Brazil is a country not only of big natural landscapes but also of humongous cities. It lays claim to more than a dozen metropoles with over a 1 million residents — and a lot of those folks have 4G smartphones. We decided to take a look at how Brazil's biggest cities compared in our LTE metrics, and the results may be a bit surprising. The mega-cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo weren't the leaders in our 4G availability and 4G speed measurements.
Let's start first with 4G availability, which has been something of a problem area for Brazil. Compared to its big South American neighbors, Brazil has always fared poorly in 4G reach. In our last report on Brazil, only a single operator, TIM, was able to provide our users with an LTE connection more than 70% of the time. Luckily for urban Brazilians, mobile broadband signals are much more accessible in the big cities than it is in the country at large. The top 14 cities by population all had 4G availability scores greater than 73% across all operators.
The best availability score went to the apex of Brazil's Golden Triangle, Belo Horizonte. It was the only city with 4G availability over 80%. Brazil's northern and midwestern conurbations also did well. Manaus, Recife and Salvador along with capital Brasília and nearby Goiânia all scored above 77% in this metric. Of Brazil's two biggest cities, São Paulo landed in the middle of our chart, while Rio de Janeiro had the lowest 4G availability of the 14 cities.
It's not that the level of 4G access in Rio is bad — the Cidade Maravilhosa scored well above Brazil's national 4G availability average of 66.8%, but other cities clearly have the edge on it when it comes to the prevalence of 4G connections. Things could be set to improve in Rio in the coming months, though, as new networks built on low-frequency spectrum come to bear. Claro, TIM and Vivo have been rolling out 4G services across the 700 MHz band for over a year now. That spectrum has excellent propagation, allowing LTE signals to travel greater distances and penetrate further into buildings. Consequently 4G availability across Brazil has been climbing steadily in our recent reports. But Rio and fellow mega-city São Paulo have had to wait for their 700 MHz upgrades. Operators finally announced their 700 MHz launches in Rio in May and June, which means we're likely to see a boost in 4G availability in our measurements in the coming months. Brazil's largest city may also see an uptick in this metric as operators launch 700 MHz in São Paulo.
In 4G speed, we saw a big difference between fastest and slowest in our list of 14. The fastest city, Porto Alegre in Brazil's far south, had 4G download speeds nearly twice as fast as the slowest city, Amazonia's Manaus. Brasilia came in second in 4G download speed and it tied with Porto Alegre for the lead in 4G upload speed, meaning politicians and policy wonks should have little trouble remaining connected with their constituents.
The stellar 4G availability performance we saw in Brazil's northern cities wasn't repeated in our 4G speed metrics. Manaus, Belém, Fortaleza, Recife and Salvador all fell below the Brazil-wide 4G download average of 18.7 Mbps and the 4G upload average of 6.8 Mbps. In the Golden Triangle, Rio and Belo managed to beat the national score, both averaging download speeds greater than 19 Mbps, but São Paulo fell just shy of the mark.
If you're a 4G user in one Brazil's major cities, we'd love to hear about your experiences with 4G speed and availability. Tell us about them in the comments section below.