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 latency as opposed to bandwidth (the difference is explained in a section below).

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., it's never a network or WPA key).

These are the password systems I've seen at Brazilian hotels:

  • 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 setup

Internet in apartments

All furnished month-to-month rental apartments I've seen offer Internet access, for prices ranging from R$60 to R$110 per month, but sometimes free.

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.

Internet cafés

An Internet café, known as cyber café or LAN house in Brazilian Portuguese, is easily found and quite cheap. Almost all of them will want to see and record your ID to comply with Brazilian regulations. But they are not fussy with foreign visitors about which particular ID is needed; showing your driver's license or a photocopy of your passport is fine.

You should try to avoid entering your email or banking passwords into a strange computer anywhere, whether it's in the USA, Canada, or Brazil, because of the risk that someone may have installed keylogging software to capture passwords. What I've often done is to bring my own laptop to use with their Internet connection. They can usually accommodate this. Bringing a laptop with a network cable jack is best because some Internet cafés don't have Wi-Fi and you'll have to connect by network cable.

Internet at airports

Airport Wi-Fi step 1
Registering for Wi-Fi at Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Step 1: Start by clicking Cadastrar e Acessar.
Airport Wi-Fi step 2
Registering for Wi-Fi at Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Step 2: Fill in fields marked with asterisks.
Airport Wi-Fi step 3
Registering for Wi-Fi at Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Step 3: Enter the Infraero barcode from your boarding pass.

Along with cell phone service and trying to open a bank account, this is one of the few places a tourist or business traveler runs into onerous bureaucracy.

You need to fill in a huge online form. Questions like address, profession, and marital status are optional — since no one will bother with optional questions, I don't know why they even ask.

The final step is to enter the Infraero barcode from your boarding pass (código de barras da Infraero do cartão de embarque). It has a format such as "00123456789000".

If the goal is to identify Internet users, then the barcode from your boarding pass should have been their one and only question.

The system still doesn't work in some cases:

  • Airlines issue their own boarding passes which don't have Infraero barcodes on many international flights.
  • It doesn't work on connecting airports on domestic flights. For example, if your flight goes from Porte Alegre to Sao Paulo to Brasilia, you will be able to use the Internet in Porte Alegre, but not in Sao Paulo while waiting for your connection.

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 super important though ISPs never mention it in their advertisements. It measures how fast you'll get a response (for example 100 milliseconds), and the smaller, the better.

You can have good bandwidth but poor latency, or poor bandwidth but good latency. To understand the difference, imagine delivering a shipment of postal mail, the old-fashioned kind with stamps, from the US to China:

  • Good bandwidth, poor latency: If you use cargo ships, you can send hundreds of tons of letters at once (excellent bandwidth). But it'll take 3 months for the ship to get to China and 3 months back, so it'll be 6 months before you get a reply from someone in China (terrible latency).
  • Poor bandwidth, good latency: On the other hand, 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). You probably won't have difficulty watching movies or downloading large files.

But for audio or video chat (like Skype or Google+ Hangouts) or desktop sharing (like VNC or Remote Desktop), good latency is very important. If latency is very bad, then audio chat, video chat, VoIP phone calls, and desktop sharing become impossible.

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.

Contact Info

Corrections and comments about this article are welcome. Please email to:

dacanada [at-sign] nym.hush.com

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