Cable & Wireless Panama is seeing increasing data usage on its mobile network, but with a largely prepaid user base, the telco has had to introduce some innovative pricing plans to encourage more customers to use mobile data.

Data usage is going up quickly, as ″smartphone prices are going down,″ Jorge Nicolau, CEO of C&W Panama, told Total Telecom on Tuesday.

″[But] we have a low penetration of data among prepaid customers,″ he said, adding that prepaid subscribers make up 90%-95% of the company's customer base, and of the Panamanian market as a whole.

To encourage prepaid data usage, C&W Panama has introduced pricing plans that enable customers to buy data allowances for short time periods.

″If you buy data for a day, we give you a day,″ said Nicolau. Users can also buy multiple days, a week, or a month, for example.

In addition, parents can transfer data allowances directly to their children's handsets. ″That works very well,″ Nicolau said.

C&W Panama and rival Movistar served the Panamanian mobile market between them until late 2008 when two new players – Claro and Digicel – launched services. Since then, it has had to invest in order to retain its market leader position amid fierce competition.

In 2012 it has doubled its mobile capex compared with last year, Nicolau said. ″This year we're talking about $100 million-plus in mobile [capex],″ he said.

And there are more network investments on the horizon.

″We clearly see LTE as the route to go,″ Nicolau said. However, it could be some time before LTE comes to Panama.

″Regulators have to be clear on how to allocate all those frequencies... We are currently talking about that with them,″ Nicolau noted.

″We need to work with regulators in Latin America as a whole,″ he concluded.