According to a GSMA report, Latin America has 350 million mobile internet users currently, and it is expected to hit 420 million by 2020. With the deployment of LTE in full swing, operators will continue to invest to expand coverage to close to 90% of the population and to add the capacity required for higher data usage. Overall investment by operators in the region will total nearly $70 billion through to 20201.
Operators in CALA are now focusing a lot on delivering more throughput to the end customers, so higher data rate, basically. They have many ways to do it, but in general, most of them use the equipment of Comba Telecom to some extent, together with equipment from the radio access vendors for capacity upgrades, new features and parameter optimization.
The market is going for higher MIMO schemes in the antenna area. In the past, the antenna types had only two ports antennas and then evolved to four ports, now we move to six, eight, ten and even twelve ports to increase the data speed using MIMO techniques and adding new bands. That’s the major thing we see with the antennas market. As time goes, operators start requiring antennas with more ports and more bands, and to deploy carrier aggregation where different bands can work simultaneously to provide higher throughput to end customers. Operators need antennas with more band combinations and more ports. This is the main area where we have seen growth in the past years.
Things to do Before Evolving to 5G
We are still a few years away from true 5G in CALA. Currently, there are a lot of ongoing investments into LTE Advanced Pro which most operators call 4.5G. It’s actually an evolution of 4G technology where they go to carrier aggregation and higher MIMO schemes and in some few cases also massive MIMO.
To meet the market needs, Comba Telecom is already investing a lot in antenna techniques to keep the footprint of the antennas as small as possible while fitting as many ports and bands as possible in the same radome. Our R&D team is also enhancing the DAS solutions to run higher MIMO schemes over a single fiber, that would help the indoor scenario. Since project size and cost are the main concerns for customers, our technical center in Guangzhou, China is completing the development of the MIMO DAS over one single fiber, that’s something I believe in very strongly.
Going back to the question about 5G in CALA region, it’s now at 4 to 4.5G. There are some investments, which I call pre-5G networks, and our region is adopting the 3.5GHz band, i.e. Band 42 for this. Instead of using regular passive antennas, active antennas have been adopted for network deployment. For example, we are delivering massive MIMO antenna with 64 and 128 elements to one of the global RAN vendors now. More and more active antennas would be used as part of the technology evolution to 5G, therefore, it’s very important for us to be close with the major vendors and develop solutions together with them.
2018 Market Outlook
In 2018, we will see a scenario which is very similar to last year. There will be a continuous investment in 4G, which is for higher MIMO schemes, especially in the lower bands. Last year, many countries started deploying the 700MHz band, that will lead to continuous investment to bring 4G to more people not only in the major capitals but also in smaller cities. And they will of course continue investing in higher throughput solutions for the capital areas or the bigger cities, by deploying more small-sized street cells, camouflage solutions at lower heights, and with higher MIMO schemes. It’s going to be a lot of swapping of antennas to antennas with more ports. Similarly, continuous investment will happen in the DAS and small cell areas, both for indoor and outdoor environments. That would be the bread and butter for this year while exploring new areas such as facial recognition solutions, IoT and solutions to cut the power consumption of the RAN. We are also seeing an interest in solutions for low-cost TD LTE networks where we hope to be able to bring a complete network solution to our customers and together with some of our partners. That’s definitely an area we will explore this year.
Focus Areas of Comba Telecom in CALA
Comba Telecom started the operation in Latin American since 2006. Apart from those very big companies, Comba Telecom was the first one from China who tried to enter and put resources to the Latin America market. After eleven years, we have become one of the top three recognized brands in the region. In terms of market share, I can definitely say that in the areas where we work, we are top three in all of them.
Comba Telecom has two main focuses in the CALA region. One is base station antennas, working with the major local operators and some of the global RAN vendors. Another focus is supplying the neutral host and tower companies with solutions for indoor coverage and outdoor DAS deployment.
Other than this, we are also exploring opportunities for CPEs and for smart solution such as facial recognition technology, solutions related to IoT and solutions to lower power consumption in the RAN of our customers but these are secondary to the two main focus areas just mentioned.
1The Mobile Economy Latin America and the Caribbean 2017, GSM Association, 2017, from https://www.gsmaintelligence.com/research/?file=e14ff2512ee244415366a89471bcd3e1&download