Sunday 31 July 2022

Uruguay is a Land of Opportunity and Connectivity


Uruguay is a nation with few inhabitants, a small territory and a scarcity of mineral resources. However, the country has managed to progress steadily into one of the most stable countries in the area, ranking third in the Human Development Index (right after Chile and Argentina) and number 55 in the world, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Uruguay has also one of South America’s highest literacy rates (over 98%), the telecommunications network is 100% digital, and the internet penetration rate is one of the highest in Latin America (90%). 4G/LTE is available in 90% of the country, up from 64% in June 2019.  Household broadband internet access is 79%; over 70% of it through fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) systems.

It would be fair to say that Uruguay has an advanced telecom market, with excellent infrastructure and one of the highest broadband penetration rates in Latin America. Fixed-line teledensity is also particularly high for the region, while mobile penetration is the second highest after Panama. In terms of computer penetration, Uruguay tops all other countries in the region by a considerable margin, and this has facilitated growth in fixed-line broadband adoption.

The mobile market is dominated by Antel, with Telefónica’s Movistar in second place and América Móvil’s Claro third. All three operators offer mobile broadband through 3G and LTE networks. Operators have achieved nationwide 3G coverage and the number of mobile broadband subscribers continues to grow. Antel has been at the forefront with LTE services, though the auction of multi-band spectrum in August 2017 has also enabled Movistar and Claro to widen the reach of their LTE offers.

In April 2019 Antel launched a commercial 5G network, though limited in reach. At the end of 2019, spectrum in the 5G-suitable range was auctioned, enabling operators to launch 5G services. The regulator is working on a spectrum and connectivity policy that emphasises 5G.

Antel dominates the mobile market with a 51.5% market share of Uruguay’s 5.33 million mobile lines. Telefónica’s Movistar is second with 30.5% of the market followed by América Móvil’s Claro at 18%.  

Coverage and speed are pretty good for Latin American standards. But frequencies are very diverse. While Antel has 2G and 3G on "European bands", Movistar and Claro use "American frequencies". 

In the latest Open Signal report on mobile network experience report in Uruguay, every mobile operator wins outright in at least one category. Antel continues to claim both speed awards: Download Speed Experience and Upload Speed Experience  along with the 4G Coverage Experience award. Movistar comes first in 4G Availability and Games Experience ending the three-way tie for the latter that existed in the last report and claiming sole victory. Claro wins the Video Experience award, while Claro and Movistar remain joint winners for Voice App Experience.

Antel stands for Administración Nacional de Telecomunicaciones, the state-owned, national provider of telecommunication. It has a monopoly for landlines, but on mobile networks, it competes with Movistar and Claro. Still, it's the market leader with about half of all cellular customers and the best network in the country. 4G LTE covers nearly everywhere, and 4.5G LTE Advanced is available in select cities.

Uruguay made history in April 2019, when Antel claimed to have launched the first 5G network in Latin America, using the 28 GHz band and infrastructure supplied by Nokia. However, Antel’s 5G deployment was pre-commercial, with the limited coverage and targeted at business customers  the operator is yet to offer 5G services to individual smartphone users. Antel’s 5G network is still in the testing phase, with trials conducted in inland areas. The operator has invested heavily in its operations  $134 million in 2020 and spent a further $145 million in 2021, partly to increase its 4G territorial coverage to 99% between 2021 and 2022, especially in towns with less than 500 inhabitants.

Movistar by Spanish Telefónica is the second provider in the country. It has good coverage on "American" frequencies (see above). 3G coverage is about 50%, 4G/LTE has started in Montevideo and is given out for free when you have a 4G SIM card.

Claro by Mexican América Móvil is the smallest network in the country on "American" frequencies. 4G started in 2014 in Montevideo and has spread to other towns.

Claro Uruguay has begun technical tests of 5G in the 28GHz band after receiving authorization from the Regulatory Unit of Communications Services (Unidad Reguladora de Servicios de Comunicaciones, URSEC). TeleSemana cites a company statement as saying that Claro has adapted it core network and will be using equipment from Finnish vendor Nokia.

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