Two for Tuesday: Technology in Latin America

If the World Cup is doing one thing outside the sports arena, it’s showing that the web is alive and well in South America. Latin America is one area that has seen tremendous growth in gaining access to the Internet. Most of this growth is through the increased reach of mobile phone technology. In 2012, 98% of the population of Latin America had access to a cell phone signal and 84% of households subscribed to some sort of mobile service. This Two for Tuesday, we’re sharing two devices growing in Latin America: to mobile phones and tablets.

The mobile Internet market as a whole has increased dramatically since 2005, which caused 24% of the increased mobile subscriptions in Venezuela and 21% of the subscriptions in Mexico. Nicaragua has seen a 40% increase in mobile subscribers which can be partially explained by the cost of the devices being cut in half, which is considerable since they have the most expensive devices in the region. Panama saw mobile sales increase by four times over the same time period.

Latin Americans are also pushing the boundaries of what they can do on these mobile devices. In Chile, farmers can subscribe to messaging services supported by the government that report on the weather market prices. What makes these services particularly unique is they are customized to be delivered on any sort of handset regardless of the speed of the network connection.

This is just one illustration of how cell phone technology adapted to the limits of price and signal in Latin America. Asian manufacturers developed phones that sold for $20 and featured the ability to use four SIM cards simultaneously so users could take advantage of seasonal deals from different carriers and get the best price available. These devices were also made to pick up TV and radio signals, which are popular features in the area. By developing products that catered to the audience’s needs and environmental concerns, cell phone makers were able to provide hits that jumpstarted the Internet revolution for this section of the globe.

Secondary connectivity markets, such as lan-houses or cybercafés where those without devices or access could go online as well as a market for cell phone minutes due to the fact that 80% of cell phones in the region pre-paid had previously emerged due to economic constraints on Latin Americans.

In late 2011, there were only 200,000 tablets in the entire country of Brazil. By late 2012, that number had grown to over 5 million. We should note that more than half of those were low-cost tablets from unknown brands, frequently manufactured in China. This mimics the experience where numerous consumers purchased cell phones having never had landlines. Now Latin Americans are purchasing tablets where they never had desktops or laptops. By skipping platforms that those of us in the U.S. saw as stepping stones to current technology, Latin America has found a way to successfully modernize in a short time span while still operating within economic constraints. It will be interesting to see what they do with this technology, having previously proven their resourcefulness.

Cover Photo: Daniel M Ernst

Kaz is a Junior Executive at SJG. He earned BAs in English Writing and Business Marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University and is currently pursuing an MA in Advertising at The University of Texas at Austin. Outside the office, Kaz consumes gobs of media including but not limited to books, magazines, music, movies and television.