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FIFA 2014 World Cup: Are Brazil's Telecoms Systems Ready for Social Media Overload?

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First Posted: Jun 11, 2014 08:28 AM EDT
FIFA 2014 World Cup Brazil
(Photo : Getty)

Brazil has been preparing for the FIFA 2014 World Cup, after hosting the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013, and while continuing to prepare for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games. That's a lot to handle — is Brazil ready for kickoff this week?

There are several technological fronts along which Brazil has been preparing for the FIFA 2014 World Cup: Wireless connectivity, mobile data, security, and, of course, building the stadiums to house the most-watched sporting event in the world. But, especially because of the rising standard of technological sophistication in mobile communications now required of such big events, Brazil is under quite a crunch to officially be ready for the month-long event.

Connectivity: Not All Stadiums Have Equal Wi-Fi, Wireless

The upcoming FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil has been predicted to "undoubtedly be the most social World Cup ever and probably the most social event in history," according to an Adidas executive who spoke to the Hollywood Reporter. And for good reason. Compared to 2010, when social media was already huge, we're now more connected than ever. And besides the traffic from advertising, a lot of attendees in Brazil will want to tweet or post about their favorite moments.

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But will they be able to? It depends on where they are, and how much sharing they plan to do. According to EFE (posted on Fox News Latino), only 6 out of the 12 World Cup stadiums in Brazil will have Wi-Fi for fans to use the Internet. That undoubtedly will relieve some pressure on Brazilian telecoms, whose 2G, 3G, and 4G networks will be tested to the max, but it's half of what leaders promised.

If you're watching matches in Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Salvador, Manaus, Cuiaba, and of course Rio De Janeiro, you'll likely be able to get some of your posts out on the Internet. But if you're at stadiums in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Curibita, Natal, or Fortaleza, your options for connectivity are basically up to local telecoms.

All 12 stadiums together will have a little more than of 3,700 cell stations for voice and data, using the same technology that the U.K. deployed for the London Olympics, according to EFE, and that maxes out to about 300,000 voice calls simultaneously at each stadium, but only if you're only talking for about 2.4 minutes — and the number of stations at each stadium will vary.

Some positive news for Brazil though: in Rio's Maracana Stadium, there's a system in place that will supposedly allow for all 75,000 fans in the stands to make up to 515,000 voice calls and 48,000 Internet connections simultaneously within any hour period.


Still, even FIFA is urging caution and patience for those attending. "We've learned from the Confederations Cup, and put specific trucks outside the stadium to enhance the connectivity," said Thierry Weil, FIFA's marketing director to the AP. "But at the end of the day, to be honest, having 70,000 in a stadium, where everybody wants to make a phone call at halftime, well, I'd say you better talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend ahead of the game."

Roaming Wireless Could Kill Your Wallet

But for those outside of the main hubs of connectivity, impressive though they may be, mobile data researchers are warning attendees that they may rack up some impressively terrible data and roaming charges on their mobile phones. According to the Telegraph, uSwitch.com is warning that football fans are at risk of spending £486 pounds (that's over $800 American) per day on roaming data, calls, video, and texts. That comes from a breakdown of costs where the average 1MB of mobile internet data in Brazil, across carriers EE, O2, and Vodafone, run an average of £5 (more than $8).

Those are the worst possible charges, but other extra charges for making and receiving calls out of country (averaging $2 to over $3 per minute, depending) sending text messages, and other common cellphone activities can really build up. There are some ways around the problem, like pre and post-paid bundled plans specifically for World Cup fans in Brazil, but some technological austerity is probably the best course of action for most fans.

Wireless Probably Won't Be That Great Anyway

Another reason for cutting back on the usual smartphone use is to avoid frustration. No matter what preparations they've made for the World Cup, Brazil's telecommunications systems will not be as robust, fast, or responsive as what most travelling football fans are used to.


While hoping for the best, some experts, according to the AP, are worried about possible network blackouts. Voice calls may drop out of nowhere, and the Internet will be very slow, no matter what plans you cleverly adopt for your travel communications.

It's just a matter that Brazil, while being one of the leaders of the fast-accelerating Latin American technology and Internet adoption, is still very much developing its Internet capability. "World Cup visitors won't be able to communicate the way they want to," said Christopher Gaffney, a visiting professor at Federal Fluminense University who's an expert on Brazil's World Cup and Olympics preparations, to the AP. "Instagram, Twitter, social media will not function at world class levels but at Brazilian levels, so people visiting Brazil will experience the frustrations we face every day."

Brazilian telecoms have more investing to do in their data networks' infrastructure, and that's a long-term problem, not something that can be readied in a month or years' time. When 1 million people went to Copacabana for the Pope's first visit last year, wireless networks simply crashed under the weight of so many connections. With an influx of hundreds of thousands of World Cup travelers, added to the hundreds of millions of Brazilians, expect some communications problems.

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