State of Mobile Networks: Brazil (July 2016)

It's been a tumultuous year for Brazil,not least because of a shakeup in its telecommunications sector, which recently saw one of the main operators go bankrupt. With the Olympic Games starting next week in host city Rio de Janeiro, South America's largest country is likely to stay in the spotlight. As Brazil and Rio get ready to receive hundreds of thousands of visitors, OpenSignal examined the performance of the country's mobile networks, drawing on over 85 million measurements collected by 45,000 users of our app between February and April 2016.

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Vivo maintains the lead in 4G speed

With download speeds of 18.6 Mbps, Vivo comfortably wins our award for the fastest 4G network, performing more than twice as well as TIM (8.0 Mbps) and over 50% better than Claro (11.6 Mbps) and Oi (11.4 Mbps).

4G availability improves steadily but slowly

Since our first Brazil report last August, 4G availability has been improving at a constant if moderate pace. TIM and Vivo tied for first with availability scores over 56%, however Brazil still ranks near the bottom of the table for 4G availability among its Latin American and global peers.

Rio gets an LTE boost for the Olympics

Except for Oi, all operators had considerably higher 4G availability in Rio than nationwide. Four out of five surpass the 60% mark, while customers on Nextel's network see a 4G connection close to 80% of the time.

Overall national 4G speeds remain slow

Though Vivo has distinguished itself in our tests, generally 4G speeds remain slow compared to regional and international trends. Claro's speeds have held steady since our February report, but Oi's and TIM's have dropped by 1 and 2 megabits respectively.

Report Facts

Report Location Brazil
Data Sample Size 85,334,770
User Sample Size 45,149
Sample Period Feb 1st - Apr 30th 2016

Overall Network Comparison

Download Speed: 4GDownload Speed: 3GDownload Speed: OverallLatency: 4GLatency: 3GAvailability: 4G

Claro

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Nextel

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Oi

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TIM

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Vivo

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Network Availability Comparison

Availability: 4G

This metric shows the proportion of time LTE subscribers on each network have a 4G (LTE) connection available to them. It's a measure of the proportion of time users have a 4G signal on a network rather than a measure of geographic or population coverage.

Network Speed Comparison

Download Speed: 4G

This metric shows the average download speed on each network on 4G (LTE) connections.

Download Speed: 3G

This metric shows the average download speed on each network on 3G connections.

Download Speed: Overall

This metric shows the average download speed experienced by a user across all of an operator's networks. Overall speed doesn't just factor in 3G and LTE speeds, but also the availability of each network technology. Operators with lower LTE coverage tend to have lower overall speeds because their customers spend much more time connected to slower 3G networks.

Network Latency Comparison

Latency: 4G

This metric shows the average latency on each network on 4G (LTE) connections. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it travels between points in the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Latency: 3G

This metric shows the average latency on each network on 3G connections. Latency, measured in milliseconds, is the delay data experiences as it travels between points in the network. A lower score in this metric is a sign of a more responsive network.

Analysis

The 2016 Summer Olympics are upon us, but the past few months leading up to them haven't been easy for host country Brazil. Amid concerns over the Zika virus and rising crime rates, an economic recession and a presidential impeachment, millions of people are expected to attend the sporting event. For mobile operators this poses the challenge of hundreds of thousands of smartphones uploading and downloading pictures, connecting to social media and streaming video at any given time. It is within this context that we examined how Brazil's 3G and 4G networks are faring just ahead of the Games — there are some good news (and some not so good) for mobile data users in Rio.

Increasing 4G's reach

When it comes to 4G availability Brazilian operators have been making improvements since we first took a close look at the country's networks in August 2015. Rather than measure geographic coverage, our availability metric tracks the proportion of time users are able to get a network signal no matter where they happen to be. A year ago, 4G subscribers on all four nationwide operators could find an LTE signal just 50% of the time; in our latest tests, only Oi fell short of this mark (47.4%). Our award for best 4G availability was shared by Telecom Italia Mobile and Telefónica's Vivo, with respective scores of 56.2% and 56.8%. Customers of América Móvil-owned Claro saw a 4G connection 52.9% of the time.

If Brazil's operators are expanding their networks, they're doing so in their own time. The country is no newcomer to 4G — the first 4G network, Claro's, went live in 2012 — but it ranks fairly low for availability among its South American and global peers, according to our most recent State of LTE report.

Things however are looking brighter in Rio, where 4G signals are significantly more widespread than nationwide. Tied for first place were Vivo (73.4%) and Nextel (77.8%) (Nextel does not offer LTE outside of Rio and Sao Paulo so we don't include the operator in our nationwide 4G metrics). They were followed by TIM and Claro, with averages of 65.6% and 62.6% respectively. The exception was fourth-largest operator Oi, which a month ago filed for bankruptcy protection. It was able to provide a 4G signal just 43.8% of the time in Rio.

The tortoises and the hare

4G availability in Brazil may be increasing, but we're seeing little improvement in LTE speeds. Vivo was the exception that proves the rule: the operator won handily our award to fastest 4G connection with an average of 18.6 Mbps, improving by 3 Mbps on its results from our February report. All of the other 3 operators either saw their LTE speeds hold steady or drop since our last report. We measured the second best performance on Claro's network: its speeds have remained relatively unchanged at 11.6 Mbps. On the other hand, Oi and TIM each experienced a slowdown of 1 to 2 megabits: we clocked their speeds at 11.4 Mbps and 8.0 Mbps respectively.

As for 3G speeds, it was a similar story — they have generally held steady since our last Brazil report, with three operators averaging over 2 Mbps: Claro (2.4 Mbps),Vivo (2.4Mbps) and TIM (2.2 Mbps).

The final metric we considered was latency, which measures the delay experienced by data while traveling through the network. A lower latency means a more reactive network: web pages render faster and there is less delay in real-time communications apps. TIM and Oi shared our award to the lowest 4G latency, averaging respectively 74.1 milliseconds and 74.8ms. Nextel was the sole winner in the 3G category, with a latency of 103.1ms. Vivo had higher latencies than most of its competitors, both in 4G (103.9 ms) and 3G (168.3 ms), though its results have improved considerably since our February report.

Looking beyond Rio

Operators have obviously pushed themselves to prepare their networks for Olympics; however, nationally 4G availability and speeds leave much to be desired. There are reasons to be hopeful, though. Networks will get a boost in capacity and speeds as operators deploy LTE-Advanced. So far only Claro and TIM have rolled these new high-powered networks in the city of Rio Verde, using new 700 MHz TV frequencies they acquired at auction in 2014.

These new networks will not only increase data performance, but they could also improve 4G coverage and availability. Low-frequency 700 MHz airwaves propagate further than the high-band spectrum Brazil's operators currently use in their LTE networks, meaning 4G signals will travel greater distances in rural areas and better penetrate buildings in urban areas.

You can forgive Brazilian operators, though, if their attention today is focused solely on Rio. Operators faced a similar challenge two years ago when the FIFA World Cup brought a data deluge to their networks. Telecom industry group SindiTelebrasil reported that 48.5 million photos were uploaded over the course of the tournament's 64 games - making it the World Cup of Selfies - while mobile networks carried 26.7 terabytes of total traffic, according to RCRWireless. Back then, Brazil's LTE infrastructure was relatively new, giving operators more time to solidify their 4Gs services. But two years later, there are also millions more 4G subscribers on Brazilian networks and expectations for quality mobile broadband services are higher. Meanwhile, instead of all that data demand being spread across 12 World Cup host cities, the Olympics are concentrated in a single metro area. The football trial by fire may be over, but the Olympic 4G trials have just begun.

Methodology Notes

OpenSignal data is collected from regular consumer smartphones and recorded under conditions of normal usage. As opposed to drive-test data, which simulates the typical user experience by using the same devices to measure network performance in a small number of locations, we take our measurements from millions of smartphones owned by normal people who have downloaded the OpenSignal app.

Those measurements are taken wherever users happen to be, whether indoors or out, in a city or in the countryside, representing performance the way users experience it. For more information on how we collect and analyze our data see our methodology page.

For this particular report, 85,334,770 datapoints were collected from 45,149 users during the period: Feb 1st - Apr 30th 2016

All data has been collected from users of the OpenSignal mobile app for Android or iOS.

For every metric we've calculated the statistical confidence interval and plotted this on all of the graphs. When confidence intervals overlap for a certain metric we can't actually be sure which of the overlapping operators has the best performance.

For this reason some metrics have multiple operator winners when we've judged that the data is too close to call a victory.

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