4G only works half the time in Brazil

Nationwide progress has been slow -- but things are looking brighter in Olympics host city Rio de Janeiro, according to a recent study.

Progress on 4G availability in Brazil has been slow and users are only able to find a signal about half the time, according to a study by research firm OpenSignal.

A year ago, 4G users on all four main operators in the country could find an LTE signal just 50 percent of the time, according to the paper, which measures mobile broadband connections nationwide.

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Of all the providers, Portugal Telecom's Oi, who filed for bankruptcy protection last month, fell short of this mark (47.4 percent), while Telecom Italia's TIM and Telefónica's Vivo achieved respective scores of 56.2 percent and 56.8 percent. América Móvil-owned Claro provided a 4G connection 52.9 percent of the time.

However, things are looking brighter in Rio de Janeiro, according to the study. The Olympics host city received a mobile boost ahead of the sporting events and 4G signals are significantly more widespread than nationwide.

In Rio, Vivo tops the 4G ranking with availability at 73.4 percent, followed by Nextel (who only offers LTE in Rio and São Paulo) at 77.8 percent. TIM and Claro follow with averages of 65.6 percent and 62.6 percent respectively, with Oi at the bottom of the list, providing a 4G signal just 43.8 percent of the time in Rio.

According to the study, poor 4G signal availability in Brazil is partly due to underinvestment by local telco providers in relation to other countries.

However, the study notes that there are reasons to be hopeful, as Brazilian users will get a boost in capacity and speeds as operators deploy LTE-Advanced networks. Examples are the high-powered networks rolled out in the city of Rio Verde in the center-west region of Brazil by operators Claro and TIM, using new 700 MHz TV frequencies acquired at a 2014 auction.

"These new networks will not only increase data performance, but they could also improve 4G coverage and availability," the study points out.

"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."

Currently, Brazil is faring worse than other Latin American countries in terms of 4G connectivity, such as Uruguay, where according to OpenSignal availability is at 81 percent, Peru (66 percent), Mexico and Bolivia (61 percent), and Colombia (59 percent).

The region is also lagging far behind the top ranking countries in 4G provision, South Korea (with 97 percent availability) and Japan (90 percent).