Overcoming Telecommunication Challenges in Brazil

Published: 10 Sep 2015

Last Updated: 10 Sep 2015

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Communicating by voice and video is essential, however communication in areas where traditional cellular and fixed line infrastructure are not commonly available can be challenging. In this article we look at cellular network coverage within Brazil and investigate what alternatives are available when cellular or fixed line communications are not readily available – a common problem in rural areas of Brazil.

Mobile Network Coverage in Brazil

Over recent years, mobile carriers led the rapid expansion of telecommunication services in Brazil. They significantly improved the quality and coverage of voice and data networks offered to the population. While the country experiences an unprecedented expansion of telecommunication services, some of its physical, political, and economic characteristics hamper the coverage of public networks. This creates significant challenges to a number of public services and relevant sectors of the Brazilian economy.

The most recent statistics regarding the expansion of telecommunications and mobile network technologies in Brazil present inspiring results. For example, data from Anatel, the Brazilian Telecommunications Agency, indicates that in 2014 the demand for LTE network connections increased 400%, reaching over 6,7 million users.

This data does not, however, address the highly limited area of coverage for these networks in some regions of the country. As of June 2015, one of the largest states of Brazil, Pará, had less than 2000 antennas installed while, for the sake of comparison, the state of São Paulo had 18000 of these antennas installed, and the relatively small state of Rio de Janeiro had 8000 antennas. Even inside the more densely populated cities in these states, it is possible to find areas with a lack of coverage for mobile networks, which challenges the functioning of crucial public services and private operations.

The expansion of telecommunication services in Brazil was carried out by mobile operators in conjunction with government agencies. They were tasked with assuring a significant portion of the population would be offered these services, as rapidly as possible. This strategy meant that some sectors of the Brazilian economy, whose operations were not directly linked to urban areas, like agriculture and mineral extraction, had a significant handicap in terms of availability of telecommunication services. Therefore, telecommunication needs which are not driven by population require alternative technologies, such as satellite transmissions.

Brazilian Territory and Economy Sectors

The nature of Brazilian territory, especially land mass size and the large pockets of unpopulated and densely vegetated areas, creates significant impediments to the expansion in coverage of telecommunication services. The country’s broadband backbone has only recently been expanded to regions far from the highly populated South-eastern and Southern states. It still only reaches limited portions of these areas.

A large share of the country’s economy is based on activities that take place in these less populated, rural and remote areas. Activities such as border security and energy development would greatly benefit from high quality telecommunication services.

Mineral Extraction

In recent years mining facilities in Brazil have become highly complex operations, where quality communications play a crucial role in coordination and efficiency. Brazil is one of the leading global mineral extractors. These commodities represented 23,5% of Brazilian exports in 2013 and should remain relevant in the longer term, due to the unmatched size of the country’s natural reserves of minerals like iron, bauxite and niobium.

In 2010, there were 159 large mines in Brazil, extracting over one million tons of material per year. Some of these are located at remote areas in the states of Pará and Rio Grande do Norte. These are regions where mobile broadband networks have highly limited coverage and would benefit from the adoption of high quality communication technologies such as satellite.

Satellite communication offers users effective voice and data communication in the most remote locations; however it is more expensive to operate than landline and mobile networks. To reduce the cost, users optimise voice calls and accelerate data communications. Optimization enhances voice call quality and increases video performance, while data acceleration reduces the time it takes for web traffic to be transmitted. Optimization technologies also provide significant savings on chargeable bandwidth usage, keeping costs to a minimum.

Example of Typical Bandwidth savings using optimized voice technologies.

Military and Security

The Law Enforcement sector is also in need of improved telecommunication services. The Brazilian population and private sectors rely on police forces to guarantee public safety across both urbanized and rural areas. Moreover, the country’s military forces are playing an increasingly important role in surveillance of the country’s borders in remote areas like the Amazon forest, where issues of drug trafficking, illegal deforestation and entrance of counterfeit products are being addressed.

Police Forces in states such as São Paulo and across much of the country make use of radio systems that integrate law enforcement organizations into a single radio channel. However, this is not the case for remote regions, where a diverse range of communication types are used including radio, landlines and mobile phones.

This use of multiple communication technologies presents a number of challenges. For example, the use of radio systems traditionally meant having a closed communication system, requiring all users to use identical radio handsets in order to communicate. In remote regions, however there is often a requirement for users of radio systems to be able to communicate with colleagues who do not have access to radio handsets. This may include a need to be able to communicate with mobile phone users located offsite, or with a command and control center located beyond the range of the radio system.

Radio over IP (RoIP) technology enables radio users to communicate securely with other radio channels, third party systems such as Voice over IP (VoIP) systems, conventional telephone systems and even mobile phone users.

Example of integrated RoIP System

This integrated approach provides a unified communication system across an organisation, regardless of where the user is located or what handset they use to communicate with each other.

Alternative Telecommunication Solutions for Remote Areas

The telecom network providers are investing heavily in expanding their networks, however their expansion plans are often based around more densely populated areas. There is no doubt that where the telecom networks are available, they often offer a simple solution. However, when those networks are not available or where a more unified communication approach is desired, organisations can expand their communications with the effective use of multiple technologies including radio and optimized satellite transmissions.

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Article Author

Marcelo Teixeira

Marcelo Teixeira