By investing heavily in boosting home connectivity, 4G mobile services and fiber-optic reach, as well as constructing a new data center and an underwater cable to the US, Uruguay and its market-leading Antel are turning the country into a regional digital hub offering solid infrastructure and connectivity to businesses and industry based at home and abroad. Antel's President Horacio Andrés Tolosa Barla has the details.
With Brazil in recession and Argentina in the process of economic and social restructuring, Uruguay presents itself as a stable country with an institutional quality that goes beyond the governing political parties. With clear rules and a robust legal system, what should Uruguay do to take advantage of this situation?
Uruguay has always had the intelligence to be isolated from the sudden variations that can occur in neighboring countries. We are affected by them but the consequences are not reflected in the same way because we have long-term stability that helps us to hold strong.
The country is committed to being open to the world and diversifying its markets, even with our traditional goods such as meat, milk, agriculture, and grains. The economy is more globalized now, and that strengthens us. Besides, we have begun to develop new industry sectors such as software services, financial services, and engineering. We use our human resources well, and that's an opportunity that Uruguay has used to its advantage.
In that sense, and I quote Chancellor Nin Novoa here, “Uruguay cannot compete internationally regarding quantity, and should focus on quality as its differential.” How are Antel and the technology sector contributing to Uruguay’s seal of quality?
In the case of communications, in Antel we have staked a lot on quality and to make a substantial difference in quality compared to the levels in Latin America.
Today, in several indicators Uruguay is well above the average for Latin America. For example, the number of households connected to the internet in Uruguay is 75%. Five years ago it was 30%-35%, which means we have gained rapidly and are approaching European countries that in an intermediate position, such as Spain, Italy, or Ireland.
I would especially highlight Uruguay’s penetration rate of 4G mobile phones of almost 66%, considering that in Latin America it is around 15%. What accounts for this success?
Antel was proud to be the first network in Latin America to have commercial 4G/LTE service. That was in late 2011.
In 2014, we started to have LTE phones, and we were the first for that in Latin America too. In just one year we had 30,000 to 150,000 services. Today we have 1,200,000. This was achieved by Antel in just two years. Of the nearly 3 million users, 40% are LTE.
Uruguay is exceeding 50% regarding LTE users, and has a penetration of 155% of lines to population—it is one of the highest in the world.
To what end is that level of connectivity in the country helping to bring in foreign direct investment through new companies that are committed to Uruguay?
We provide service to all of the companies or industries. They are using data traffic, of course, and we guarantee them to be connected to the world 24 hours/day, 365 days/year. They realize that in Uruguay infrastructure is not a problem. When talking about infrastructure, generally speaking, we think of roads, railways and transport, but the infrastructure that it is now key is telecommunications.
Here the support is guaranteed for industries and businesses. We have also collaborated with other complementary projects, inaugurating a new data center. We had a smaller data center to provide services to companies in Uruguay. This is a data center to provide national and international services.
And we are also moving forward with a major project in conjunction with other international companies, like Google to have our own undersea cable, and at the end of 2017 we will have a submarine cable connected with the United States.
What does that connection with the US represent for Uruguay?
Sovereignty passes through the connection; the digital world also represents freedom, independence. For us it is incredibly interesting not to depend on prices set by other companies that may limit the country's development in this field. Having a lot of capacity at a controlled cost for the country gives us the independence to develop more services with greater capacity without relying on others.
What does the new data center mean for Antel?
It means plenty of opportunities to fill all the racks, completing a peak of 40,000 servers. There are four rooms of 250 racks, nearly 12,000 square meters, with highly reliable services for companies that host their data and services.
This data center can turn Uruguay into a cluster or a technology hub for companies like Netflix, Facebook or Google, who trust their servers to be here, and operate in the region, based in Uruguay.
It is part of the ecosystem of which we spoke. The data center, along with the submarine cable and the entire telecommunications, infrastructure means Uruguay allows international companies to have access to this market with a reliable partner.
That need for development is marked by the huge demand for broadband internet in the country: it grew almost 50% last year. How is Antel working to provide solutions to this demand?
It has been a great challenge. We have made investments in the last two years exceeding 40% of the company’s revenue. Those were investments made from our own funds, without compromising the future of Antel with debt. We went in hard for fiber optics, home connectivity, construction of the submarine cable, and other minor projects. We are now finalizing these projects to start reaping the fruits of what was sown.
We talked about the goal of reaching 100% connectivity. When do you have set?
Regarding households with internet, the target is by 2020. With fiber optics, depending on these possible projects, it may be the same, i.e. 2020, or by 2026.
You have been working for more than three decades at Antel, so what are your goals now as president of the company?
My main goal is to develop these major projects and consolidate them. Reaching other goals, such as 100% penetration of households with internet, is also an objective for me.
Reaching these goals would be a great honor for me, and of course maintaining Antel as a market leader is a challenge. No matter how much you are the leader in a market, you cannot rest on your laurels.
Technology changes very quickly. We can see how Google, WhatsApp, Facebook and many others are changing the ways in which we communicate and users demand that the telecomunications providers stay on top of everything so they can access all the new services.