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BT links Brazil's remote users to lottery and money via satellite

Providing communications for Brazil presents some unusual challenges. The country is vast, the world’s fifth largest, with a surface area bigger than that of the US without Alaska, or all western Europe. Possessing 10 borders it is home to 190 million people, many of them living in very remote areas of a country with a richly complex biosphere and topography, and the huge Amazon rainforest.

It would be next to impossible to run conventional networks to many areas of the country so many citizens rely on satellite communications. BT, the British telco that has a large presence in Brazil, recently announced that it had won a public tender and would supply the Caixa Econômica Federal, one of Latin America’s biggest financial institutions, with connections between its datacentres and lottery outlets across Brazil. At the end of the contract there will be 18,000 connections. The lottery outlets will also offer basic banking services such as social security benefits payments. The lottery is a huge affair in Brazil, played by the vast majority of citizens and Caixa even runs Caminhões da Sorte (“lucky trucks”) crisscrossing the country while river boat branches serve Amazon basin villages.

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“Brazil is bigger than Europe and there are lots of places there that are really, really remote so there are no landline or terrestrial capabilities,” said Jorge Najera, general manager of BT Brazil and head of BT Professional Services in Latin America.

“We are the leaders in satellite communications and the only ones who can provide a very safe communications environment. More than half the country is rainforest and you can only get to some places on horse or by walking - a Land Rover couldn’t do it.”

Satellite communications tends to be the only game in town when it comes to very remote environments such as deserts and oceans but the technology also has its challenges.

“It’s very, very sensitive to rain and if it rains - which it does here, Brazil being a tropical country...”

BT therefore has a failover site capability to provide continuity of service even if there is an outage.

For Najera, a Spaniard born in the Basque city of Bilbao, it’s not quite the hardest infrastructure challenge BT has ever seen – in Colombia one antenna was located in such a tricky position that it has to be fed gas by a man on a donkey – but it’s tough enough. And it’s of huge value to Brazilians, both in terms of providing a vital financial lifeline and serving the national addiction to the lottery which, Najera says, is “like Guinness to the Irish”. There would be “a revolution” if Brazilians were unable to get tickets for the big Mega Sena lottery draw on New Year’s Eve, he jokes.

Brazil is currently suffering an economic crisis but Najera says that BT still has a very good business in Brazil. Brazil is strong in mining, food production and more but it’s not just native businesses but international giants like automotive firms Fiat and Chrysler that need to be served by BT in the region. BT deploys telepresence videoconferencing systems to hook up international firms in Brazil to Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Vienna, London, Madrid, Miami and other hubs.

What about startups? Could Brazil create a mini Silicon Valley? Najera laughs again.

“Technology companies are not so much in the front of the wave and there are still a lot of things to do before we get to this place in the first world, but it needs to improve a lot based on exports.”

Brazil is a major exporter of soya, cane sugar and iron but it remains a net importer, even of oil. However, education gives Najera hope for Brazil’s future.

“I’m very confident because the universities and training centres are extremely high quality,” he says. He jokes that today’s graduates speak English much better than him, although he actually speaks fluently.

“Lot of people speak very good English and Brazilians are very, very creative. That image of samba and playing football and loafing in the sun is not true - they work a lot. I came here about 15 years ago and the change is incredible from a second or even third-world country.”

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Editorial Consultant for IDG Connect

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