State of Mobile Networks: Argentina (November 2015)

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.

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LTE rears its head

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.

Movistar jumps to an early 4G lead

Telefonica's Movistar has kept well ahead of its two major competitors in building out 4G coverage. On average, 4G subscribers on Movistar had an LTE signal 63 percent of the time, while both Claro and Personal's LTE coverage numbers fell below the 40 percent mark.

All 3 operators are roughly equal in speed

Though Movistar was able to distinguish itself in coverage, 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.

Argentina has some catching up to do

Among global operators Argentina ranks low in 4G coverage and speed. Compared to its peers in South America, the country fares better but still ranks near the bottom in coverage.

Report Facts

Report Location Argentina
Data Sample Size 55,494,645
User Sample Size 22,522
Sample Period Aug 1st - Oct 30th 2015

Overall Network Comparison

Download Speed: 4GDownload Speed: 3GCoverage: 4G

Claro

medal

Movistar

medalmedal

Personal

medalmedal

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Network Coverage Comparison

Coverage: 4G

This metric shows the proportion of time LTE subscribers on each network have 4G (LTE) coverage available to them.

Network Speed Comparison

Download Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average download speed on each network on 4G (LTE) connections.

Download Speed: 3G

This metric shows the average download speed on each network on 3G connections.

Analysis

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 coverage (*). Building out extensive coverage 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 coverage here). These coverage footprints appear to be growing rapidly though. In just the last three months we've seen upticks in the coverage 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 coverage 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 coverage 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 coverage (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: In June of 2016, OpenSignal changed the name its time coverage metric to network availability. Availability measures the same thing as time coverage — the proportion of time users remain connected to a particular network — but we felt that availability was a better reflection of the metric’s definition. For more details see our methodology page.

Methodology Notes

OpenSignal data is collected from regular consumer smartphones and recorded under conditions of normal usage. As opposed to drive-test data, which simulates the typical user experience by using the same devices to measure network performance in a small number of locations, we take our measurements from millions of smartphones owned by normal people who have downloaded the OpenSignal app.

Those measurements are taken wherever users happen to be, whether indoors or out, in a city or in the countryside, representing performance the way users experience it. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 55,494,645 datapoints were collected from 22,522 users during the period: Aug 1st - Oct 30th 2015

All data has been collected from users of the OpenSignal mobile app for Android or iOS.

For every metric we've calculated the statistical confidence interval and plotted this on all of the graphs. When confidence intervals overlap for a certain metric we can't actually be sure which of the overlapping operators has the best performance.

For this reason some metrics have multiple operator winners when we've judged that the data is too close to call a victory.

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