Optical Networks in Chile: Prepared For The Future
The geographical and topological characteristics of Chile constitute a great obstacle for the development of telecommunications networks. Indeed, its long and thin territory plus the extreme southern region full of fjords and channels are unmatched in the world. This article presents a summary description of the evolution of the telecommunications cable industry in Chile, from the installation of the first of them in 1852 to the current scenario where 99% of the inhabited territory will soon be connected through fiber optic cables.
- Geography and population of Chile
Chile has 19 million inhabitants and is in the south of the South American west coast, a country of middle income, with a territory of more than 4,100 km long with north-south orientation, and no more than 200 km wide at its largest part. The population is mainly settled along some 1,000 km located in the center of the country and presents a medium-high degree of digital development. The country is experiencing the effects of the pandemic and its pressure for more and better Internet connections, as everywhere.
- Beginning of Telecommunications in Chile
At the beginning of the Republic, during the first half of the 19th century, the main economic activities were mining, agriculture, trade, and an incipient international trade by sea. For this reason, the first telegraph cable in the country was installed in 1852 linking the capital Santiago and the main port, Valparaíso. From that moment on, the deployment of telegraph cables did not stop and culminated well into the twentieth century with the “All America Cable” that linked Chile and the United States along the Pacific coast. An important milestone occurred in 1968 when the Longovilo Earth Station, the first in Latin America, was put into service, thus initiating the era of international satellite communications. Chile also built a national microwave and satellite network that allowed the beginning of the massification of telecommunications throughout the country.
- Modern Telecommunications
Starting in the late 1980s, the Chilean market was opened to private investment, while the old state-owned long distance and home telephone companies were privatized. Thus, market conditions were generated that attracted investments to build, as of 1990, the first national and international optical networks, initially covering the most densely populated areas of the country. The first submarine fiber optic cable was the PanAmerican Cable in 1997, which connects Arica, Chile with the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea, and countries in between.
However, the less densely populated rural and remote areas of Chile were left behind and were not connected by fiber optics, their population counting only on mobile telephony, data, and Internet services. Even though mobile services have achieved coverage of 99% of the inhabited territory over time, successive governments understood the importance of having a country also connected by fiber optics, in all inhabited urban and rural areas. In this way, as of 2015, state subsidies became available to connect the missing rural areas, through the Fibra Optica Austral, FOA, a submarine project, and through the Fibra Óptica Nacional, FON project, a collection of terrestrial segments along the country.