Recent statistics from Internet World Stats rank Latin America at the top for Internet user growth over the last decade. Unfortunately, if we consider Internet penetration ratio as a key factor to analyze usage across the globe, the region is ranked at the bottom.
LATINCOM 2011, the most important conference on communications in Latin America, is scheduled to be held in Belém, Pará, Brazil, from October 24 to 26. It will provide “an opportunity for the Latin American academic and industrial community to present their research in all areas of communications and networking,” according to a promo on the host Website. It will also offer a chance for the rest of the globe to examine and benefit from R&D efforts in the region and create investment opportunities for businesses.
The opportunities in Latin America for sales growth are huge for equipment manufacturers and telecom services providers. Brazil, for instance, is making plans for significant capital expansion in the telecommunications area as it prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2014. Paulo Bernardo Silva, the minister of planning and budget, said recently that the government wants Internet access available in 70 percent of Brazilian homes by 2014, compared with today's 27 percent.
As a member of the Technical Program Committee (TPC) for LATINCOM 2011, I have some insight into recent research in the area of how the current digital divide is affecting businesses and individuals in the region. The level of awareness about the utility of the Internet in the region is increasing; governments, enterprises, industry observers, and potential users throughout Latin America recognize the advantages of having access to broadband connections. They have experienced directly the limitations lack of access is imposing on their activities.
Many across the region, for example, believe the Internet is a wonderful tool for supporting and improving public services and businesses. The always-on nature of the Internet could facilitate growth, grease the wheels of economic expansion, and improve educational curricula, as well as healthcare delivery. People across Latin America know the actual potential of the Internet is not what they are seeing because of the limitations imposed by the slow adoption of broadband connections, despite significant progress in mobile technologies.
Unfortunately, despite recent achievements in infrastructure improvements, there are still many obstacles to the fast deployment of broadband connections in Latin America. The mobile networks and civil infrastructure required for antenna deployment are insufficient, creating a sort of digital divide between those who have access to these and those who don't. Companies and research institutions are getting involved in the efforts to eliminate these divides with innovative programs and products for end users in residential and business locations.
For end users, a new generation of smartphones from companies like Thuraya are coming to the market, bringing the automatic capability to hook up mobile and satellite networks, depending on the signal available. This provides end users with total coverage, at least for voice, and helps them avoid problems related to weather conditions.
In addition, vendors are marketing portable IP satellite modems that deliver anytime/anywhere broadband access based on satellite connections that offer special features to reduce latency. Next-generation equipment like this will help close the digital divide wall created by lack of infrastructure. To increase adoption, service providers are ensuring the costs of these satellite offerings are similar to regular mobile products — it's a time-sensitive solution to speed up access deployment.
There's a major incentive for service providers and the government in Brazil to increase spending on wireless and broadband communications: the 2014 FIFA World Cup. This major international event will require specialized infrastructure to boost broadband access in Brazil, and it is easy to see how the World Cup will accelerate the spread of digital services throughout Latin America.