Opensignal looks at the differences in the overall mobile network experience of our smartphone users in Brazil between urban and rural areas. Our data shows a substantial disparity between rural and urban areas across numerous overall metrics at a national level. There are also staggering differences in rural-urban gaps between Brazilian states, with some states’ rural areas seeing more than 30% slower average download speeds or five to seven times more time spent with no signal than in the cities and towns.
Opensignal performed a comparison between urban and rural areas of Brazil, basing the classification on data from Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. There are pronounced disparities between urban and rural areas of Brazil, in terms of the overall mobile network experience metrics. Our smartphone users see 23.3% slower Download Speed Experience and 30.8% slower Upload Speed Experience in rural areas than in urban ones.
The quality of the overall video streaming experience is also significantly superior in urban areas than in their rural counterparts. Video Experience in Brazil’s cities and towns rates as Fair (48-58) — our users are, on average, able to stream video at 720p or better with satisfactory loading times and substantial stalling. Meanwhile, those in the rural areas see Poor (under 48) video experience.
Looking at the time our users spend connected to 4G or 5G services, there is also a substantial gap between rural and urban areas. While Opensignal users in Brazilian urban areas spend 81.7% of the time connected to 4G or 5G services, this proportion is much lower in the rural areas of the country — 64.2%. 3G connectivity is still prevalent in rural areas of Brazil, with our users in rural areas spending nearly a quarter of their time on 3G networks, on average – compared to nearly 15% in the urban areas. Signal availability poses a great challenge for rural connectivity in Brazil — our smartphone users in rural parts spend 7.3% of the time with no signal, which is 3.4 times more than in the case of Brazilian urban areas. The ratio is higher than in the U.S., where smartphone users in rural areas spend slightly more than twice as much time with no signal than their urban counterparts.
On top of that, our users in Brazil have much more consistent quality of mobile services in the urban areas than in the rural parts — 60.4% compared to 45.8%, respectively. Consistent Quality measures if the network is sufficient to support common mobile application requirements at a level that is ‘good enough’ for users to maintain (or complete) various typical demanding tasks on their devices. To calculate the metric value, the proportion of tests that pass the requirements of Consistent Quality is multiplied by the test success ratio, which is the proportion of completed tests to all tests conducted. Tests that pass indicate that activities such as video calling, uploading an image to social media, or using smart home applications will be possible without noticeable lag or slowdown.
A recent factor behind some of these gaps is the current 5G roll-out strategy that prioritizes urban areas of the country, making access to 5G very limited in the rural parts of Brazil — and more time spent on 5G networks drives up the overall metric scores. Opensignal data shows that mobile networks have been focusing their 5G deployments mainly in the 3.5GHz band, rather than in the 700MHz band which would be more suitable for delivering 5G coverage in less densely popular rural areas. The overwhelming majority of Opensignal 5G readings in Brazil are on the 3.5GHz band (n78) and very rarely are recorded in rural areas. We don’t observe any substantial use of the 700MHz band (n28), unlike in other markets like Thailand.
At a national level, our rural users in Brazil spend 3.4 times as much time with no signal (7.3%) as their peers in urban areas (2.2%). Looking at individual states and territories, the differences are even more startling. In Roraima and Amazonas, time with no signal is more than seven times as high in rural areas than in the urban parts — and it exceeds 20% in rural areas. In Amapá, Acre, and Pará time with no signal in rural areas is more than five times that in urban areas. Distrito Federal sees the lowest relative disparity in time with no signal between its rural and urban areas — only 1.6 times, ahead of São Paulo’s 2.2 times.
While average overall download speeds are nearly a quarter slower in rural areas of Brazil than in the urban parts, at a national level — the picture is much more diverse when comparing Brazilian states. The state of Amazonas sees the biggest disparity between its urban and rural areas, with the latter seeing more than 40% slower average download speeds compared to the urban parts. Rio de Janeiro, Amapá, and São Paulo are among the states with the lowest rural-urban gap, with the rural users in the latter state experiencing only 13.9% slower average download speeds compared to the city users. We have previously analyzed major differences between Brazil’s states when it comes to the proportions of users who struggle with average download speeds lower than 10Mbps.
Looking at differences between urban and rural areas of Brazil’s state — Amazonas, Piauí and Rio Grande do Norte all see staggering gaps of 20 percentage points or higher between rural and urban areas in terms of Consistent Quality. São Paulo observes the lowest disparity between its rural and urban areas, of only 8.3 percentage points, followed by Distrito Federal (10.1 percentage points), where the country’s federal capital Brasília is located.
Thanks to the continuing 5G roll-outs in the 3.5GHz band, Brazil has seen one of the most impressive developments in 5G connectivity worldwide in recent years, making the country one of the regional and global 5G leaders, especially in terms of 5G speeds. However, 5G deployments in Brazil are mainly focused on urban areas, as Brazil is a highly urbanized country, with 87.6% of its population living in the cities and towns. While smartphone users in Brazil’s state capitals enjoy lighting-fast average 5G download and upload speeds — their peers in rural areas have yet to fully experience the benefits of the newest mobile generation and often struggle with the lack of mobile signals.
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