Mobile Powers US Digital Latinos, But Latin America Is Becoming Next Mobile Battleground
Latinos have led the adoption of mobile technology and smartphones in the U.S. since the beginning of the trend. Now those outside of the U.S. may take the reigns, as a boom in Latin America's mobile market is taking shape.
That trend has now leveled off as the rest of the U.S. consumer base caught up in recent years. According to new reports, while Latinos in the U.S. are no longer an outlier in smartphone and mobile use, it's still an integral part of their lives -- and now Latin America has become a leading battleground in mobile expansion.
U.S. Latinos' Mobile Core
U.S. Hispanics are smartphone savvy and mobile is the core of their digital lives, according to a new report from eMarketer. While Latinos no longer oversample for smartphone ownership compared to the rest of the U.S., the rate at which U.S. Hispanics own and use their smartphones is very high -- so much so that those who do not have a smartphone are becoming the exception.
As much as 79.4 percent of U.S. Hispanics will be mobile phone users by the end of the year, states eMarketer's report, matching the U.S. population in general, at 80.3 percent.
The vast majority of Latinos with mobile service, 71.6 percent, own smartphones. And Latinos are big on the importance of mobile technology. As eMarketer found, 43.6 percent of U.S. Latinos felt their devices "connected them to their social world," which was nearly 5 percent higher than the general population.
Mobile's Shift to Latin America
As the trend of U.S. Latinos leading as mobile and smartphone consumers begins to level off, Hispanics outside of the U.S. have begun to emerge as the next big market for mobile technology. According to the GSMA, the largest association of global mobile operators in the world, Latin America is expected to experience the second biggest shift of any region towards mobile in the next five years, behind only the Asia Pacific region.
According to a U. of Penn, Wharton College report based on GSMA figures, smartphones represented 32 percent of all mobile connections for Latin America in 2014. That figure is expected to more than double, to 68 percent of all mobile connections, by the year 2020. That totals to more than 605 million smartphones being used in Latin America in the next five years.
As of 2014, about 35 percent of Latin America's population used mobile phones to access the Internet, which in real terms is approximately 216 million people.
In five years, GSMA expects that number to climb to 50 percent, representing about 105 million more mobile Internet-connected Latinos in the region. This makes Latin America's telecommunications market one of the fastest-growing and most-watched markets in the world.
And the intensity of Latin America's mobile moment is not only about the relatively long-term future represented by the GSMA's 2020 expectations. As Wharton's report noted, Counterpoint Technology Market Research saw Latin America's smartphone market grow an incredible 25 percent year-to-year in the first quarter of 2015. The growth of 4G LTE connections in the region has also been explosive this year, with 16 million LTE connections tallied in March 2015 representing a 396 percent growth year-to-year.
Latin American telecommunications providers are investing in mobile broadband at a significant, and growing, rate. Capital expenditures are expected to reach a total of $193 billion by 2020, compared to the nearly $8 billion invested in 4G spectrum in the last three year in the region.
Next Steps for Latin American Investment
But the growth in of mobile broadband and consumer markets for smartphones in Latin America isn't automatic or guaranteed. As experts caution and as Latin Post has previously noted, many Latin American countries are still risk-averse when it comes to large-scale investments, and some have economic policies in place that are relatively hostile to outside investment.
One expert on telecoms and business in Latin America, professor Sergio Costa Sant'Anna from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, told Wharton that forecasts for the growth of mobile technologies in Latin America "can only become a reality if there is an increase in investments in infrastructure on the part of governments and [local] service providers."
There is an obvious upside to those investments for Latin American governments, noted Costa, especially as economists have forecast slow economic growth in Latin America in the near-term. "Telephone networks play a crucial role in the integration of a country, and as a result, in the generation of new businesses."
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!