As Brazilians take on the streets in what has become the biggest wave of anti-government protests in the country for a generation, mobile phone service "blackouts" were experienced in several locations where demos took place.
The incidents raised further questions around the unpreparedness of operators to cater for large events. In São Paulo, for example, the 3G network coverage dropped at the starting point of the latest large protest, affecting several thousand participants.
Three of the biggest mobile operators in the country — Claro, Tim, and Vivo — told technology website Olhar Digital that the issues were due to the number of users simultaneously accessing the network in the same area. But issues were also faced in other places where the number of protesters was not nearly as huge as in São Paulo: Technology blog Tecmundo reported that in Curitiba, a much smaller capital, many users were also struggling to make calls, send text messages, or access the web.
The incident even sparked rumors that the military police had been using signal blockers to deliberately create communication problems for the protesters, who could not contact their peers or post content about the events online.
To work around the lack of connectivity, protesters who could get intermittent access to the web began to ask people who live or work in the area to open up access to their wi-fi networks. A collaborative map also helped protesters find open wi-fi hotspots.
Conspiracy theories aside, the mobile coverage "blackouts" highlight a problem that is just not showing signs of improvement.Mobile telephony in Brazil is not only among the most expensive in the world, but also plain inefficient; I am constantly reminded of that when my signal drops during a phone call, when I get my service interrupted for hours for no reason at all, when I have to pay roaming charges for making calls within the same state where I am based. The list goes on.
Since we are protesting about all the problems Brazil has been sweeping under the carpet for years, how about we add that to the list? Because I am personally tired about paying a fortune for a service I just don't get — and I'm sure many Brazilians will agree with me.