Underprepared stadiums starve World Cup fans of Internet fix

SAO PAULO, June 17 Tue Jun 17, 2014 3:28pm EDT

SAO PAULO, June 17 (Reuters) - Brazilian stadiums finished just before the World Cup are holding up fine with near-capacity crowds but their cell phone networks show signs of buckling under the load.

In the six stadiums delivered this year, fans have been able to send and receive just half as many photos, emails, social network updates and other mobile data as at the other half dozen tournament venues, according to an industry report released on Tuesday.

The six stadiums that were ready for a warm-up tournament in Brazil last year received public wifi networks that help to offload data traffic from congested cell networks, according to industry group SindiTeleBrasil.

As a result, data traffic per person at those better-prepared stadiums has been twice as high around World Cup games, according to a Reuters analysis of the association's data.

The sluggish data service at the remaining arenas, all of which were delivered after a December deadline, highlights the cost of Brazil's rushed, last-minute preparations for the tournament.

Phone companies invested 226 million reais ($100 million) in shared telecom infrastructure for the 12 World Cup stadiums, according to SindiTeleBrasil, which said the networks "guaranteed service for the high demand from fans" during games.

Still, those present at arenas from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro during early matches have complained of spotty coverage, dropped calls and slow data connections.

The demand at World Cup stadiums is one consequence of soaring global smartphone use, which has quadrupled in the four years since South Africa hosted the tournament, SindiTeleBrasil said, citing numbers from global association GSMA.

Network stability has become an especially touchy topic in Brazil, where an explosion in mobile data use has outstripped the growth of the domestic cell network.

Brazil's mobile phone market has more than doubled in six years to 275 million connections in a country of about 200 million people, but network investments have not kept up.

That pattern of soaring demand and stagnant investment has dogged much of Brazil's economy, leading to logjams on major highways and airport tarmacs as well as phone networks.

Carriers have a reputation in Brazil for spotty coverage and lousy service, making them one of the most resented industries judging by consumer complaints.

In 2012, regulators even suspended three providers from selling new mobile subscriptions in some states until they presented investment plans to strengthen their networks and cut down on dropped calls.

($1 = 2.22 Brazilian reais) (Editing by Todd Benson and Andrew Hay)

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