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Writing on the wall for CDMA in Latin America

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Note -- this news article is more than a year old.

The number of CDMA mobile customers in CALA (Caribbean and Latin America) has plummeted by almost 13m in the year to 31st March 2008, ending on 50.6m, after a seventh successive quarter of decline in Q1 08. The loss of customers widened to 3.72m in the first three months of 2008, from 1.61m in Q1 2007 and 2.73m in Q1 2007, although this was still below the loss of over 4m incurred in Q3 2007. As a result, the share of the national total for the technology fell from 19.8% to 12.7% just half the share seen less than three years ago.

Of course, the loss of CDMA customers is being driven by the operators, who are actively migrating them to their newer GSM networks.

CANTV in Venezuela is the last remaining CDMA operator in the Caribbean and Latin America region not to also have an active GSM network (excepting a handful of very small providers in markets such as Belize and the Cayman Islands) and even here a launch is due later in the year. If it wasn't already evident, the writing would appear to be on the wall for mobile CDMA in CALA, although this does not mean that the networks will necessarily disappear - several are used by Telefonica to provide fixed-wireless services, for example, and the benefits of roaming custom from North America are not to be ignored. For these reasons, as well as the fact that the assets are unlikely to be fully depreciated yet, we are unlikley to see CDMA removed from the map altogether, but its further marginalisation is inevitable.

The GSM ranks have been boosted by the fact that customers of AMPS and TDMA networks are also being migrated, the total number remaining using these legacy technologies falling by more than two thirds from 23.7m to just 7.2m in the year. The migration process is now nearing its end, and we expect numbers to be negligible by this time next year. As a result, the number of GSM connections has been boosted by 45% in the year - almost double the 24% growth rate at the continental level - leaving the base at 336m at the end of March, or 84.4% of the total. A further 0.2% of the overall base is now using W-CDMA technology, which is now being introduced by operators across South America. Growth here will pick up considerably in the 12 months to come, although it will be some time before numbers rival the CDMA EV-DO base of 11.6m, even with the continued migration.

Change in Market Share by Technology since Q1 06

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Tags: roaming  w-cdma  telefonica  ev-do  caribbean