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Apparently, everyone in Latin America seems to have a cell phone these days. The region’s population is at 597 million but it has 630 million mobile phone connections. That’s a cellphone penetration rate of 105%, higher than the U.S. rate of 103%. The data is from the GSMA—a group of mobile operators that promote the GSM mobile system—in a report that the organization just released.
Its 630 million mobile connections make Latin America the world’s third largest mobile market, just behind Asia Pacific and Africa. However, that 630 million is set to jump even more: by 2015 Latin America will have 750 million mobile connections—a penetration rate of 130%.
But the significance here is not just that Latin Americans are buying lots of mobile phones. For professionals in media, marketing and advertising, it’s also important to consider the type of phones Latin Americans are buying and how they’re using them.
Smartphone Sales Spiking
First off, it’s important to note that 24% of the 13.7 million cellphones sold in Argentina in 2011 were smartphones, and these are obviously better for accessing the Internet. In addition, smartphone sales spiked by 165% in Brazil in the first 6 months of 2011 and IDC projected a 78% increase in smartphone sales in Mexico in 2011. In fact, analysis firm The Competitive Intelligence Unit projects that smartphone penetration should reach 23% in Mexico in 2012 and reach 50% by 2014. As such, the 9% penetration that smartphones had in all of Latin America in 2010 should reach 33% by 2014 and GMSA suggests it may reach nearly 60% by 2016.
As Latin Americans buy more smartphones and tablets, they use them to go online—skipping landline connections. GSMA reports that in Latin America, mobile broadband subscriptions have gone up by 127% per year over the past 5 years. And over the next five years, these subscriptions could go up by 50% every year. In fact, by 2015, Latin America should have nearly 333 million mobile broadband connections.
In addition, a survey of Internet users in 14 Latin American countries done by research firm Tendencias Digitales revealed that 70% of Latin American Internet users went online with their mobile phones. Further adding to the statistics was Brazil’s Communications Minister, Paulo Bernardo. He recently reported that 99.8% of the Internet service subscriptions in Brazil in 2011 were for mobile access, while only 22% were for service through a landline. This is in line with other studies showing that mobile has overtaken LAN houses to become the #2 way that Brazilians access the Internet.
The numbers suggest 3 developments that will impact the media market in Latin America:
#1) Mobile seems to be opening the door of Internet access in Latin America—so in the near future we will probably see studies from comScore, IAB, AMIPCI and other organizations showing major increases from the current 36.7% Internet penetration in the region.
#2) This Internet increase means a whole new wave of consumers connecting for the first time, making online media even more important for reaching all of Latin America or specific markets. The surge in online ad spend in Latam that we’ve seen in 2010 and 2011 could become even more powerful.
#3) Mobile advertising in Latin America may soon be challenging display and search in the battle for ad dollars.