Brazilians and foreigners alike can attest to the fact that getting a strong, consistent mobile network signal in the country is not always an easy task, especially when moving away from the large city centers. Even in huge cities, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador it is not uncommon to come across certain regions, or even certain buildings, in which signal quality drops below acceptable usage levels.
The issue of unreliable mobile networks has to do with a multitude of factors. Brazil is indeed a huge country, and covering every region with well functioning mobile networks is a hard task even for the largest carriers. These companies are actually required by the country’s regulatory agencies to apply a part of their investment to the installation of infrastructure in remote, less lucrative areas. This might be partly responsible for the little investment applied to the expansion of network capacity in big city centers.
Large Brazilian cities require high-capacity networks due to the high density of mobile device users. Not only that, concrete based constructions are very common and are another hindrance for high-frequency mobile signals. With sales of smartphones still increasing and subscription of mobile data plans at an all time high, mobile network users might come to the conclusion that congestion should only get worse in the future and signal quality will be as hard to come by as ever. Yet, some recent government initiatives suggest the other way around.
Regulation for Antennas in Brazil
Brazilian regulation for the installation of telecommunication services antennas has for some years been one of the main causes for the lacking mobile network quality found in the country, due to the slow, highly bureaucratic process required. Simply put, there are very few base stations covering Brazilian users. Some recent statistics suggest that there are close to 60,000 telecommunication antennas in the entire country, which is less than what is found in the city of Tokyo.
In the past, carriers and telecommunication companies depended on the approval by multiple municipality government departments for the installation of any type of mobile networks antennas. The process could take up to over a year and required the payment of burdening taxes, resulting in the operators being dissuaded to apply substantial investment to the improvement of mobile networks in big city centers where they were already established.
In April 2015, Brazilian president Dilma Roussef approved new regulatory measures designed to facilitate the installation of mobile network antennas in the country, by taking out a substantial portion of the bureaucracy and taxes previously required. According to the new regulation, municipality governments are given a maximum of 60 days to inspect and approve the installation of this equipment.
Back in January 2015, the president had already approved a substantial cutback on tax for Small Cell radio bases with up to 10W of power. Small Cells should be especially useful for the clogged Brazilian city network due to the improvement it brings to the reception of telecommunications signals over smaller areas. Combined, these measures should promote the purchase and installation of telecommunication antennas in the country over the next few years.
Recent Investments and Partnerships
Following the announcement of the tax exemptions for Small Cells equipment, some of the largest carriers in Brazil have announced plans to install these transmitters and bring improvements to the quality of mobile networks in general to some regions of the country.
This is the case of carrier TIM, which in May 2015 announced a partnership with Copel, the state-controlled energy provider in the state of Paraná, for the installation of Small Cells in their light posts. The mobile operator plans to activate over 100 antennas in the state capital Curitiba in a period of just a few weeks, effectively doubling the number of radio bases of an infrastructure that took 15 years to be established.
With the approach of large events such as the 2016 Olympic Games and the decrease in taxes for the purchase of this equipment, the market for Small Cells and radio bases is expected to grow significantly in Brazil, driven by carriers’ investment in improving the quality of mobile networks.