Brazilian Telecoms Go LTE-A, Rural
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  • SAN FRANCISCO — With the World Cup well underway, soccer fans and telecom companies are testing 4G infrastructure mandated by the Brazilian government to handle massive user increases. Officials are optimistic about the strength of wireless networks and, despite delays, are moving forward with LTE rollout.

    “Operators have invested heavily and, in their mind, are ready for the games,” says Chris Pearson, president of the 4G Americas trade group. “It’s not an easy task being ready for what is considered the largest sporting event in the world.”

    In preparation for the games -- which began June 12 and will be held in 12 stadiums around the country -- regulating telecom agency Anatel mandated that host cities with more than 500,000 people must support universal 4G coverage by May 31, 2014. Telecom operators have since installed 164 miles of fiber in the stadiums, 3,700 antennas for 2G, 3G, and 4G access, and 1,014 WiFi antennas, at a cost of US$226 million.

    Due to construction delays, six of the stadiums won’t have WiFi, which was seen as key to offloading mobile data usage on traditional networks. Storage vendor NetApp estimated that the final match may generate 12.6 terabytes of traffic.

    “We know everyone in those stadiums… is going to want to share the moment and send the moment, which increases the congestion on that network,” Pearson says. “Operators are using pretty much every tool in the toolkit. They’re using the antennas, they’re using some [distributed antenna systems], and small cells.”

    According to telecom union SindiTelebrasil, attendees at the opening game in S?o Paulo, which also experienced construction delays, had 135,000 cellphone calls and more than 1 million data communications with an average size of 0.55 MBytes. The largest volume of data traffic was concentrated in 3G, “which had traffic spikes and momentary congestion.” 3G use was highest between 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., with Internet connections peaking shortly before and during the opening ceremony.

    “The 4G technology also showed a significant use,” the SindiTelebrasil report stated. “During this period of [1 to 8 p.m.], 285,000 data communications were made by 4G networks, which represented 26% of total data traffic."

    Rollout rolls on

    The deadlines continue for wireless and telecom infrastructure rollout, with cities of over 200,000 people to be covered by Dec. 31, 2015, and those with over 100,000 residents having 4G coverage by Dec. 31, 2016. Those municipalities must have 80% 4G coverage, Anatel head of international affairs Jeferson Fued Nacif told EE Times.

    “The occurrence of mass concentration of mobile users in one location… may result in temporary problems in the enjoyment of the service,” an Anatel report reads. “There is need, therefore, that the providers… estimate the demand of future events to meet their satisfaction.”

    Following the World Cup, carriers will work to deploy in host cities LTE-Advanced, an upgrade of LTE supporting carrier aggregation. Brazil is already investing in the “beginning stages of LTE-A,” Pearson told us, adding that he expects existing networks to have advanced capabilities by the 2016 Olympics.

    “Over time, we will see upgraded networks, and the Olympics will be another juggernaut of mobile broadband,” he said. “Mobile broadband is increasing, and connections to the Internet via mobile devices exceed those of fixed. You will see a gradual increase because of LTE being available in more coverage areas in the country of Brazil as well as the rest of the region.”

    Before LTE-A can gain traction, says Pearson, more radio spectrum needs to be brought to market. While the government may auction parts of the 700 MHz band to mobile carriers, military use of that spectrum may negate its potential for consumer use.

    At the same time, Anatel is advocating for strengthened 3G service in urban and rural areas. Anatel expects at least 60% of municipalities with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants to have access to 3G by April 2016, which may be a more realistic use case than 4G.

    A large number of Brazilians may continue to use 2G and 3G phones. Developing or importing high-end, LTE-A capable phones is difficult.

    Brazil’s import tariffs for cellphones and telecommunications equipment are extremely high, a document from the US Trade Representative stated. Brazil’s tariffs are often significantly higher than those of other countries in the customs union Mercosur.

    “Brazil’s import tax rate is really high, more than 80%, so the penetration rate of smartphone use is very low,” says Henry Woo, a partner in venture capital firm JB Plus, who spends half the year in Brazil. “Brazil is kind of bipolar with a very rich group and a very poor group, so maybe people try to buy a smartphone but have to put up three months’ salary to buy it.”

    Rural deployment

    Approximately 20% of Brazil’s population lives in cities with 30,000 to 100,000 residents; those areas are required to have 4G coverage by December 2017. Although there haven’t been recent updates, Pearson says operators expect to cover 30% of rural markets with expanded wireless and telecom infrastructure by June 30 and cover 60% of the area by the end of the World Cup.

    Vendors have been working to bring telecom services to rural areas as part of Brazil’s nationwide 4G rollout. Freescale Semiconductor is collaborating with CPqD, Brazil’s largest telecommunications research and development center, to deploy 450 MHz LTE solutions based on Freescale’s QorIQ Qonverge base-station-on-chip processors.

    “Hosting three of the most widely anticipated events in the world in less than 36 months is a daunting task, but one that presents unprecedented opportunities to invest in world-class communications infrastructure that will benefit Brazil for years to come,” Fabrício Lira Figueiredo, CPqD wireless communications division manager, said in a press release.

    The companies will use an outdoor pico cell SoC -- a device that typically covers a small area such as an office -- to cover between 32 and 100 users within a 20 kilometer range. The small cells will support a higher output power and coverage than the typical pico cell, Freescale’s Jeff Steinheider says.

    “It’s like a macro deployment to drive coverage in these areas where there’s not necessarily heavy use. We’re trying to get communications out to schools in rural areas, in places where communication hasn’t been available, broadband or even voice.”

    While the 450 MHz devices will not be as fast as urban 4G, Steinheider says the frequency will propagate further to create a “broader umbrella of coverage for users who might not have as much need for higher broadband services.”

    In the meantime, groups can focus on major issues such as rural base station power consumption. Power efficiency is very important in rural areas where the grid isn’t fully available yet, according to Steinheider.

    “A lot of that comes to design and using a pico cell chip to help reduce power consumption of the system. The typical pico cell is low power but not particularly suited for wide range, which would require more power. CPqD is working with software to make that range longer.”

    Backhauling basestation capacity to the core network without a wireline network may be essential, Steinheider notes, adding that Freescale isn’t involved in this area. The most popular backhaul method today is microwave point-to-point technologies, which consume more power on the small cell system.

    “There’s probably not one perfect answer for all situations. As you add microwave links, you’re adding more power to the system, which isn’t ideal,” he says. “Otherwise you’re looking at a more expensive satellite solution, which quickly becomes cost prohibitive.”

    Reliability will be paramount once power-efficient, long-range systems are developed. Accessing rural base stations for tests or repairs can be difficult, so compliance testing becomes key.

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