Brazil Looks to Heavens for Net

Paulo Rebêlo
Wired News
October 2001

Satellite Internet connections have, for the first time, arrived in order to expand the country’s Web penetration.

Universo Online (UOL), the biggest ISP in Latin America, joined forces with Star One and Gilat Satellite Networks in an effort to expand Internet access at distant locations of Brazil. Only 5 percent of the country uses the Net on a regular basis, according to a recent survey.

The satellite connection service, UolSat, works through Star One’s structure, and Gilat’s equipment. UOL is the content provider.

Net users in Brazil predominantly use phone lines and traditional modems. Bigger cities already have some broadband options, mainly based on cable and ADSL.

Broadband in Brazil is offered by national phone operators only. While corporate users don’t need to pay an ISP to gain a login and password, residential users must pay their phone company and an individual ISP at the same time -– which increases the final costs and scares away most home users.

The biggest problem in Brazil, though, is the lack of infrastructure. While bigger cities have tons of lines and Internet alternatives, many smaller cities –- especially in distant regions of Brazil –- don’t even dream of getting a phone.

“As phone companies don’t see profitable chances in expanding (their) wires and cables to distant locations, many (people) become isolated from the cyberspace with no options at all,” said André Luis, an occasional Net user from Pará, the Amazon neighbor state in the north of Brazil.

That’s why satellite delivery is critical.

“We want to change that and cover the whole country, including faraway regions with no infrastructure at all,” said Ricardo Cruz, services director for Star One.

UolSat will offer different plans to corporate and home users — plans to fit different needs both in terms of cost and speed. Home users will see an average speed of 100 Kbps, which may reach 500 Kbps when not at rush time. As for corporate, the average speed is 200 Kbps, with a maximum of 500 Kbps.

Price still will be an issue. Even with many willing to avoid paying phone rates and changing to broadband, the costs are still high — especially by Brazilian standards.

In a common ADSL connection, one must pay about US$50 for installation, plus $30 a month for the phone company and $30 each month for an ISP. Most ADSL services offer a 256 Kbps connection downstream and 128 Kbps upstream; some newer ones are starting to offer 512 Kbps downstream for an even higher price.

UolSat is much more expensive, costing about $500 for installation, plus $150 each month. “It’s still quite expensive when comparing to other options, but our benefits are much better, especially if you are located in a place with no ISP or phone lines,” Cruz said.

“We’re looking for a gradational launch of our services, from big and middle Brazilian cities to very small ones. Then, we’ll head to Argentina,” added Edson Soffiatti, Star One’s president.

Until now, satellite connections in Brazil were restricted to only two cities, most for test purposes: Santos (São Paulo) and Niterói (Rio de Janeiro). According to UolSat officials, the service will be fully functional in the northeast, southeast and south of Brazil starting in November.