Brazil has traditionally been mid-ranked among Latin American countries for 4G Availability. But this has changed significantly since Anatel’s resolution to change the use of the 700 MHz band from analog TV to mobile broadband. The distinctive features of this band, unlike higher frequency bands, is that it allows greater penetration and wider propagation and generally boosts the ease of user access to 4G networks. And the most obvious impact has been on 4G Availability — the proportion of time 4G users spent connected to 4G services.
In this insight, we take a second look at the 4G Availability experienced by our users in Brazil’s top 10 cities, based on a combined score for all operators that offer 4G services in those metros. Our analysis shows that over the past year, since Q3 2019, 4G networks in Brazil have continued to progress towards maturity. During this period, the national 4G Availability of our Brazillian users grew by 4.5 percentage points to 79.9%, while those in the top 10 cities reported uneven growth on this measure, ranging between one and 4.8 percentage points.
Our users saw the largest 4G Availability improvement in the capital city of Brasília — an increase of 4.8 percentage points — followed by users in Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza, who reported gains of 2.1 to 2.8 percentage points. Meanwhile, their peers in Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo reported a surge of less than two percentage points in their 4G Availability scores. Porto Alegre saw the smallest growth of just about one percentage point.
That said, among these ten cities, our users in Belo Horizonte enjoyed the highest 4G Availability of 91%. Fortaleza and Manaus were close behind, with scores less than one percent shy of the 90% milestone, along with Recife (88.9%) and Salvador (88.5%) with scores averaging just below 89%.
On the other hand, Brasília moved from the bottom half of the list towards the middle, breaking through the 85% milestone with a score of 87.3% due to the significant improvement observed by our users. São Paulo also surpassed the 85% mark with a score of 85.9 points, while Curitiba missed the same by 0.2 percentage points. Rio de Janeiro remained at the bottom of the list with a score of 82.6%. It was noteworthy that users in all ten cities observed 4G Availability well above the national average of 79.9%.
This data indicates that Brazil’s 4G networks are approaching maturity. However, a stark difference remains in the 4G Availability experienced by our users based on their choice of the operator network. In Opensignal’s most recent Mobile Network Experience report on Brazil, we found TIM's national 4G Availability score was a remarkable 88.2% — over 8.5 percentage points ahead of its main rivals Claro (79%) and Vivo (79.5%), and 18 points ahead of last-placed Oi (70.2).
There are different ways to measure the extent or coverage of a mobile network. One of these is to consider the amount of time users spend connected. Opensignal’s 4G Availability measures the proportion of time our users with a 4G device and subscription are able to have a 4G network connection in all of the places they visit, indoors or outdoors, in public locations or in homes or offices, and across all hours of the day.
So when we say that TIM has a 4G Availability score of 88.2%, that means our 4G users on TIM’s network were able to connect to 4G services 88.2% of the time. 4G Availability, therefore, represents when real users have a 4G connection, rather than where — providing a far more useful reflection of the true mobile user experience.
As operators continue to roll out their next-generation networks, it will be interesting to see how the competition shapes up, as the existing 4G networks will remain an essential foundation for a smooth nationwide transition to 5G.
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