There are four national operators, that share 97% of the mobile market in Brazil:
Vivo (Telefónica Brazil, owned by Spanish Telefónica)
TIM (owned by Telecom Italia)
Claro (owned by Mexican América Móvil)
Oi (Brasil Telecom, incl. Amazônia Celular)
Furthermore, there are some regional providers:
Nextel (no prepaid)
Algar Telecom (formerly CTBC) in Minas Gerais state
Sercomtel in Paraná state
Nextel has an own very limited coverage on 3G and 4G/LTE in some cities on 1800 MHz, but is not mentioned further as they don't offer prepaid plans on the market.
MVNOs have been pretty useless in Brazil. Up to 2015, they cater almost exclusively for M2M companies (for tracking vehicles, portable credit card machines or insurance companies) like the biggest MVNO Porto Seguro Conecta using TIM network. In 2015 the first public MVNO started with Mais AD. The first viable MVNO is announced to start in February 2017 by the Brazilian Post Office (Correios) in the Sao Paulo region to spread nationwide soon using the TIM network.
Finally, two companies currently offer 4G/LTE subscriptions only to fixed connections through modems:
SKY (acquired by AT&T)
Both companies operate on the 2600 MHz TDD-LTE band and don’t show intention of extending their services to mobile devices. Services are available only to select regions like some municipalities of the São Paulo state at On Telecom, while SKY is available in DF and certain states of the North, Northeast and South East regions. As they are not for prepaid, they are not mentioned any further.
Up to 2012 the mobile market was hardly accessible to foreigners. To get a prepaid SIM card in Brazil, a CPF (Cadastro de Pessoa Fisica) number was often asked for, which corresponds to a tax ID or Social Security Number, that only Brazilian residents have.
The government relaxed rules in 2012 for the Football World Cup: mobile providers were encouraged to accept passport data from foreigners instead of only CPFs. This makes it nowadays much easier for travelers to get a local SIM card.
It took a while until the shops implemented the new rules, and it still can raise eyebrows when you tell them that you want to get you SIM card without having a CPF. But some of the employees are familiar with it by now (see Registration below) as long as you show your passport.
Besides GSM in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE, other systems are in use too, like iDEN and CDMA/EVDO. But they are slowly phased out and stay incompatible to GSM. The mobile industry in Brazil is organized according to regional zones called DDD. The same provider can be on different frequencies according to their licences in the state you are in.
Operator 2G (MHz) 3G/HSDPA 4G/LTE (MHz) FDD-LTE
Vivo 850, 1800, 850, 2100 700 (B28), 1800 (B3), 2600 (B7)
TIM 900, 1800 850, (900*), 2100 700 (B28), 2600 (B7), 1800 (B3)#
Claro 900, 1800 850, 2100 700 (B28), 2600 (B7)
Oi 900, 1800 2100 700 (B28), 2600 (B7)
Nextel 800 (iDen) 2100 1800 (B3)
The 700 MHz frequency on band 28 for 4G/LTE is being gradually deployed as soon as analog TV has left this band. As it has been delayed a few times, realistically it is only expected availability in 2018 or after 2020.
(1900§): Vivo's 1900 MHz frequency has been realigned to 3G (as uplink for 2100 MHz) in most parts of the country and is used for 2G only in the Northeastern region.
(900*): TIM's 900 MHz on 3G is only used in Sao Paulo to boost coverage.
1800 (B3)# = LTE on 1800 MHz (B3) is only available by TIM in some cities like Rio de Janeiro or Curitiba, other cities use 2600 MHz (B7), Nextel has LTE only in 1800 MHz in Rio de Janeiro and acquired frequencies to operate in the São Paulo (only in DDD 11).
All operators have now opened 4G/LTE for all of their prepaid plans without surcharges.
You have coverage in all states on the four major providers: Vivo, TIM, Claro and Oi. This is also true to Nextel up to 3G thanks to a roaming agreement. The local providers at the end of the list only have a very limited coverage in their own region and are not recommended for travelling.
The four major players are pretty on par. Vivo is the overall market leader by customers, thanks to a strong postpaid share, TIM and Oi are the prepaid leaders, TIM has the biggest 4G coverage and Claro leads in the Mobile Broadband section with the highest speeds.
As a golden rule: The richer your area is, the better your coverage and speed will be. This applies on a state-wide as well on a local level to all providers. As you know, the gap is huge in Brazil ranging from non-existent to hyper speed. For more information, check each provider.
SIM cards are called chips and cost around R$ 8-10, sometimes discounted a R$ 5 in promotions mostly without credit. You can get it a many locations, but better stick to the mobile provider shops, as they can do or may help with registrations without CPF. There you need to show your passport and give a local address (like hotel address). Try to make clear that you need a prepaid which is called pré-pago.
Claro and TIM sell tourist SIM cards which are not available for local residents. Generally, they give good rates, but have been proven to be hard to find sometimes.
You can refill accounts almost everywhere like in operator stores, drugstores, supermarkets, newsstands, convenience stores, post offices or by online agencies like Recarga.com, iCelex and Onepay. Most prepaid SIM cards need to be topped up at least every 60 days to stay alive.
While newsstand and street sellers offer SIM cards too, you'd better go to an official store, if you don’t have a CPF. Otherwise, you need to contact the operators special service for non-Brazilian residents, which require to give passport data, a local address (can be your hotel), and a local phone number in order to activate over the phone.
The regular registration with CPF. During the registration process you can select your telephone region called DDD, which the card number will be assigned to like in the US. It does not make any difference for data, but a huge one for voice rates. Generally, you should select the region where you are going to use it
most, if you want to make domestic voice calls (see voice plans).
Some SIM cards come preloaded with credit which can be checked by the user by calling a specific number provided by the operator from which a SMS message is sent showing the total credits available for that card. These numbers are: Vivo: *8000 Claro: *544# TIM: *222# and Oi: *804.
While all data allowances are the same nationwide, voice rates differ enormously. That’s why most Brazilians have more than one SIM card and often dual-SIM phones.
Generally, calls are very cheap as long as you stay within the same network and the same area code called DDD (around R$0.25 per call). Long-distance domestic cellular calls remain cheap if you use the prefix of your provider and stay within the same network (see dialing rules). Local landline calls mostly stay reasonable (at around R$0.70 per call), but get quite expensive outside of your prefix area.
On the other hand all calls between networks, even local, and landline calls to other regions are very expensive (at around R$2 per min). For long distance calls, special dialing rules apply (see below). Furthermore, you will face incoming roaming charges if you answer a call when you're not in the same city or state where your line was activated (i.e., when you're outside your local area).
In an effort to curb multi-SIM use, TIM and Oi have stopped charging differential tariffs for calls to other operators for all its plans in November 2015.
Rates differ from state to state about 10% because of different taxation. Some providers offer special rates for rural areas. Due to the steep price differences between voice tariffs, you should be aware of two basic guidelines for voice calls (except on TIM and Oi):
- get you SIM card (assigned to) the region (DDD), where you are going to use it most use
- the same provider, if you are going to make a lot of calls to one particular mobile number.
Dialing rules (long-distance and international)
The Brazilian system for long-distance and international dialing is relatively unusual and somewhat confusing, insofar as the choice of the carrier determines the actual sequence to be dialed.
To dial a long-distance number within Brazil, one needs to use a carrier selection code to choose which long-distance carrier will be used. The carrier selection code is specified before the area code; so, to actually place a call, one should dial 0-xx-aa-nnnn-nnnn, where xx is the two-digit carrier selection code, aa the area (= DDD) code and nnnn-nnnn the local number.
This is true to international calls as well. The sequence is 00-xx-cc-aa-nnnn-nnnn where cc stands for the country code. More info about dialing rules. The carrier selection codes are given in the respective section of each operator.
Tethering is allowed and possible on all plans, as well as VoIP calls. Operators sometimes don’t allow their prepaid voice & data SIM cards to be used in a modem or tablet. But it works anyway and the same rates are charged for Mobile Broadband plans.
There are some areas where service suddenly drops or slows down due to congestion. When you are unsatisfied with the service in your area, there is not much hope in complaining. Better get a new SIM of a competitor instead. When shopping around, always ask about promotions.
Vivo is the largest mobile operator in Brazil, which is owned by Telefónica from Spain and has 28.5% of the Brazilian market share. From their total of 73 million subscribers only 57% are using prepaid plans. It was the last operator to allow prepaid customers on 4G/LTE in 2015.
Vivo's network has national coverage and it became the brand for all consumer services provided by Telefónica in Brazil, which include broadband internet, TV subscription and fixed telephone lines.
Traditionally, Vivo operated a CDMA network but changed to GSM from 2007 on. Vivo has the best 3G coverage of the country’s operators covering 88% of the population. It started 4G/LTE in 152 cities so far, covering 52% of population in 2015. Coverage Map.
Vivo is known to have the most reliable network at the highest rates in the country. Right now, it’s the only of the major providers, that doesn’t offer a tourist SIM but may come up with one for the Olympics in 2016.
Vivo SIM cards are sold at many places. It's best to get them at their stores.
Recharge vouchers can be found all over the country ranging from RS$10 for 30 days to R$60 for 120 days. Online on their website you can top up RS$10 to RS$300 using credit cards or PayPal. Check balance by texting ‘SALDO’ to 8000 or by USSD code *445.
Prepaid Plans (Planos Pré)
Vivo toda hora is their standard tariff. Starter comes with RS$2 bonus valid for 4 days. Variations are Vivo Dia and Vivo Noite with reduced rates for calls during day or nighttime. All starters come with 4 days internet included from your smartphone. For rural areas, they have special tariffs.
Also, now you can buy some additional packages for extra-network calls to any telephone nationwide. Being then:
- 30 minutes to any national telephone for R$ 4.99/week (act: text FALE30 to 1515)
Prepaid Internet (Internet Pré)
These are their data options:
Daily package: This is their default data plan. R$0.99 for 15 MB per calendar day. Max. speed is 500 Kbit/s. Beyond 15 MB, data traffic will be blocked. Monthly packages with a max. speed of 5 Mbit/s:
250 MB: R$ 17.99, activation: text 250 to 1515
400 MB: R$ 23.99, activation: text 400 to 1515
600 MB: R$ 29.99, activation: text 600 to 1515
Daily packages are only charged, on days you are using data. Monthly packs auto-renew after one month, if you have enough credit. To stop, text ‘CANCELAR’ to 1515 for free. You can add more data on the monthly packages:
50 MB for R$2.99, activation: text 50 to 1515
100 MB for R$5.99, activation: text 100 to 1515
Add-ons are valid for max. 7 days or until the monthly package has run out.
Data + voice + text – Vivo Turbo (formerly Vivo Tudo Turbo)
This is a weekly rate in three denominations.
R$ 7.99: 300 MB data, unlimited calls and texts to Vivo network,
activation: text ‘TURBO’ to 9003.
R$ 9.99: 600 MB data, unlimited calls and texts to Vivo network,
activation: text ‘TURBO’ to 9003.
R$ 14.99: 1.2 GB data, unlimited calls and texts to Vivo network,
25 local minutes for other operators activation: text ‘TURBO’ to 9003
The R$ 9.99 plan is offered by default to new customers. In January 2017, speed tests on this plan produced 45.23Mbps, 49.36Mbps and 48.69Mbps, unlike other prepaid plans which have a 5Mbps limit.
There is also a monthly plan:
R$ 39.99: 1.5 GB data, unlimited calls to Vivo numbers,
unlimited texts to any mobile nationwide, activation: text 'TURBO' to 9003.
In northeastern provinces of Brazil you will get slightly more data. Also, you can earn up to 200 MB more per month, if you recharge your phone with R$ 35 per month or more, following the line:
First month: 50 MB bonus
Second month: 100 MB bonus
Third month: 150 MB bonus
From the fourth month on: 200 MB bonus
You can add Internet Pré data add-ons for more data.
Monthly prepaid data-only (Pré Mensal)
For tablets and modems Vivo sells Pré Mensal. This is a data-only SIM, but not such a good deal as you can only book the monthly packages and add-ons mentioned under Internet Pré shown above. It costs R$ 19.90 for 400MB.
Vivo prefix code: 15
Website in Portuguese: http://www.vivo.com.br
to be continued...