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As 4G reach in Latin America improves, so does the consumer experience

OpenSignal recently published its State of LTE report, examining 4G speed and 4G reach in 88 countries in the 4th quarter of 2017. Today, we're drilling down into a specific region, Latin America, to see how the 4G experience compares in the 14 Central, North and South American countries included in that report. As you can see from the charts below, there's a broad range of speeds across the region as well as a big variation between the level of LTE access among these 14 countries. But there are some general trends we can pick out from the data.

LTE availability continues its steady march upwards. Uruguay became the first country in Latin America to cross the 80% availability threshold in our measurements -- a huge milestone for the region. 4G users in Uruguay could find an LTE signal in eight out of 10 attempts, which is a sign that 4G rollouts have reached a high level of maturity in that country. There were two countries right on Uruguay's heels though: Peru had a 4G availability score of 78.7% and Mexico had a score of 77%.

At the low end of the availability chart, we find Costa Rica, Ecuador and El Salvador. All had 4G availability ratings below 60%, an indication that they're still in the earlier stages of their LTE rollouts. South American powerhouse Brazil, however, also ranked near the bottom with a 4G availability of 61.3%, despite having first introduced 4G services five years ago. Brazil does face some geographic challenges in extending the reach of its LTE networks, which may help explain why it was still far behind its large Latin American peers in 4G availability.

If speed is your metric of choice, Mexico and Ecuador are the places to be. Both were tied at the top of our 4G speed chart with average LTE downloads of 23.3 Mbps. Mexico and Ecuador were also the only two of the 14 Latin American countries we analyzed to surpass the 20 Mbps mark. That doesn't mean, however, that the two countries are in the same stages of 4G development. Mexico was near the top of our rankings in LTE availability, while Ecuador was second from the bottom. That means Mexican operators were able to deliver powerful 4G connections on a far more consistent basis. Meanwhile in Ecuador, 4G subscribers may have been able to tap some fast connections, but those connections were available to them less than half the time.

While Brazil performed poorly in 4G availability, it was able to provide decent LTE speeds (19.7 Mbps) when consumers were able to find a 4G signal. Meanwhile, Argentina was in the opposite situation. 4G users there were able to connect to LTE networks nearly three-quarters of the time, but once connected the average speeds they experienced were a rather sluggish 12.5 Mbps. In general, though, Latin America neither fared better nor worse than the rest of the world in 4G speeds. Of the 14 countries we analyzed, seven either met or exceeded the global 4G speed average of 16.9 Mbps, while the remaining seven fell below that mark.

If the trends we're seeing in Latin America continue, we're not going to see any big increases in 4G speed in the region anytime soon. Since our last State of LTE report, average speeds have either remained steady or dropped slightly (though Costa Rica was a big exception). But the overall user experience in Latin America is definitely improving, thanks to the sizable increases in 4G availability we're tracking nearly every quarter. In the coming year, we'll likely see both Mexico and Peru pass the 80% 4G availability threshold, allowing them to join Uruguay in the upper tier of countries providing strong 4G access. We've also recorded multi-percentage point increases in availability from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile in the last three months, and we expect LTE reach to continue expanding in all of those countries. As 4G availability increases, consumers find themselves connected to 4G services much more often, providing a dramatic improvement over older and slower 3G services. Latin America, like the rest of the world, now seems focused on expanding 4G access instead of boosting 4G speeds. And we view that as a positive direction for both the industry and consumers.