A longstanding dream of landlocked Bolivia – a direct connection to international telecom networks on the Pacific coast – became a reality with the inauguration on Thursday of its own fiber optic network via Peru.
The US$66mn network is led by state-run telco Entel.
The country has until now relied on leasing international connectivity from wholesale data carriers in Chile and Peru.
“Until now we had leased from Chile, from Peru; today we have finished installing our own optical fiber and, on Thursday night, we are inaugurating it,” public works minister Iván Arias told reporters.
The 2,000km network has two stretches, from the port of Ilo to Lurín, both in Peru, and from Ilo to Desaguadero, on the edge of Lake Titicaca on the Peru-Bolivia border.
In January, the Bolivian government said the exit to the Pacific would be operational within two months, but the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have delayed progress.
At the time, Entel’s then CEO Elio Montes Chávez told local media that Bolivia would have “absolute sovereignty in this exit to the Pacific.”
The government says the network will reduce costs.
According to latest data from the telecom department, leased internet capacity (contracted on the Bolivian border by local suppliers) grew from 234.93Gbps to 275.24Gbps from December 2017 to September 2018.
In the same timespan, costs per Mbps fell 8.85%, to US$21.83.
The government also says the network will increase the speed of internet for the population. According to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, Bolivia ranked 103rd in mobile internet speeds, with 19.4Mbps download speed on average clocked in July and 127th in fixed broadband, with an average of 17.5Mbps.
“What you’re going to be able to see from Friday, once our president inaugurates [the optical fiber], is that if you have a video that lasts one minute and it took 40, 50 seconds [to download], you’ll see how fast it’ll go,” Arias was quoted by La Razón as saying.
Interim president Jeanine Áñez was expected to participate in the inauguration, but the presidency did not report her presence at the event.
In 2016, an agreement with Peru’s communications ministry allowed Bolivia to pass 1,000km of fiber through Peruvian territory to Ilo, plus a 1,200km marine section to connect with the international cable landing point at Lurín, near Lima.
Last year, Entel was reportedly in talks with three international connectivity providers with connection points in Lurín.
According to the Submarine Cable Map, the following international systems land at Lima: Pan-American (Pan-Am, launched in 1999 and owned by a consortium of telcos); South-America-1 (Sam-1, launched in 2001 and owned by Telxius); and the South American Crossing (SAC, a 20,000km ring launched in 2000 and owned by Sparkle and CenturyLink).
A fourth system, the Pacific Cable, owned by América Móvil and Telxius, was expected to go operational by the end of this year.
Entel has 24,427km of fiber backbone on Bolivian soil, connecting 199 of the country’s 340 municipal capitals, according to reports in August 2019.
This backbone has been drastically expanded in the years since Entel’s renationalization in 2008, having around 15,295km three years ago and about 3,500km in 2007.
The company had plans to reach 25,000km of fiber optics by 2022.
Entel said it invested a total of 357mn bolivianos (US$51.6mn) in 2019, its most ever, and part of that went to the fiber exit.
The network will be used mainly for data transport and backhaul (connecting mobile antennas).