The smallest of Venezuela’s three cellcos by subscribers, Digitel, announced the official full commercial launch of its 4G LTE mobile broadband network on 9 September, following a limited post-paid-only launch in July in selected areas of Greater Caracas, Maracay and other mainly central and western cities. Over the last few months the cellco has been expanding and optimising the 1800MHz LTE network, whilst also upgrading and expanding its 3G HSDPA+ network to augment its high speed mobile internet coverage. The rollout so far has seen Digitel activate over 230 LTE base stations, or 60% of the projected 385 cell sites planned for this year, initially concentrating on the most densely populated areas in order to capitalise on the demand for data services, with a medium-term goal of installing more than 800 LTE base stations. Meanwhile, it has upgraded more than 500 3G base station sites nationwide with an end-year goal of migrating over 1,000 base stations to IP protocol.
Digitel’s 4G LTE services are already available in parts of Caracas (mainly in eastern sections of the city), La Guaira (in Capital Region), Maracay, Cagua, Valencia, Puerto Cabello, Turmero, La Victoria, Guacara (all in Central Region), Araure, Barquisimeto, Acarigua (all in Central-Western Region), Valle de La Pascua, Calabozo (both in Llanos Region in the centre of the country), Maracaibo, Cabimas, Ciudad Ojeda (all in Zulian Region in the far west), Margarita (in the Insular Region of islands off the north coast), Puerto La Cruz and Lecheria (both in Eastern Region).
Digitel said that LTE will ‘soon’ be available in additional areas, including the remaining uncovered zones of Caracas, Valle de La Pascua and Calabozo, as well as Coro, Punto Fijo (both in Central-Western Region), Anaco, Barcelona, Maturin, Cumana, Carupano, El Tigre (all in Eastern Region), Ciudad Bolivar, Puerto Ordaz (both in Guayana Region in the east of the country), and parts of Andean Region (in the west), thereby spreading the network to all Venezuelan Regions.
Three ‘Smart Plan’ data, voice and text packages are available for 4G users, and the LTE network is open to all pre- and post-paid customers from the official announcement of commercial services. Users with compatible devices – which currently include a Huawei-built Android-based smartphone, a BlackBerry model or alternatively a USB modem – may acquire an LTE U-SIM card to activate 4G-speed data services.
Over 5,000 post-paid customers with suitable 1800MHz-compatible devices were able to use the network in its early launch phase, the company revealed, and while delays have been caused by a shortage of foreign currency in Venezuela with which to buy 4G network equipment and LTE-capable handsets or other devices, a Digitel spokesperson said that it has requested to import one million LTE phones, ‘a figure consistent with the number of users who want this technology’. The target figure represents over 15% of Digitel’s current user base of roughly 6.5 million.
Having previously reported that it had spent USD400 million on the rollout of its HSPA+ network since Q4 2011 (a figure that included fibre-optic/IP backbone expansion/upgrades and 3G/4G mobile broadband spectrum acquisition), the company has now upped that investment, announcing this week that it has spent over USD600 million on the launch of LTE and HSPA+ combined, including the necessary frequencies and fibre/IP build-out to support the radio network deployment. Digitel’s investment budget for full-year 2013 is USD268 million.