Feature Story

Brazil’s Bright Future as a Connected Economy

by Jason Deign

With the world's fifth-largest population, a galloping economy, and a thirst for technology, Brazil's potential to be a networked powerhouse cannot be ignored.

Even in today's networked world it is difficult to imagine technology plays a big part in the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Do not be fooled, though.

Last year J Walter Thompson, the advertising giant, noted that social media-mad Brazilians were behind the re-emergence of local street carnivals or blocos alongside the main Rio event, which attracts two million people a day.

This was hardly the first sign that technology was having significant impact on the average Brazilian, either. In 2010, for example, the country's census went completely digital with the aid of 225,000 PDAs.

Should the world be preparing for the arrival of a new networked superpower? Maybe so.

Disqus: Which do you think will be the top global tech hotspots in 2020?

Brazil is already a superpower in many other ways. It is the world's fifth-largest country by land area and population, with more than 192 million people. At the end of last year it overtook the United Kingdom to become the world's sixth-largest economy.

That economic growth has gone hand in hand with significant improvements in network connectivity. Although the country still only ranks 56 in the World Economic Forum's Network Readiness Index, on many other indicators it is powering ahead.

It has the world's fifth-largest number of Internet users. According to published figures, 45 percent of Brazil's middle-class citizens are active on social media platforms such as YouTube, MSN Messenger, and Twitter.

Top among these has traditionally been the Google-owned site Orkut, which has such a big Brazilian user base that in August 2008 it relocated from California to Belo Horizonte. Currently more than 61 percent of Orkut users are in Brazil, according to data from Alexa.

Orkut now faces increasing competition from Facebook and other international Internet giants, though, as Brazil's importance as a technology market continues to grow.

Perhaps more significantly, however, the Brazilian government is also keeping a close eye on technology, but this time as a way to help maintain the growth of the economy.

Government-sponsored programs have helped bring broadband connections to millions across the country, and the administration has succeeded in attracting major technology manufacturers such as Foxconn of China.

This is in turn has helped lower the price of network technologies in Brazil, which the government hopes to use as a way of improving education and attracting investment.

Andre Bodowski, a dual American-Brazilian citizen who runs the Brazil office of the direct-to-consumer marketing publisher International Masters Publishers, predicts that when it comes to education: "It is clear that network solutions are going to be huge."

The government has already started to buy hundreds of thousands of tablets to distribute to students and teachers in the state school system, Bodowski reports. 

"All of a sudden you have a whole generation of lower and middle-class Brazilians who might never have a computer," he says. "They will jump that step and the first time they have a product in front of them that can process information, it is going to be a tablet."

Combined with growing Internet access via mobile (Brazil has more mobiles than people, and many service providers offer online connectivity even in pre-paid contracts), this augurs well for a major leap forward in connectedness and productivity across the country.

Bodowski says it might not take long for the impact to be felt worldwide. "When it comes to using new technologies, Brazil grows five years every two in terms of how professionalized and how sophisticated the market is," he says. "Is Brazil becoming networked? Oh yes."

Jason Deign is a freelance writer located in Barcelona, Spain.

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