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Brazil promises fast Internet connections at World Cup

A general view of the National Mane Garrincha Stadium, seen under construction in Brasilia April, 28, 2013. The stadium will be one of the v
A general view of the National Mane Garrincha Stadium, seen under construction in Brasilia April, 28, 2013. The stadium will be one of the v

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Soccer fans attending next year's World Cup in Brazil will have no problem going online from stadiums, but they might want to use a local cellphone chip to keep their charges low, Brazilian Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo said on Thursday.

Each of the 12 stadiums hosting the 32-nation soccer tournament will have two separate 50-gigabyte networks connected to Brazil's fiber optic backbone, he told reporters.

"I doubt that the stadiums will use one third of the capacity that we are installing," Bernardo said.

"Not even Mr Jerome Valcke will use up all that capacity, though he could if he makes a lot of explosive statements," the minister said in reference to the general secretary of FIFA, the governing body of global soccer.

Valcke was briefly declared persona non grata by the Brazilian government last year for saying Brazil needed a "kick up the backside" to speed up preparations for the World Cup.

Though relations between Brazil and Valcke have improved since, FIFA remains concerned about construction delays for the stadiums that will host the games. It has also expressed worries about the readiness of hotel, transport and communications facilities.

Brazil has yet to officially open two of the six stadiums that will be used for the Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for the 2014 tournament. The smaller contest kicks off on June 15 with Japan facing the host country in the capital, Brasilia.

More than half a million soccer fans are expected to travel to Brazil next year for the World Cup. Many will be emailing and posting photos on social networks during the games, congesting local wireless networks.

Brazil officially launched the latest fourth generation (4G) wireless technology this week, and the service will be available at the stadiums and in the host cities for the Confederations Cup.

But the majority of foreign fans will not be able to use it. That is because most smartphones in the United States and Europe use the 700 MHz frequency, while Brazil's 4G network uses 2.5 GHz.

"Whoever has a 700 MHz cellphone will not be able to use 4G, they will have to use 3G," Bernardo said.

The minister recommended that fans leave their cellphones at home to avoid paying "scorching" international roaming fees, and instead get a local chip on arrival in Brazil.

Brazil's wireless infrastructure is among FIFA's top concerns ahead of the World Cup. FIFA spokesman Walter de Gregorio said last month Brazil should maybe fix its 3G network before jumping to 4G.

The number of 3G users in Brazil has grown "explosively" to 70 million since the technology was introduced in 2008, and is expected to grow to 130 million by the end of 2014, Bernardo said.

Brazilians complain the service provided by local cellphone companies is poor, with connections dropping regularly and signals congesting at crowded events such as music festivals.

Paying for access to Wi-Fi may be the best means of communications at the World Cup for those wanting to capture the excitement of the games and post it on social networks.

Ample high-speed Wi-Fi access will be good news for the heaviest users of broadband at any major sporting event: the media, who rely on the Internet to send out pictures and video images.

(Editing by Paulo Prada and Mohammad Zargham)

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