Wireless Cable Television Reception
in Latin America

One of the principal costs incurred by a cable company comes from the constant excavation needed to lay down cables underground.  The cabling process is also complicated by physical barriers such as water bodies, mountains, highways and so on.  In some instances, the cables can be hung on telephone or utility poles, provided a fee is paid to the owner.

A cheaper, quicker way of signal delivery is through a multiple multi-point distribution service (acronym: MMDS).  From the "headend" of the cable system, the cable signals are sent from a transmitter on a tower in the form of high-frequency, directional microwave to a number of receiving towers that are several miles away and within line-of-sight of the headend transmitter.  Each receiving tower may in turn serve as a transmitter to relay the cable signals to other receiving towers.

To initiate a subscription, a household signs up with a MMDS operator.  The household receives a microwave antenna and a convertor box.  The microwave antenna is installed at a location (such as a rooftop) that is within line-of-sight of a transmitting tower.  The microwave signs are enabled for viewing on ordinary television sets by the convertor box.  For this service, the household pays a periodic (typically monthly) subscription fee, in addition to an initiation fee.

Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico (photo credit: Roland Soong)

MMDS can deliver the same set of program fare as wired cable.  For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as wireless cable.  According to 1998 Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica Study, there are 997,000 wireless cable households in Latin America, with the most number being found in Mexico (441,000 wireless cable households).  The largest MMDS service in Latin America is Multivisión in Mexico City.

The principal advantage is that there is no heavy capital outlay for an extensive network of cables.  Wireless cable is perhaps the quickest way to deliver affordable multi-channel service to a large population.  It is therefore particularly suitable for medium-sized cities where the potential revenues will probably never justify investments in wired cable infrastructures.  Because of the line-of-sight requirement, wireless cable works well for densely populated, flat cities such as São Paulo (Brazil) and Mexico City (Mexico) but it may not be as effective in hilly places.  The existing wireless cable systems are also limited in capacity, usually carrying fewer than 40 channels per system.

At this moment, the wireless cable technology is not regarded an investment with huge potential returns.  Whereas the cable technology may be used to deliver potentially lucrative services such as telephony, there are no such prospects for wireless cable.  As it stands, wireless cable is simply a transitional technology.


(posted by Roland Soong on 11/14/99)

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