Wi-Fi and Internet service in Brazil

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Internet at hotels

My experience with Internet connection in mid-range hotels has been quite varied, from OK to very bad. No hotel in Brazil has matched the performance you'd get from average residential service in Canada or the US, but it's usually acceptable. The most bothersome problem is usually latency as opposed to bandwidth.

Hotel connection is always by Wi-Fi (not network cable). It is sometimes free and sometimes R$10–R$15 extra per day. It always requires a password (i.e., it's never an open connection), and the password is always entered into the browser (i.e., they never use a network key, such as a WPA key).

The password systems I've seen:

  • a single password for the whole hotel
  • random one-time passwords issued on cards at the front desk
  • sign-in based on entering your last name and room number — this being the most common system setup

Internet in apartments

All furnished month-to-month rental apartments I've seen have Internet access. About half supply it with a network cable that you need to plug in, and half by Wi-Fi. If the apartment uses a network cable, bringing your own Wi-Fi router is a great way to set up wireless access for the apartment.

As with hotels, you'll typically get adequate bandwidth, but poor latency.

Bandwidth vs. latency

Brief explanation of bandwidth vs. latency: Most people think of Internet connection quality in terms of bandwidth, like 10 Mbps. The higher, the better. But latency is another measure that's very important. It measures how fast you'll get a response, and it's a measure (like 100 milliseconds) that ISPs never use in their advertisements.

You can have good bandwidth but poor latency, or poor bandwidth but good latency.

Think of delivering letters, the old-fashioned kind with stamps, from the US to China. If you use cargo ships, you can send hundreds of tons of letters at once (excellent bandwidth), but as it'll take 3 months for the ship to get to China and 3 months back, it'll be 6 months before you get a reply from someone in China (terrible latency). A supersonic jet that makes the round trip in 30 hours will get you a quick reply (good latency) but carries far fewer letters (poor bandwidth).

The main issue in Brazil is latency, probably because they don't have sufficiently fast backbone connections to the rest of the Internet in the US and Europe. If you're browsing the web or downloading files, it's usually OK (acceptable bandwidth). But for audio or video chat (like Skype or Google+ Hangouts) or desktop sharing (like VNC or Remote Desktop ), good latency is very important.

When latency is very bad, then audio chat, video chat, or VoIP phone calls become impossible. But you might still be able download a movie if the bandwidth is good.

Note that poor latency doesn't hinder text chat since the text chat program won't quit if the response from the other person takes 1/100 second or 2 seconds, and you probably won't notice the delay either.