Brazil making rapid 5G progress but challenges remain on the horizon


According to statements from the National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel)’s president Carlos Baigorri, standalone 5G coverage now reaches almost 46% of the country’s population

Brazil’s road to 5G has been a bumpy one, full of delays, regulatory clashes, and spectrum clearing issues.

But now, just over one year since standalone 5G services were first switched on in the nation’s capital of Brasilia, the nation’s mobile network operators are surging ahead with their infrastructure deployments, with coverage reportedly now reaching almost 46% of the country’s population.

According to figures published by Brazilian consultancy firm Teleco, population coverage for 5G in the 3.5GHz band reached 45.7%, with Vivo covering 40.2%, Claro 39.7%, TIM Brasil 36.8%, and Algar 0.7%.

This encompasses 180 municipalities around the country as of July, up from just eight the same time last year.

The coverage has been achieved via the deployment of 14,796 5G base stations, almost a thousand of which had been deployed between June and July this year.

Achieving this level of coverage in such a short span of time is no small feat. The GSMA recently forecast that Brazil would only reach 47% population coverage by 2025, increasing to 84% by 2030, hence the country is already proceeding far faster than anticipated.

In the same report, the GSMA expected 5G subscribers to increase to 36.2 million by 2025 and 179 million by 2030. As of July, the country currently has just over 10 million 5G subscribers.

“The growing coverage of 5G networks in Brazil should drive take-up of the service, which accounted for around 3% of connections at the end of 2022. 5G adoption will also be supported by the increased availability of 5G smartphones. For example, TIM claimed in September 2022 that 75% of devices on sale in its stores were 5G-ready,” read the GSMA report.

Naturally, this is all very positive for the Brazilian mobile sector, reflecting a group of operators highly committed to modernising their networks and unlocking new services for customers.

Whether the operators can maintain the pace of this rollout, however, is a different story. As is always the case with infrastructure deployments, the most commercially viable areas – typically the largest cities – will be covered first, typically leaving more expensive and complicated hard-to-reach areas for last. Extending 5G coverage to these areas economically represents a challenge even in highly urbanised countries, but in Brazil – where various estimates put the rural population at between 24% and 46% of the total population – reaching the upper percentiles of population coverage will be almost impossible.

In addition to this rural challenge, it is also worth noting that Brazil is notorious for its outdated municipal legislation, which can lead to delays in deploying antennae even in some of the country’s largest cities. Operators have long called for clearer and more uniform rules regarding site deployment, but it is unlikely legislation will be introduced in time to simply the majority of the 5G rollout process.

To conclude, great progress so far for Brazilian 5G, but there are still many challenges to overcome down the road.

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