Peru: Innovating connectivity
As Peru transitions from an efficiency-driven economy to an innovation-driven one, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector is playing a larger role in the national economy. If the sector’s 2011 performance can be repeated, then expansion should not be a problem ¬– the sector was estimated to have grown 16.4% in 2011, attracting $6.87bn, according to the ICT committee of the Lima Chamber of Commerce (CCL).
Growth, however, is expected to slow this year to a more modest, and sustainable, 6.3%, bringing the sector’s production value to $7.3bn. With 7% expansion forecast for 2013 and 2014, growth should continue at a fairly consistent pace. While much of this expansion is owed to Peru’s dynamic telecommunications industry – mobile penetration rates have recently surpassed 100% – new revenue streams, including broadband and 4G services, should play an increasingly important role alongside the development of new research and technology centres.
Peru will also benefit from the diversification of its ICT industry by grooming what are currently considered niche industries, such as software development, into major contributors. Caesar Zevallos, the president of the CCL’s ICT committee, told local press he expects growth in Peru’s software industry to average 13.6% from 2011 to 2014.
According to figures from the CCL, Peru’s ICT market accounted for 3.9% of GDP in 2011, 63% of which was due to the telecommunications industry. The impending addition of a new mobile operator, Vietnam’s Viettel, will increase competition in the fight for mobile subscribers, further contributing to a trend of declining average revenue per user.
Telefónica’s Movistar, with 18.1m subscribers, dominates the market, followed by América Móvil’s Claro, with 9.8m subscribers, and Nextel, with 1.2m subscribers, according to data from the Ministry of Transportation and Communication. Viettel was awarded a licence for B and C frequencies in January 2011 by ProInversión, a government investment promotion agency. Due to Viettel’s experience operating in low-income South-east Asian markets, the firm will likely target the lower-income Peruvian market.
Broadband services have been slow to match the growing penetration of mobile services, in part due to the country’s extreme terrain. For this reason alternative internet delivery systems are being pursued as establishing a nationwide broadband network is likely to take time.
“Peru lags behind in terms of internet connection. For example, penetration reaches only 3% at present, one of the lowest rates in Latin America,” Guillermo Thronberry, the president of Osiptel, Peru’s telecommunications regulator, told local press in August 2011. “In this context, we have to seriously consider acquiring a satellite, and according to rough estimates, the investment will amount to $75m.”
The satellite would likely be used improve connectivity and service remote outlying towns and communities where establishing hard-line infrastructure is not economically justified.
US firm VelaTel Global Communications also recently launched its Go Movil 4G wireless broadband network across eight cities in Peru. According to the company it is available to 5m Peruvians. Crucially, however, the network has yet to expand coverage in Lima, Peru’s capital and most populated city.
Governmental support for the industry has not fully solidified as there is no dedicated ICT ministry. Last June President Ollanta Humala pledged to create a ministry dedicated to science, technology and innovation that would lead strategy and implementation of public policies related to ICT, although so far no steps have been taken to establish one.
The creation of an institute to coordinate with Peruvian scientists living abroad has also been touted, as well as focusing the country’s research and development into practical areas, such as biotechnology. Having dedicated research centres and technology parks working closely with university campuses is a model that could be easily replicated in Peru, if adequate funding is provided. A 130-ha science and technology park is being planned in southern Tacna, also home to the Tacna Free Zone.
For Peru to successfully transform its ICT sector will almost certainly require greater enthusiasm and involvement from its public offices. The establishment of an ICT ministry would be an excellent first step. Expanding telecommunications services throughout the country, particularly broadband and internet services, will also tremendously impact wider innovation and efficiency.