When it comes to LTE reach, TIM Brasil has its competitors beat on two counts. It not only provided our users with 4G signals the most often but also in the most places. TIM rated highest in OpenSignal's 4G coverage experience metric, as our testers were able to find an LTE connection in 74.4% of the places they frequented in a recent three-month test period. That score was more than 7 percentage points higher than TIM's nearest rival Vivo.
Coverage experience is a metric we have in development that provides a unique view of network coverage. While our 4G availability metric examines the percentage of time users are connected to LTE, 4G coverage experience measures the percentage of locations where users can find an LTE connection. The higher the 4G coverage experience score for an operator, the more places consumers can find a faster LTE connection on that operator's network (For more information on coverage experience, see this blog post). For any given operator, availability and coverage can vary substantially, and Brazil certainly provides a great example of this.
For this analysis, we looked at LTE coverage experience for Brazil's four nationwide 4G operators between September and November, 2017, so we could compare those scores to our January Mobile Networks Update report on Brazil. We found that the operators that ranked highest in 4G availability also ranked highest in 4G coverage experience with TIM scoring highest and Oi scoring lowest. That's a good sign for TIM: Not only did we find its 4G service present more often than its competitors' services but also accessible in far more locations.
TIM has been very aggressive in expanding its LTE geographic reach, announcing this year that its 4G services covered more than 3000 municipalities in Brazil. The two coverage experience leaders may have additional incentives to bring their 4G signals to as many places as possible. Both Vivo and TIM launched voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) last year. While those 4G voice services may be confined to large cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Brasilia for now, we have seen operators all over the world use VoLTE as a means of phasing out 2G and 3G voice networks, with a view to re-farming the spectrum for 4G use. If Vivo and TIM have similar ambitions, they'll need to extend their LTE networks to as many places as possible.
As for our last place operator in coverage experience, there's likely a simple reason why Oi is falling short of its rivals in our measurements. Claro, TIM and Vivo have all launched LTE networks in the 700 MHz band, the low frequencies of which are perfect for boosting the range of mobile signals in both urban and rural areas. Oi has built its LTE networks in mid-to high-frequency bands, which puts it at a coverage disadvantage.
Stay tuned as we plan to examine coverage experience in other countries in the coming months. If you're a mobile user in Brazil, feel free to share your thoughts on your 4G service in the comments section below. Do you find our analysis matches your experience on Claro, Movistar, TIM or Vivo?