SAN FRANCISCO Ė The eyes of soccer fans around the globe will be on Brazil June 12 when at least 3.7 million people descend on the country for the World Cup. A race is on to deploy new networks to ensure the influx of fans will be able to get on the mobile web, but the outcome is still uncertain.
A total of 64 matches will be held in 12 cities in new or redeveloped stadiums. Six of 12 total stadiums are still undergoing WiFi and 4G network testing -- and two are still under construction. In what may be a sign of the intensity of the race to meet deadlines, several workers have died in construction accidents.
In part to help accommodate the extra mobile traffic, Brazil's regulating telecom agency, Anatel, mandated that host cities with over 500,000 people must support universal 4G coverage by May 31, 2014. Carriers that don't meet the deadline will lose their licenses.
With 268 million subscribers, Brazil has the fifth-most mobile phone users in the world, Bloomberg reported. Observers expect existing 3G infrastructure won't be adequate to handle the millions of fans.
Estadio Nacional in the capital city of Brasilia.
That's one reason why the Brazilian government used the convergence of three events -- last year's Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Olympics -- to push for deploying 4G networks. The decision raised broad questions about whether Brazil is serving its urban elites at the expense of its rural poor. But in the last days before the World Cup opens, the focus now has turned to tactical concerns on the technical barriers, government red tape, and construction delays with its 4G ramp.
"They are focusing on public places -- airports and stadiums, main streets, major cities," Bob Calaff, Latin America and Caribbean director for the 4G Americas trade group, told EE Times. Travelers using 4G in World Cup venues are likely to get reasonable coverage but "in the city the network could be crushed because of traffic."