The top LatAm fiber backbone projects

By
Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fiber-based networks are considered the most advanced subterranean transport infrastructure for data services.

Earlier this month, the Argentine capital Buenos Aires hosted the 2017 fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) Latin American conference, or FTTH LatAm, which addressed the deployments of fiber optic networks across the region and discussed how private carriers are balancing their investments strategy between copper and fiber optics.

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In light of that, BNamericas looks which are the countries in the region that are considering the fiber backbone as an infrastructure priority, and how their public telcos are pushing deployments forward.

ARGENTINA

With LatAm's longest operating fiber backbone - over 30,000km long, in a close race with Brazil's - Argentina leads the way in the region.

This week, the state-owned telecommunications operator Arsat announced the completion of a second stretch of a fiber communications infrastructure called Refefo, which is now due to begin its third stage.

When completed, Refefo is expected to stretch 41,170km and connect 23.3mn people.

The deployment is part of Argentina's federal internet plan (FIP), which aims to connect 1,300 localities in the country's interior within two years. Currently, there are 189 localities connected throughout the country.

The project is supported by the country's universal services fund, which is financed with 1% of telecom operators' revenues, a model similar to the adopted by other neighbors in the region. Brazil, for example, has its own universalization telecom fund, called Fust.

Argentina aims to spend some 3.6bn pesos (US$236mn) of the 4bn pesos in the universal fund that has accumulated over the years without being invested.

BRAZIL

Brazil's fiber backbone is among the oldest in the region.

In 2010, the project that established the national broadband program (PNBL) assigned to state-owned telco Telebras the roles of implementing the private communications network for the federal administration, supporting public broadband policies, and providing telecom infrastructure and support networks for private companies, states, municipalities and non-profit entities.

The state-run telco started implementing the country's backbone that same year.

At the end of 2016, Brazil's fiber-optic structured was approximately 30,000 km long, with a capacity of up to 1.6Tbps, with 80% running over power transmission lines in OPGW cables and pipelines. Further expansions are in jeopardy due to Telebras' pressing budget situation.

This week, telecom regulator Anatel reported that 3,225 of Brazil's 5,571 municipalities now have cellular backhauls, which are the midsection of a telecom network connecting the core network backbone to antennas.

MEXICO

With a large territory and growing demand for robust data transmission, Latin America's second economy is equally working to expand its backbone.

Mexico's transport and communications ministry (SCT) unveiled in February its Conectividad Digital project, a document that provides the public policy guidelines for telecom-related matters to be followed in the current administration.

Some of the projects outlined in the plan include the Red Compartida wholesale shared mobile network, which is intended to cover 92.2% of the population by 2024; the Mexico Conectado initiative, and the development of a national fiber backbone.

Mexico's transport and communications ministry SCT said its plan is for state-owned Telecomm to add 35,000km of fiber to the 20,000km it is inheriting from state power company CFE.

PERU

In June last year, Peru opened its own national fiber optic backbone network. The project is not state-owned; rather, it was commissioned by Mexican consortium Azteca Comunicaciones.

The network spans cross 13,500km and is meant to interconnect capital Lima with 180 of the country's 196 provincial capitals

The project required investments of US$333mn.

By June this year, Peru wants to have eight optical fiber networks connected to the so-called RDNFO network, boosting the country's high-speed internet capabilities.

OTHER PROJECTS

CHILE

Chile is planning to hold a bidding process this year for a project to build a 3,000km fiber optic cable connecting the southernmost parts of the country.

The goal is that private operators pay lower concession license fees and have coverage obligations to guarantee that rural areas get covered. The project is overseen by regulator Subtel.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

The Caribbean country is also building its own backbone from the scratch.

Recently, the head of telecom regulator Indotel, José del Castillo, said that the structure being constructed by state-run transmission company Eted will provide connectivity to 10 provinces currently lacking internet services, which should help meet the 70% goal of digital inclusion program República Digital.

The program was launched in April 2016 by President Danilo Medina with the goal of deploying 550km of fiber optics across the country.

NICARAGUA

Nicaragua signed an agreement with the World Bank and is preparing a call to hire workforce, equipment and consultancy services for the implementation of its fixed telecom backbone, as part of its national broadband program.