The spotlight will be on Brazil this summer as the Summer Olympics kicks off in Rio de Janeiro, and you can bet hundreds of thousands of smartphones will be uploading pictures, streaming video and accessing social media. To see how Brazil's operators are preparing for that data deluge, OpenSignal took a close look at their networks, drawing on 110 million measurements from 58,000 Brazilian smartphone users. (For a Portuguese translation of this report click here.)
Vivo was the fastest operator in Brazil in our October to January testing period, with an average LTE download speed of 15.3 Mbps. In our last report that distinction belonged to Claro, but in six months time the speeds we’ve measured on its networks have fallen considerably, dropping from 17.8 Mbps to 11.4 Mbps.
Brazil's once impressive 4G speeds are beginning to suffer. Since our August report, measured download speeds on Vivo’s network have dropped by nearly a megabit. TIM and Oi saw their speeds hold relatively steady, but overall average connections for the country are trending lower. As Brazil's 4G market matures and LTE networks start getting loaded with more subscribers, we'll continue to see a gradual drop in average speed.
All four major operators made improvements to their 4G footprint in 2015. 4G customers on Vivo, Claro and TIM were able to connect to an LTE signal more than 50% of time in our latest tests. But Brazil still ranks fairly low among its global and South American peers in terms of availability.
While Brazilian operators may be struggling with nationwide availability, they've boosted network reliability in Rio de Janeiro just in time for the Olympics. Three of the five Rio 4G providers had an availability in the host city of 60% or greater, while speed in Rio is on par with national averages.
|Download Speed: 4G||Download Speed: 3G||Latency: 4G||Latency: 3G||Availability: 4G|
This metric shows the proportion of time OpenSignal users have an LTE connection available to them on each operator’s network. It's a measure of how often users can access a 4G network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users.
This metric shows the average download speed for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users.
This metric shows the average latency for each operator on LTE connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.
This metric shows the average latency for each operator on 3G connections as measured by OpenSignal users. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it makes a round trip through the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.
With the 2016 Summer Olympics only six months away, Brazil's mobile data infrastructure looks to be in much better shape than it was for the 2014 World Cup. Brazilian 4G networks are now spread out over hundreds of cities and towns, while Rio de Janeiro isn't just playing host to 306 Olympic events but also to five LTE networks. As Brazil's operators continue to expand their LTE footprints, we're seeing its rather lackluster 4G availability improve, but as the country's overall 4G market matures we're also seeing Brazil's typically fast LTE speeds start declining.
The biggest surprise in our data was the huge dip América Móvil's Claro saw in speed. In our August State of Mobile Networks report, Claro led all operators in Brazil (and a good deal of the world's operators) with an average download speed of 17.8 Mbps. Between Oct. 15 and Jan. 15, though, average 4G speeds fell to 11.4 Mbps, according to our measurements. That made Telefónica-owned Vivo Brazil's fastest operator for the three month period. But Vivo’s speeds suffered as well, dropping from 16.2 Mbps to 15.3 Mbps since our last report. Meanwhile Telecom Italia Mobile and Oi's speeds basically remained relatively unchanged at 10.5 Mbps and 11.9 Mbps respectively.
Though Claro's speed drop was dramatic, we expect to see a gradual slowdown in speeds as shiny new LTE networks lose their luster. When networks are first launched, they typically have lots of capacity but relatively few subscribers — those that do connect to them often enjoy extremely fast speeds. But as operators sign up more 4G subscribers, those devices wind up competing for the same network resources, slowing down average speeds.
The first 4G network went live in 2012, so LTE is by no means young in Brazil. But LTE device adoption has been relatively slow. Brazil had 22.6 million LTE smartphones in November of 2015, accounting for less than 10 percent of total connections, according to a study from Teleco. As LTE device penetration increases on Brazil's existing networks, we'll likely see speeds slow down further. Brazilian operators, however, are already looking at ways to boost their capacity. TIM has begun cannibalizing its 2G network for new 4G spectrum in the 1800 MHz band, while Claro is testing out new LTE-Advanced networks that could boost its connection speeds considerably.
In terms of network availability, Brazilian operators have a lot of catching up to do. Nationally Brazil had an availability of just 53% in the three months covered by the report. Our availability metric (*) measures the proportion of time a 4G device can connect to an LTE network no matter where it happens to be. So in Brazil's case 4G subscribers were able to see an LTE network 53% of the time (for more information on availability see our methodology section). Brazil ranks near the bottom of the list of both global and South American countries in terms of network availability, according to our recently released State of LTE report. Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela all scored higher in 4G availability as did fellow Latin American giant Mexico. Brazil did beat out Argentina, which scored 51% in availability, but Argentina launched its first LTE network barely a year ago.
That said, Brazil's availability is improving with three of Brazil's big four crossing the 50% availability mark between August and January. And where 4G isn't available, Brazil has an established 3G infrastructure to fall back on. Of the five nationwide 3G operators we examined (we didn’t include Nextel in our overall 4G metrics since its LTE footprint is limited to 2 cities), Vivo had the highest average 3G download speed in our tests of 2.4 Mbps.
Brazilian operators, however, still have another card to play that could boost their 4G availability. Today most of the country's operators are running LTE solely in the 2600 MHz band. Those high-frequency waves don't travel long distances or penetrate walls well. But Vivo, TIM and Claro recently won old TV broadcast licenses in the 700 MHz band at auction. These low frequencies will help operators expand their 4G footprints far beyond metro centers as well as improve indoor coverage in urban centers.
The final metric in our report is latency, which is the round-trip delay data experiences as it travels through the network. Having low latency is like having a quick network reaction time: webpages begin rendering faster and there is less lag between responses in video chat or VoIP phone calls. Brazil's latency numbers were a bit higher than most, with TIM having the lowest (best) numbers for 4G and Nextel the lowest for 3G in the period covered by this report. Vivo, however, had surprisingly high latency in both its 3G (256ms) and 4G (192ms) networks, according to our measurements, which could be having an impact on the quality of its mobile data service. Think of it this way: Vivo's mobile data services are fast once they get going, but each session starts out sluggish.
Though Brazil overall may not have the most accessible 4G networks, operators have made a lot of improvements in Rio in anticipation of the Olympic games. We delved down into our data to examine availability and speed in the Rio city limits, which encompasses all 32 Olympic competition venues. Nextel was one of the leaders in network availability in our three month time window, with a availability in Rio of 75%, but its 4G service service behaved more like 3G, averaging speeds of 2.6 Mbps (Nextel so far has only deployed LTE in Rio and São Paulo so it was excluded from our national 4G charts).
Both Vivo and Claro provided significantly better availability in Rio than they did nationally, with scores of 71% and 61% respectively. TIM and Oi's Rio network improved on their national averages to a smaller degree with availability scores of 55% and 48% respectively. Vivo delivered comparable speeds in Rio to its nationwide network, averaging 17.2 Mbps. We measured Oi's download speeds at 16.8 Mbps, which due to the study's margin of error, put it in a statistical tie with Vivo. Claro and TIM averaged 11.1 Mbps and 9.7 Mbps respectively between October and January.
The bottom line is that Rio was much better situated to provide a consistent 4G service than the country as a whole, as well as to support the speeds they've been offering up nationwide. Of course, no matter how much Brazil's operators shore up their networks for the Olympics, it's likely nothing can quite prepare them for the onslaught of spectators, athletes and media an event like the Olympics will bring.
(*) Editor’s note: When this report was originally published OpenSignal used the term time coverage for what is now our availability metric. We changed the name to avoid confusion of this metric with geographic and population coverage metrics, and we have reflected that change in our old reports. The new terminology, however, does not reflect a new methodology. Time coverage and availability represent the same measurement: the proportion of time OpenSignal users can connect to a particular network.
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