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Claro launches 4G service, invests $240M

Enrique Ortiz de Montellano
For the second time in as many days a local wireless provider has jumped into the 4G arena. On Wednesday Claro de Puerto Rico announced the start of its next-generation wireless service, with an investment of $240 million.

The HSPA+ network covers 80 percent of Claro’s footprint, including Vieques, said Claro President Enrique Ortiz de Montellano during a news conference in a San Juan hotel. 

“Claro is synonymous with coverage and connection reliability. We’ve achieved that by investing consistently and systematically in the most advanced technology, which we’re making available to our clients in all of the corners of Puerto Rico,” said Ortiz de Montellano, adding that the $240 million investment includes $100 million destined toward mobile technology and upgrades alone.

Last year, the company doubled its network capacity to support 3G and 4G smartphones and other devices requiring greater bandwidth to function at their best. Claro’s 4G network was ready in December, when 417 cell sites had already been converted, but the company held off in announcing its availability until this week.

“We’ve had 4G speeds since December, when we had already doubled our speed,” Ortiz de Montellano said.

By definition, a fourth-generation wireless network offers users the capacity to send and receive data at speeds that can theoretically reach 21 megabits per second. This translates into faster video streaming, downloads and other multimedia capacities that are built-in to most smartphones and tablet computers flooding the market these days. Upgrading to a 4G network, in most cases, triples the speeds available through a preceding 3G network.

In this case, Claro — Puerto Rico’s second largest wireless carrier — is adopting an HSPA+ platform, which has become a standard for 4G deployment. Its plans call for offering 95 percent coverage by year’s end.

The local migration to HSPA+, 4G technology took off on the island in October 2010, when T-Mobile flipped the switch on the first such network available in Puerto Rico. The company invested some $50 million to convert its islandwide network.

Late Tuesday, AT&T Wireless also unveiled its HSPA+ network, rounding out the trio of carriers offering the next-generation services. While AT&T Wireless did not reveal investment figures, it said its upgrade blankets Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Coupled with the launching, Claro opened the door for the arrival of new 4G-capable devices: the Nokia E5 and the Nokia 6700, as well as the Hauwei USB Internet device. Down the road, the company plans to add tablet PC devices and possibly, the iPhone 4, Ortiz de Montellano said.

But for now, Claro customers who already own Nokia E72 and N8 can also take advantage of the faster speeds.

Claro is the local subsidiary of Mexican telecommunications giant América Móvil, which purchased the carrier in 2007. Upon making its acquisition, the company made a commitment with the Federal Communications Commission to invest $1 billion in network improvements, something Ortiz de Montellano said will be completed early next year. 

Other businesses

As the incumbent local telephone service provider, Claro offers traditional landline telephony, broadband Internet, wireless and paid television services. This latter business segment is still evolving, as the company is still waiting for the Telecommunications Regulatory Board to grant its petition — submitted two years ago — for a franchise license.

Its intention to break into the paid television market has met much resistance from the other cable television service providers on the island, with whom it would be competing. However, rather than wait for the franchise license, Claro opted to launch satellite television service, which Ortiz de Montellano said has been well-received and will continue to be offered even after the other permits come through.

“Right now, the permit process is in the administrative phase, and we hope to get it soon,” he noted.

As part of its offer, Claro bundles services and markets them at special monthly rates.

See related story: http://bit.ly/fDPEmN

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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