Tuesday 6 July 2021

Misinformation and Fake News to delay 5G in Bolivia

Although Bolivia had enjoyed strong economic growth prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, GDP remains among the lowest in South America. Many areas of the country outside the main cities are poor and undeveloped, and there is a sizeable proportion of the population which live in remote valleys and areas where telecom infrastructure has been chronically neglected. As a result, the penetration of telecom services is relatively low.

State-owned Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Entel) is the country’s incumbent long-distance operator, also offering local telephony, DSL, and pay TV services. Its subsidiary Entel Movil is Bolivia’s largest mobile network provider.

Bolivia has almost twenty times as many mobile phone subscribers as fixed line connections, and the trend towards fixed-mobile substitution continues. Besides Entel, two other companies offer mobile telephony: Tigo, wholly owned by Luxembourg-based Millicom International, and NuevaTel, trading as Viva and controlled by Trilogy International. A proposed deal to merge Millicom’s business units in the region with those of Liberty Latin America was called off in February 2019.

Due to the poor quality, high cost, and poor reach of DSL, mobile networks have become the principal platform for voice services and data access. The take-up of services based on LTE has risen steadily as network builds have developed. Tigo launched the first LTE services in mid-2014, followed by Viva in mid-2015. By early 2021 both companies’ networks reached more than 95% of the population. About 92% of all internet accesses are via smartphones.

2G and 3G is on 850 and 1900 MHz with variable coverage. 4G/LTE started in 2013/4/5 on all three providers: Entel uses 700 MHz (B13), Tigo 700 (B17) and 1700 MHz (AWS, B4) and Viva 1700 (AWS, B4) MHz only. 4G/LTE is now given out by all providers to prepaid customers without surcharges.

Coverage and speeds can be very different according to location. Generally, they are a bit lower than in neighbouring countries, but operators need to invest heavily to catch up.

Entel for Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones S.A. is the state-owned incumbent provider in Bolivia. It's still the market leader with a share of 44% of national customers in 2015. It provides the best coverage even in remote areas. It started with 4G/LTE on 700 MHz (B13) in 2014 in the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. Their 4G footprint is expanded gradually to other departmental capital cities and larger cities

Entel has announced that it has successfully trialled 5G at the Expocruz 2019 event in Santa Cruz. The tests were carried out in conjunction with Chinese vendor Huawei and achieved downlink transmission speeds of up to 1Gbps. Entel claims that the trial makes it the first Bolivian mobile operator to demonstrate 5G technology.

Tigo run by internattional Millicom Group is the second provider in Bolivia with a market share of 29%. It was the first to deploy 4G/LTE in 2013, which has spread to at least one city covered in each of Bolivia’s eleven departments: 4G coverage. 2G and 3G are on 850 MHz. 4G is on bands 4 (1700 MHz) and 17 (700 MHz).

Viva run by Nuevatel PCS is the smallest of the three providers with a 27% market share, but the only one who gained customers by its very low rates. Where it has coverage, it sells data at the lowest prices. It was the last to start 4G/LTE in summer 2015 in the La Paz area: 4G coverage area. 2G is on 1900, 3G is on 850 MHz, 4G is on band 4.

There are no plans or announcements on 5G in Bolivia. Last year a lot of mobile masts were destroyed due to massive amount of misinformation spread about Covid. As a result, Entel, the state-owned telecommunications company headquartered in Bolivia, recently piloted an automatic traffic monitoring trial in Chile, utilising 5G wireless connectivity and AI. It is much safer to wait for any 5G trials in Bolivia.

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