Peru’s economic growth in recent years has spurred many changes to the country’s telecommunications sector. Traditional operators are being challenged by newcomers and preparing for the entrance of new low-cost players. Meanwhile private investment is being deployed into 4G network infrastructure across the country in response to the rising use of mobile data. Government plans to improve the reach of broadband through a new fibre-optic network are also helping to bring telecommunications services to the country’s more remote areas.
The government has been promoting the development of projects in 21 regions. This initiative will see the country’s fibre-optic transport network spread across these regions, bringing with it greater internet connectivity rates and broadband speeds. Currently, eight regional projects have already been awarded to the private sector. There are plans to convene a new round of competition to provide these services in the Ica, Amazona and Lima regions.
Increased competition has brought about a new level of dynamism to the market. In addition to four full-fledged telecommunications operators fighting for market share, the sector anticipates the entrance of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in the near future. Competition has encouraged increasing investment commitments by operators and put downward pressure on sector profits.
The Peruvian telecommunications sector has kept a steady pace of growth over the past decade, with the number of mobile phone users increasing 988% between 2003 and 2014, according to figures by the National Statistical Institute. The telecommunication sector’s GDP grew by 8.4% in 2014, with May 2015 figures showing a 9.14% expansion in GDP in comparison with the same month in 2014.
While overall sector performance has been healthy, growth can be attributed to certain segments of the market: subscription television and internet expanded 15.42%, data transmission grew at a 13.6% rate, while mobile and fixed telephony, at a more mature stage of development, expanded 5.7% in 2014. Paid television services, for example, expanded 53.2% from 977,723 subscriptions in 2009 to just under 1.5m in the first half of 2015, showing there is still room to advance in the Peruvian market.
Much has changed in the sector over the past two decades. Spanish Telefónica was the first foreign operator to enter the market, through the acquisition of two state firms in 1994: Compañia Peruana de Teléfonos and Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones. It was followed by US-based Nextel in 1998, and Mexico’s América Móvil in 2005. Over the years the Peruvian telecommunications market had established a particular dynamic of having two large-scale companies competing in most segments – América Móvil with its brand Claro and Telefónica with Movistar – and a smaller third operator, Nextel, focusing on the business segment of the market, with a smaller customer base.
The status quo changed abruptly in 2013. After losing the tender for a fourth mobile licence, Chilebased Entel entered the market through the acquisition of Nextel in mid-2013 for $400m. The company rebranded the Peruvian operator and re-focused its strategy towards becoming a larger generalist through a $1.2bn investment plan over five years aimed at increasing coverage. The market shifted further with the entrance of Vietnamese telecommunications operator Viettel, which launched its Bitel brand in mid-2014, focusing on the country’s lower-income customers in the provinces and medium-sized cities. “Traditionally we have been used to two operators of national reach with a focus on multiple segments, and we now have four. This is a significant shift that is having a considerable impact on the market,” Carlos Huamán Tomecich, CEO of DN Consultores, a telecommunications consultancy, told OBG.
One the most immediate impacts is the rise in the number of promotions and new offers. This development, mediated by more robust action from the regulator, has increased product choice for consumers and reduced prices. The added competition has put pressure on the average revenue per user (ARPU) and operators are still trying to compensate. “The total ARPU in global mature markets remains healthy, because the decrease in voice ARPU’s are balanced by an increase in data consumption. However, in Latin America the rise in data consumption is slower, and in Peru, where the digital culture has been historically poor, that growth in data ARPU is still at a very slow pace,” Huamán told OBG.
The current environment has made the monetisation of data services hard to implement. In 2015 América Móvil’s Claro started to offer its pre-paid and post-paid customers free access for instant messaging application WhatsApp as well as for Twitter and Facebook, prompting the other competitors to follow suit to avoid losing market share. The problem is that WhatsApp and Facebook currently account for 50% of data usage in the Peruvian market, according to information provided by DN Consultores. In order to attract and hold customers, operators are relinquishing a considerable amount of potential revenue.
As of October 2015 the ARPU in Peru was around $8 per user per month, compared to $15 over a decade ago, according to Huamán. However, the market could potentially see a decrease in ARPU to $7 in 2016 if current competitive conditions are maintained.
The needed investments on both the commercial and the technical aspects of the business are compounding costs, further impacting operators’ margins and income. Analysing their financial position in May 2015, Credicorp found that the three main telecommunications operators, Claro, Movistar and Entel, invested an average of $200 to acquire each new customer over the first half of 2015, according to local media reports. In addition to this, overall maintenance costs in the sector remain high, with municipal regulations slowing down the deployment of new antennas and operators needing to keep a close eye on maintaining existing ones.
The current period of intensive investment to strengthen operators’ competitive positions is already significantly impacting results. “Historically, the market’s average earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation has hovered around 30%. However, this has been going down and reached 15% on average in 2015,” Huamán told OBG.
Growth in the sector has been reflected by the rising number of mobile users, which increased from 5.5m in 2005 to 34.5m in June 2015, reaching a penetration level of 108.8% in 2015, according to figures by the sector’s regulator, the Supervising Organisation for Private Investment in Telecommunications (Organismo Supervisor de Inversión Privada en Telecomunicaciones, OSIPTEL). The number of reported users underwent a reduction in 2012, from 32,305,455 to 29,370,402, after Telefónica removed 5.8m mobile pre-paid lines from its reporting after no activity had been registered for three months. In March 2015, Telefónica had a market share of 54.11%, followed by América Móvil with 38.47%, Entel with 6.10% and Viettel with 1.33%.
The increased number of competitors is, nonetheless, impacting the market share of the two major operators, with the biggest loss in market share being felt by Telefónica, which has seen its share reduced from 63.2% in 2009. Combined participation of the two biggest mobile operators was reduced from 93.5% at the end of 2014 to 92.58% in the first quarter of 2015, underlining the impact that competition and regulation are having on the sector.
The aggressive entrance of new operators in the marketplace is also shifting the weight between pre-paid and post-paid subscribers. As of March 2015 pre-paid lines accounted for 69.7% of customers, compared to 89.1% in 2009, constituting a 20% transfer of customers into the post-paid segment. In 2016 the mobile segment is set to receive additional competition with the entrance of MVNO Virgin Mobile, which recently signed a 20 year licensing agreement with the Peruvian government in anticipation of the new law, and the growing interest of other players. Market rules for MVNOs were made clear in August 2015 by the regulator through a new set of regulatory measures for the segment (see analysis).
Amplified competition became evident in the growing volume of customers changing service providers by taking advantage of the new number portability legislation. According to OSIPTEL, the number of mobile users switching operators and keeping the same phone number reached a third consecutive monthly record in September 2015, with 88,347 users opting for a different provider.
Despite being initially introduced in 2011, new regulatory measures in July 2014 reduced the time needed to switch operators from seven days to 24 hours. During the first 14 months following the introduction of the 24-hour policy a total of 757,027 users.
OSIPTEL statistics from the period also show that during that period, the telecommunications operator that most benefited from the revised number portability legislation was Entel, which received 47,074 users switching from other companies, followed by Claro, with 22,788 new users, Movistar with 11,361 and Bitel’s with 7124 new users. OSIPTEL anticipates that the total annual number of users that switch operators in Peru will reach 1m by the end of 2015.
The opening of the market has encouraged more aggressive promotions by operators to attract new customers. However, the more challenging task will be to encourage users to increase data consumption. Mobile data will be critical for operators that intend to improve their margins. The basis from which to boost data consumption is being established, with the penetration of mobile internet rising from 34.7% in the first quarter of 2014 to 40.6% in the third quarter of 2014, to reach just under 12m mobile internet connections, according to figures by OSIPTEL.
At the end of 2014, up to 93% of mobile internet users gained access through 3G networks, while the remaining 7% used 4G, according to OSIPTEL figures. Expansion of 4G services will also see an additional boost from the ongoing tendering of three sections of the 700 MHz band, with the winners expected to be announced in early 2016. This will be essential to increasing capacity and maintaining service quality.
On the other side of the spectrum, the number of fixed lines has remained relatively stable, registering slight increases or reductions depending on the year. Overall the number of installed lines has increased from 2.2m in 2005 to 3.1m as of June 2015, according to OSIPTEL. However, the last available figures show a reduction from 3.7m installed lines in June 2014. Some dynamism has nonetheless appeared with the possibility for clients to switch providers more easily. Alongside accelerated number portability for mobile users, OSIPTEL introduced portability regulation for fixed-line users in July 2014. The number of fixed-line subscribers wanting to change service providers grew by 21% in September 2015 to reach 3188. Between July 2014 and September 2015, a total of 35,596 users chose to switch operators. The majority of these (27,411) opted for Claro, while Peru’s Optical Networks received 2630 users.
The segment will also be transformed by increased regulatory oversight. In September 2015, OSIPTEL enforced a 36% reduction in the price of fixed to mobile calls from market leader Telefónica to any mobile operator. The move is expected to save Telefónica’s fixed-line users PEN21m ($6.7m) annually, according to information by OSIPTEL.
In fact, more stringent oversight by the regulator has been the norm over the past two years, with new legislation meant to reduce market deficiencies. One important measure introduced in early 2015 by OSIPTEL, banned operators from selling mobile phones locked to their specific networks.
Equally important was the reduction of mobile interconnection fees between operators. In April 2015 OSIPTEL established average reductions of between 46% and 63%, limiting interconnection fees for Movistar and Claro to $0.0176 and establishing a periodic reduction of interconnection fees for the two smaller operators, Entel and Bitel. These will initially cost a maximum of $0.0325 per minute and decrease to $0.0201 per minute by December 2017.
In a 2015 report, OSIPTEL suggested that the ban on building telecommunications antennas on the tallest public buildings be lifted, and that operators share infrastructure. Easing regulation will be key, as an estimated 14,000 new telecommunications antennas will need to be installed across Peru over the 2015-25 period. The Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) has developed a non-ionising radiation measurement antenna map to ensure that the levels do not exceed those recommend by the World Health Organisation.
Fibre Optics Expansion
The National Broadband Plan, budgeted at $333m, aims to connect 80% of Peru’s territory by deploying 13,500 km of fibre optics to link 180 provincial capitals. A consortium made up of Mexican company TV-Azteca and Peru’s Tendai won the contract to build and operate the network for an initial 20-year period, and construction on the project began in December 2014.
The project is set to be delivered in six sections, with the initial three sections of the network already completed as of October 2015. The first section links Huancavelica to Ayacucho and Apurimac, covering three of the country’s departments; the second section links Ayacucho, Apurimac and Ica to Junín and Pasco; and the third section links Pasco to Huanuco. The fourth section is set to cover eight departments (Cusco, Lima, Junín, Ancash, Arequipa, Moquegua, Tacna and Ucayali). The fifth section links four of the country’s departments (Puno, Madre de Dios La Libertad and Lambayeque) and the sixth section links three of the country’s departments (San Martín, Amazonas and Loreto). This network will cover 22 capital departments and is expected to be finished by the end of 2016.
Furthermore, an additional 21 regional fibre optics deployment projects are expected to take broadband to 1800 of the country’s 1840 district capitals, through an estimated additional 33,000 km of fibre optics which are set to cost $1.2bn. “The remaining 140 district capitals are in the Peruvian jungle, which makes access harder. These will be serviced through microwave technology,” Luís Montes Bazalar, technical secretary at the MTC’s Telecommunications Investment Fund, told OBG.
The tenders for the initial four regional projects were awarded in March 2015, with the contracts for the Huancavelica, Ayacucho and Apurimac projects given to Gilat Peru, and the tender to connect the region of Lambayeque awarded to telecommunications operator Telefónica. “The development of the national fibre optics network lowers the barriers to entry and will completely change the dynamics of the sector by encouraging price competition,” Arieh Rohrstock, general manager of Gilat Peru, told OBG.
The tenders for an additional four regional projects were awarded in December 2015, with the contracts for the Cajamarca, Piura and Tumbes given to Redes Andinas, while the tender to connect the region of Cusco was given to Gilat Peru in September 2015, and is set to involve an investment of $445m.
The Peruvian telecommunications market has progressed considerably. Services are being expanded and a healthy level of competition is giving more choice to consumers. Future market development will partly depend on how well operators can monetise data services and raise the number of postpaid customers. More segmented offers will be key for operators to acquire and secure new customers.