This year may be remembered as the one when Latin America finally showed up on the radar – not only in geopolitics, but also in tech. This was certainly true for us, with the launch of The Next Web’s Latin America Channel back in May. While other foreign media outlets and tech blogs will likely start covering the region over the next years, we’re glad to be among the first international sources to give the Latin American tech scene the attention it deserves. This was also a very interesting period to start writing about all that happened across the region, as the last few months have been particularly eventful. Here are the main trends and events that have been transforming Latin America in 2011.
Millions of Latin Americans are becoming Internet users
According to comScore, Latin America is one of the fastest growing regions when it comes to Internet penetration. While the growth is somewhat slower in countries such as Argentina and Chile, where many already have access to the Internet at home or at work, this is particularly true for places like Mexico and Peru.
Many of these people were already accessing the Internet to some degree from public places, but having an Internet connection at home is very different. It means Latin American users spend an increasing number of hours behind their screens, confirming existing trends such as the huge popularity of social networking, while also opening the door to new possibilities. E-commerce is one of them, and the sector has been growing fast across the region, fueled by an influx of new users, itself boosted by the fact that millions of Latin Americans have left poverty to join the middle class. In Brazil, for instance, 9 million out of the 32 million Brazilians who made online purchases this year were doing so for the first time, and e-commerce could grow by 25% in 2012 as a result. Still, it is way too early to write cyber-cafés off, as they may be able to counter their decline by offering additional services. This is already the case in Brazil, where ‘lan houses‘ are becoming convenience and education centers, especially in poor communities. In some places, local authorities have also understood the power of the Internet when it comes to social integration. In the Brazilian state of Ceara, for instance, a public project aims to bring affordable broadband to 6.8 million people. The Latin American broadband market has also become increasingly interesting for foreign service providers. The Spanish telco giant Telefonica, for instance, generate almost half of its revenues in Latin America, where there is still room for growth while operations in Europe have proven tougher.
Mobile and smartphones are taking off
The Latin American mobile market attracts similar levels of interest from foreign players. Nokia, for instance, expects Brazil to become one of its top markets. The country already has 236 million mobile numbers, and its market potential is huge. This is especially true for a player like Nokia. Though it struggles to compete with the iPhone in the US and Europe, Apple’s smartphones are still very expensive in Brazil, and very difficult to find in Argentina, due to restrictive importation practices. Still, smartphone sales have been taking off in Latin America and will continue to grow further. Consulting firm Pyramid Research predicts that smartphones will account for 46% of all cell phone sales across the region by 2016. The phone market has been evolving fast, and is this is likely to continue – in Brazil, for example, almost half of feature phone owners planned to buy a new cell phone, we reported in August. Overall, the rise of mobile devices in Latin America is a fact that anyone interested in the local market should take into account.
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