, with a 60 percent reduction of performance issues within six months leading to more satisfied subscribers.

Despite not being considered a commercial network, Entel and Ericsson have recently inaugurated a 5.5 km 5G service area for the use of their clients.

Movistar, formerly CTC (Compañía de Teléfonos de Chile), now owned by Telefónica is on par with Entel. Unlike Entel, its 3G is not only on 1900 but on 850 MHz too. In 2015 Movistar opened as first operator its 4G/LTE on 700 (Band 28) and 2600 MHz (B7).

Claro, owned by Mexican América Móvil, formerly known as Smartcom and Chilesat PCS is the 3rd operator in Chile with a still good coverage. It was the first to bring LTE to Chile in 2013 that was opened to all prepaid customers in January 2016.

Claro Chile and the UC Innovation Center have signed a long-term strategic alliance wherein solutions and applications of 5G technology will be designed and tested, with a focus on the industries of the medicine, transport, agro-forestry, mining, wireless communication and education, among others, and seeks to position itself as a hub of innovation, technology and the future in order to solve the challenges around 5G technology.

WOM was called Nextel until 2015 and is the smallest network operator in Chile. It has 3G and 4G AWS (1700 MHz, band 4) MHz for voice and data, but no 2G/GSM, check WOM coverage. It has the lowest prices and a market share of 8% gaining rapidly in 2017.

In 2017 they discontinued domestic roaming on Entel and moved to Claro and Movistar for roaming when you are outside an own WOM coverage area, or if your phone is not compatible with AWS bands. WOM has started 4G/LTE in Santiago and Viña del Mar in 2015 using its own AWS (1700/2100) MHz band (B4).

Chilean telecoms watchdog the Department of Telecommunications (Subsecretaria de Telecomunicaciones, Subtel) has published the results of the final tiebreaker auction of its 5G spectrum tender process, naming Movistar, Entel and WOM as the winners. Each of the trio was awarded a 50MHz tranche of 3500MHz spectrum. Of the other two bidders, Claro’s bid fell short whilst would-be newcomer Borealnet bowed out after losing the tiebreaker auctions for frequencies in the 700MHz and AWS bands to WOM. According to Subtel, the economic offers submitted by the companies amounted to around CLP117 billion (USD162.7 million) for Movistar, CLP100 billion from Entel and CLP32 billion from WOM. As part of their licence obligations, the operators will be required to provide high speed mobile data services to 366 unserved or underserved locations, and connect 199 hospitals to the new networks. Diario Financiero quotes a statement from Claro commenting on the auction results as saying that the company would forge ahead with its 5G development programme: ‘The results of this first phase of the 3500MHz spectrum tender do not stop Claro Chile’s 5G deployment plans. We will continue advancing in the development of 5G with our currently available spectrum, including the 26GHz millimetre band.’ The operator also encouraged the regulator to accelerate the process of auctioning additional 5G spectrum, referring to the ‘next stage of the public tender’. The local press outlet also noted that there is a potential route for Claro to purchase additional 3500MHz airwaves in the immediate future, as Entel’s award will push the company’s spectrum holdings in the band above the 30% cap.

With the conclusion of this round of 5G tenders, the winners of the spectrum are as follows:

  • WOM – 2×10MHz in the 700MHz band, 2×15MHz in the AWS band, 50MHz in the 3500MHz band and 400MHz in the 26GHz band
  • Entel – 50MHz in the 3500MHz band and 400MHz in the 26GHz band
  • Movistar – 50MHz in the 3500MHz band
  • Claro – 400MHz in the 26GHz band.

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