Sunday 13 June 2021

Dominican Republic is getting ready for 5G Spectrum Auctions

The Dominican Republic’s fixed-line teledensity is well below the Latin American average, a legacy of under-investment in network infrastructure over the years. In common with other markets in the region, the mobile sector has become the preferred platform for voice services. With LTE services available to about 98% of the population, mobile broadband has also developed strongly in recent years.

The country’s income inequalities are still reflected in the unequal distribution of telephony services, with many communities having very restricted access. The government has addressed the issue of access in recent years and has funded a number of public projects. In October 2020 the regulator issued a decree covering a number of areas, including universal access to broadband services, and the development of a national backbone network in cooperation with the electricity transmission network provider.

Considerable changes are anticipated in 2021 when a multi-spectrum auction is scheduled. This will enable the MNOs to launch 5G services, and thus help each the national broadband goals.

The Dominican Republic has three major operators: Claro (formerly Codetel), Altice Dominicana (previously Orange and Tricom merged) and Viva.  The market is led by América Móvil’s Claro, with nearly 4mn lines at the end of October 2020, while Altice has 2.47mn and Trilogy Viva 358,000.

Claro the clear market leader has the best coverage. Orange is at number 2, with a slightly smaller coverage and lower speeds while Viva is the third network with an even smaller footprint.

Since 2013 Orange and Tricom both belong to the Altice group. In 2017 the national regulator Indotel approved the merger request. Both networks have been merged, Tricom has been absorbed by Orange and the newly merged network rebranded to Altice Dominicana.

4G/LTE on GSM-based networks started in 2014. Claro has the best coverage in all provincial towns, followed by Altice and Viva that mostly covers the capital, some major towns and tourist areas by 4G/LTE so far.

Claro, run by Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim and his América Móviles company, is the market leader in the DR with the best coverage and more 55% of the national subscribers: coverage map. Claro has started in 2014 with 4G/LTE, however on the 1700/2100 (= AWS, band 4) frequency, only covered by US cellphones or some iPhones.

Netherlands based Altice Group purchased Orange the number 2 in the country in 2013 with a market share of 43%, merged it with Tricom (at no. 4) and rebranded it as Altice Dominicana in 2017.

It has a good coverage in 2G and 3G countrywide and gives better compatibility with devices from overseas on 3G and 4G.

Altice (back as Orange) started with 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz in 2012, but was still limited to the capital area of Santo Domingo and Santiago and a few other areas. For 2017 it plans to cover 90% by 3G and all major towns and tourist areas by 4G/LTE as the merger with Tricom approved in 2017 gives the unified network additional bandwidth.

Viva used to be considered the 4th player in the country moving into the no. 3 spot after the merger of Orange/Tricom with a meagre 4% market share. It's network is nationwide, with some gaps though. In 2017 finally they added 3G services and 4G/LTE in a limited area. Viva still has the lowest coverage of all three players what 3G/4G is concerned at the lowest prices. 

The Dominican Republic expects its upcoming 5G auction to generate between US$200 million and US$300 million, according to Nelson Arroyo, the president of regulator Indotel (Instituto Dominicano de las Telecomunicaciones).

The mooted amount is aimed at setting expectations for potential newcomers to the country’s mobile market, with registration for the upcoming auctions open to interested parties until May. Indotel is keen to attract new operators to the market, with the country’s wireless penetration rate sitting at just above 80% as of September last year.

The 5G auctions will see spectrum sold across several bands, with nine 2×5MHz blocks of 700MHz spectrum available alongside 16 10MHz blocks of 3.5GHz spectrum. All concessions will be valid for 20 years.

The government of the Dominican Republic have said that the specifications of the international tender for the implementation of 5G networks in the country will not exclude Huawei. 

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