11 Aug 2008

Americas Com: fixed, mobile and integrated telcos converge on Rio de Janeiro

I was interested to see Cellular News today picking up a recent Signals Telecom Consulting report on the implementation and effects of Mobile Number Portability across Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a timely read for me as I gear up for our Americas Com conference next month in Rio de Janeiro. We ran the conference successfully as 'GSM Americas' for 12 years, working to gather delegates from all over South and Central America for two days of networking and the opportunity to benchmark strategies and technology choices with colleagues from comparable markets. I have only been personally involved in the conference since mid-2007 and really enjoyed last year's iteration, which we held in December, also in Rio. If Americas Com is at all typical of a South American telecoms industry conference, I'd say that visitors from outside the region would be pleasantly surprised at how readily delegates there get stuck into the post-presentation Q&A sessions, the offline networking in the exhibition - anything which presents an opportunity to discuss rather than merely absorb the words of the great and the good up on the conference podium.

While much of the value of the region's telecoms sector continues to be in mobile, our analysts' excellent output reminds us that cellular markets in Latin America are maturing fast towards the point of saturation. Mobile operators may soon find it tougher to grow their businesses by acquiring wholly new customers, even in some of the region's less affluent countries. It remains to be seen whether there will be a good level of solvent demand for ARPU-boosting value-added services. Many operators must believe there will be.

Given the scale of recent investments in 3G networks and HSPA in markers such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile, operators will be hoping that lower levels of fixed-line teledensity and PC penetration will enable them to position 3G devices as the most pervasive means of accessing the Internet and participating fully in the information society. I'm not in the business on this blog of making predictions. My role as a facilitator of networking between telecoms operator execs worldwide (and their suppliers, partners etc.) does not really qualify me to to do so. However, I do need to be mindful of for how long it will be relevant (and profitable!) for us to assemble a group drawn solely from the celluar space. My reasoning is that with 3G networks already deployed and markets becoming quite mature, we need to watch out for any possibility of a future period of slower mobile operator CAPEX - or even just a dearth of hot topics around which to hang a compelling conference agenda. So we have needed to find a way of connecting our event sponsors with BOTH our loyal, core group of mobile sector execs AND a potentially much larger group from every other kind of telecoms service provider.

Happily, a logical and topical conference agenda is possible under these circumstance. All over the world (albeit moving at different speeds) we see the blurring of the once very sharp distinction between the mobile and fixed line worlds. We see telecoms operators with both fixed and mobile networks/business units seeing opportunities not only to make cost savings but also to achieve effective differentiation by blending their wired and wireless offerings. We see 'mobile only' players looking for partners in the wired world in order to compete in this new FMC space. We see 'fixed only' service providers wondering if they can survive long-term with no mobility proposition. All of this is made possible by the development of convergence-friendly IP core networks and the coming together of wireless access technology standards.

It has therefore been quite straightforward to gather speaker panels and groups of delegates which reflect these convergence trends at our Com World Series events. Americas Com 2008 is no exception. We will be welcoming the usual great speaker line-up from major mobile operators such as TIM Brasil, Ancel, Movistar Chile, Iusacell and Claro Brasil. What's new for 2008 is the presence of a really diverse spread of other kinds of telco:

  • state or co-operative-owned telcos from Andean markets - such as Bolivia's COTEL and Ecuador's ETAPA
  • cablers such as Mexico's Cablecom
  • competitive broadband/voice carriers such as Mexican Alestra

Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires have been among the better locations for this annual conference, but one effect of hosting the event either in Brazil or a Conosur location has been making it challenging to draw participants from Andean countries and Central America. So it has been really gratifying to confirm the participation of companies from both these important regions.

So with about 4 weeks to go before Americas Com 2008, we are excited by the diversity of the audience we have assembled - and to see that numbers are tracking ahead of the delegate booking pattern for 2007.