By Ed Walker
Brazil has gone mobile phone mad and we are currently seeing furious growth in the industry. The total number of mobile phone subscribers reached 57 million at the end of August, up 42% from 40.1 million at the end of August 2003. According to Anatel, Brazils mobile phone regulator, there will be 70 million subscribers by year-end, making it the fourth largest market in the world.

Set out below are some frequently asked questions which may help you decide which service provider is best for you, which phone is best for you and whether your phone will work overseas.

What is the difference between CDMA and GSM?
There are 2 main type of mobile phone systems in the world CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). CDMA is popular in North America and South America whilst GSM is widely used throughout the rest of the world. For you as the user of your phone, there is no difference at all between using a phone on a CDMA system or a phone on a GSM system. Unfortunately, the two different systems are not compatible with each other. Note that TDMA is more or less the same as GSM.

Which system has the best coverage?
At present CDMA has the best coverage in Brazil. Because GSM technology is newer the companies need to invest heavily in improving the network coverage. Companies such as TIM are doing this as they are looking to secure new customers as the Brazilian market increases.

Can I use my cellphone in another country?
The only kind of cellphones that can be used around the world are GSM phones. It’s as simple as having a GSM card inserted in your phone, and programming it to the area where you’re going to be using it. All you need to do is get a GSM card for the area where you’re travelling to. In some cases you can use your existing mobile provider in another country (eg. Vodaphone UK is serviced by TIM in Brazil) however this will only be the case if two providers have agreements for usage (to determine how much they will charge you).

What about the frequency?
GSM900 and GSM1800 are used in Brazil, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Rim. GSM1900 is used in the United States, Canada, and parts of South America. This is important consideration when you are buying a new phone. A dual-band phone is a phone that can operate on both the 800/1800Mhz frequencies. Whilst a tri-band phone is a phone that can operate on 800/1800/1900Mhz frequencies – meaning that in theory it will operate anywhere in the world.

What is a SIM?
A GSM phone is not directly linked to you. Instead, it has a removable account card, called a SIM (Subscriber Information Module) and this SIM has a unique serial number on it. This is what identifies you to the wireless provider.

The important difference about this is that you can put your SIM into any compatible phone and that phone will now act as your phone, because the wireless company sees your SIM inside it. It doesn’t care that you’ve changed phones, all it cares is where to find your SIM.

And now for the really exciting part of this. Just as, in theory, you can put any SIM in any phone, the opposite is also true. Any phone can work with any SIM. So, if you’ve already bought an expensive phone that you like and have learned how to use, if you change from one GSM wireless company to another one, you don’t have to change phones, and all you need to do is replace the first company’s SIM with your new service provider’s SIM.

Do I need to unlock my phone?
Some wireless providers ‘lock’ their phones, meaning that their phones have been programmed to only work with SIMs issued by their company. There are two ways that a phone can be unlocked. If you are lucky, you have a phone that can be unlocked simply by keying a secret code into it. The code is usually a unique number only for that particular phone, based on its serial number and the service provider who locked it. Other types of phone need their operating system software to be rewritten to remove the lock. This requires connecting the phone via a special data cable to a special programming unit. A mobile phone shop or technician can unlock your phone, however it would be worth checking the cost, sometimes it is cheaper to buy a new phone.

The above information should be enable you to answer the three questions everyone asks when considering a phone in Brazil:

I want a phone that just works in Brazil with good coverage? CDMA may be the answer for you

I travel overseas and need my phone to work there? GSM is the only answer

Will my existing phone work in Brazil? Maybe – it will need to be GSM, have the right frequency and be unlocked

Who are the mobile phone companies in Brazil?
Below is a list of mobile service providers in Brazil and the system and frequency they operate.

Network System Frequency
Vivo CDMA 800
Vesper CDMA 800
Embratel CDMA 800
Brasil Telecom CDMA 800
Oi GSM 1800
TIM Celular GSM 1800
Telemig Celular GSM 1800
Sercomtel Celular GSM 1800
Amazonia Celular GSM 1800
Claro GSM 1800
Brasil Telecom GSM 1800
Claro TDMA ?

Clear as mud! If you are a mobile phone expert and have anything more to add or have spotted something wrong please let us know by writing to

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