Fixed Line vs. Cellular Phones in Lima (Peru)

The following story appeared in the Los Angeles Times ("With its cellphones, 3d World shrinking" by Hector Tobar, October 28, 2004):

A few miles downriver from this city in the western Amazon jungle, Andres Alvarado hops off a boat and walks up a muddy path to a hollowed-out log resting on a wooden stand. He beats the log with a stick, sending a series of low-pitched tones into the rain forest.  ''This is what they call the `telephone of the jungle,' " says Alvarado, a tricycle taxi-driver and tourist guide.  Moments later, as children of the Bora Indian tribe come bounding down the path to answer the ''telephone," Alvarado's belt begins beeping: It's his cellphone.

Iquitos and nearby riverside hamlets are among the more remote outposts in South America's expanding mobile phone system, part of a global network that is beginning to penetrate even the poorest and most undeveloped corners of the world.  For millions of people living in countries where getting a fixed phone line remains a bureaucratic impossibility, the cellphone revolution has allowed them to leapfrog from archaic forms of communication straight into the digital era -- and that is changing the fabric of their daily lives.  Here in Iquitos, where speedboats and lumbering old fishing craft ply the brown, wide waters of the Amazon, fishermen grab the wheels of their vessels with one hand and their cellphones with the other to check the price their catch will fetch at markets downriver.  

Alvarado uses his mobile phone to round up clients for his tricycle taxi. And earlier this year, it beeped with the most important call of his life.  ''My mother-in-law called me from the delivery room," Alvarado recalled. His wife had gone into labor with their first child, and he raced to the hospital on his tricycle. ''We all thought we were going to have a girl, but it turned out to be a boy."  He flashed the news from the hospital to his sister in Lima, Peru, via his cellphone, the kind of call that might seem routine in the United States but which still carries for him an aura of science-fiction.

The number of cellphones in Latin America has tripled since 1999, and one in five people now owns one.  In Peru, as in many other countries in the region, there are more cellphones than fixed phone lines.

We will now refer to some survey data from the 2004 TGI Peru study.  This is a survey of 1,500 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old interviewed in Lima (Peru) during the first half of 2004.

With the TGI Peru study, 58% of the survey respondents said that they have a fixed line telephone in their household.  This compares to 32% of the survey respondents who said that they have a cellular telephone.  Therefore, it would seem as if there are in fact more fixed line telephones than cellular telephones.  However, this is misleading and we will go back and be very precise about the meaning of certain numbers.

For fixed line telephones, we must remember that this is a household item.  The survey universe of all households in the Lima (Peru) area has 1,814,000 households.  Of these 989,000 households have a fixed line telephone.  Within these households, there are 3,362,000 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old (or 58%)

For cellular telephones, we must remember that this is a personal item.  The survey universe of all persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old in the Lima (Peru) area has 5,816,000 persons.  Of these, 1,841,000 persons have a cellular telephone (or 32%).

By this detailed accounting, there are more physical cellular telephone sets out there than fixed telephone lines in Lima.

In the next chart, we show the penetration levels by socio-economic level.  Both forms of telephony are driven by cost considerations and their penetration will decrease down the socio-economic scale.

(source: 2004 TGI Peru)

Of the 5,816,000 persons in the survey universe, it turns out that

But if the percentage of telephony of either form is broken out by socio-economic level, we find:

Although the situation for SES DE is a lot better than before, half of them still do not have access to telephony.

(posted by Roland Soong, 10/29/2004)

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