Brazil launches 4G network, smartphone options scant

Brazil launches 4G network, smartphone options scant

Summary: One of the major emerging markets has launched 4G wireless ahead of the 2014' World Cup — what is expected to be a major boon to Brazil's economy. But smartphone options are limited and therefore knocks out the lower class majority.


Brazil has launched its new 4G wireless network across parts of the country, but there are less than a dozen smartphones on the market that are able to hook up to the super-fast network.

The problem isn't just with the devices not supporting the network, per se, but also the network that won't support the devices. 

Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Image: Nicolas de Camaret/Flickr)

Only a handful of devices, from BlackBerry, Samsung, LG and Sony, are able to connect to the new 4G network due to an incompatibility with the frequency of the wireless spectrum.

Even Apple's iPhone 5, which is on sale in the country, will not connect to the 4G network because it isn't compatible with the 2.5GHz frequency used by the 4G network.

In all, only 11 4G-enabled devices are ready to connect to the new network, all of which are high-end devices. According to Reuters, this compares with more than 260 devices worldwide that come with the next-generation technology.

This means only those more economically viable are able to buy the 4G-enabled smartphones while the bulk of the Brazilian population are left using the overworked, over-subscribed 3G networks.

World Cup on deck for 2014: Developing to developed nation?

A 4G network is crucial for Brazil, not only ahead of the 2014 World Cup, which will bring in vital trade and tourism to the country, but also to help boost the country's overall economy. 

4G networks can accommodate far more wireless subscribers with a lesser burden on the existing 2G, EDGE and 3G infrastructure, which can handle only so much traffic.

Brazil remains a BRIC nation — Russia, India, and China are also considered the next major developing and emerging economies — and many tech companies are focusing their assets on bringing technology to a vastly under appreciated market.

The country's 3G networks are already stretched due to a massive uptick in mobile communications in the country.

According to the Brazilian telecoms regulator Anatel, the country had 264 million active wireless connections at the end of March. For reference, this accounts for 133 lines per 100 inhabitants, suggesting most people had more than one device.

Out of this, 211.4 million connections were on prepaid while 52.7 million were postpaid, showing a massive disparity between those who pay-as-you-go and those with fixed long-term contracts, suggesting a higher income bracket. 

But the figures show that just 68.3 million people had their PCs, tablets and devices hooked up to the 3G data networks, however.

IDC figures show that Brazil is set to become the fifth largest smartphone market this year, behind China, the U.S., the U.K. and Japan, with around 28 million new devices sold. However, Brazil's telecoms regulator expects only four million 4G devices to be sold this year. 

A lot of what happens next depends on the smartphone manufacturers.

Apple did not say whether or not it will offer a 4G version of the iPhone 5 in Brazil — possibly due to rumors of a emerging market device on deck for later this year. Samsung will launch a bevy of new devices to pick up the Apple slack, and BlackBerry will launch its 4G compatible Z10 and Q10 devices later this year.

LG and Sony are expected to launch higher-end devices in the country later this year, although timing remains vague. 

(Via Reuters)

Topics: 4G, Emerging Tech, Smartphones

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  • Good news for Brazil in the long term

    But bad news for iPhone adoption and for the traditional PC market there. You've now got a situation where the only folks who can afford iPhones will be drawn towards the higher data speeds and the devices capable of supporting such speeds...all at the expense of the iPhone.

    FTA- "According to the Brazilian telecoms regulator Anatel, the country had 264 million active wireless connections at the end of March. For reference, this accounts for 133 lines per 100 inhabitants, suggesting most people had more than one device."

    Actually, this doesn't necessarily mean that most are using more than one device. In many developing countries, phones supporting dual sims are commonly available - from feature phones to (more recently) lower end Androids. These allow folks in these countries to use two competing telecom services from one phone.
  • Low coverage is also a problem

    Sorry for having come late to this post, Zack, but there is another problem, one that was widely publicised and gave some very bad publicity for 4G here in Brazil: the coverage. Operators rushed to meet Anatel's deadline to have the service operating and be able to keep it, and they did a crappy job with it. 4G coverage is restricted to only a few districts of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, and some other major cities. A prominent consumer rights organisation advised consumers not to go 4G yet, and this hit all the newspapers' front pages. On-line forums are full of users complaining of the bad quality of 3G services and the low coverage in smaller cities and peripheral areas of major ones, and they all complain that operators should improve 3G first before investing in 4G.

    The good side is that it's also an unintended consequence of the country having so fully embraced mobile communications that it surpassed the operators' wildest dreams - and their investment plans as well, completely overloading the system. Anatel has been tough on operators and increasingly demanding more and better service and coverage, the public is also vigilant, and the trend is for things to improve in the mid- to long-term.