LTE made its debut in Argentina last December, making 2015 a year of big changes for the country's three major mobile operators. Using data collected from 55 million measurements on 23,000 Argentine smartphones, OpenSignal took a closer look at Argentina's fledgling LTE networks as well as the 3G networks they're intended to relieve.
Less than a year after securing their 4G spectrum, all three of Argentina's operators have LTE networks up and running. They've started in the major cities like Buenos Aires, Rosario and Córdoba but have been growing their footprints into smaller markets throughout 2015.
Telefonica's Movistar has kept well ahead of its two major competitors in building out 4G availability. On average, 4G subscribers on Movistar had an LTE signal 63 percent of the time, while both Claro and Personal's LTE availability numbers fell below the 40 percent mark.
Though Movistar was able to distinguish itself in availability, none of the three 4G operators stood apart in speed tests. With averages of 11 Mbps, Claro and Personal just edged out Movistar's average of 10 Mbps.
Among global operators Argentina ranks low in 4G availability and speed. Compared to its peers in South America, the country fares better but still ranks near the bottom in availability.
|Download Speed: 4G||Download Speed: 3G||Availability: 4G|
This metric shows the proportion of time OpenSignal users have an LTE connection available to them on each operator’s network. It's a measure of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users.
Argentina's three major operators wasted little time bringing their networks online after the government issued 4G licenses in October of last year. Telefónica's Movistar and Telecom Argentina's Personal both launched their 4G services in December, followed by América Móvil's Claro in February. There was supposed to be a fourth network, but would-be new entrant Airlink failed to pay for its licenses causing regulator AFTIC to revoke it.
In the intervening 11 months, all three operators have been quite busy. All three started their network buildouts in the capital Buenos Aires and other large cities like Córdoba and Rosario, and then began expanding into the country's other metro areas provinces. According to their most recent updates, the three operators have signed up between 800,000 and 1 million 4G subscribers each.
A quick glance at OpenSignal's data shows what we would expect to see from a country in its LTE infancy: a big jump in speeds over 3G where these new networks are available but still limited overall availability (*). Building out a far-reaching network takes time, but Movistar seems to have made the most of its 11 months. Movistar users with 4G plans were able to see an LTE signal 63 percent of the time, while 4G subscribers on Claro and Personal’s networks saw evidence of the LTE network only 35 percent and 39 percent of the time respectively (you can read about our methodology for calculating availability here). These footprints appear to be growing rapidly though. In just the last three months we've seen upticks in the availability numbers of all three operators.
In terms of speed, it's a close race. Claro and Personal averaged about 11 Mbps in our 4G speed tests, just beating Movistar's average of 10 Mbps. But all three fell below the global average of 12.6 Mbps that we found in our Q3 State of LTE report. That's a bit of a surprise because new LTE networks tend to have a speed advantage. New networks are relatively unloaded and uncongested, thus delivering faster throughput to individual devices, but as they get loaded up with subscribers and traffic they often slow down considerably. We see this trend all over the world.
We've already seen Argentina's average speed drop slightly in the two months since our global LTE report, and it will likely fall more as all three operators rapidly take on more 4G subscribers over the holidays. One possible explanation for Argentina's relatively slower speeds is spectrum. The country's networks currently operate over one spectrum band (1700/2100 MHz), giving them a quarter of the capacity of some of the super-fast networks we're seeing around the globe. Luckily, all three operators have room to grow. In April, AFTIC released airwaves in the 700 MHz band to Claro, Movistar and Personal, which they can use to double their 4G capacity.
While Argentina may not have the fastest 4G networks in the world, they're a big improvement over the mobile data services most Argentines deal with regularly. Average 3G performance for all three operators was below 2 Mbps. That means any subscriber connecting to a new LTE network is likely seeing a 5X or more increase in speed.
Globally Argentina ranks at the bottom in terms of availability and in the bottom half of LTE countries in terms of speed, according to our State of LTE report. Compared to its regional peers, Argentina's LTE availability falls short of South America's other major economies except Ecuador (though we don't have enough data points from Paraguay to make a comparison), but it did perform better in speed. Argentina boasted faster averages than Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, though it was behind Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. The regional leaders remain Brazil in speed (16 Mbps) and Uruguay in availability (84 percent), according to our Q3 data.
Given Argentina joined the ranks of LTE countries less than a year ago, we would expect it to lag behind the global operator community and its South American neighbors. In fact, Argentina has made significant progress already despite that short timeframe. It’s also important to note that Argentina's 4G situation is in a state of flux. As this report is published, Claro, Personal and Movistar are all installing more base stations and building more cell sites to meet their 2015 schedules. This snapshot of Argentina's networks tells an interesting story about a country at the beginning of its LTE lifecycle, but this time next year, we likely will see an entirely different picture.
(*) Editor’s note: When this report was originally published OpenSignal used the term time coverage for what is now our availability metric. We changed the name to avoid confusion of this metric with geographic and population coverage metrics, and we have reflected that change in our old reports. The new terminology, however, does not reflect a new methodology. Time coverage and availability represent the same measurement: the proportion of time OpenSignal users can connect to a particular network.
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