Founded in 1535, Olinda is the oldest city in Brazil. Colonized by the Portuguese, it quickly prospered thanks to exploding demand for sugarcane that could be harvested there. Over the next few centuries, the fortune of the city, which was even occupied by the Dutch for 20 years, would rise and fall as economic opportunity shifted. Today, Olinda, which sits atop a hill and offers coastal views of the Atlantic Ocean and the city’s port, is home to high-end buildings that are accessible by rail from Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco.
The historic center of Olinda, which is characterized by windy streets and steep slopes, covers an area of 1.2 km² and encompasses 1,500 properties. With its different construction methods and architectural styles that mix colonial buildings with Renaissance, Mannerist, Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical features, the historical center of Olinda was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1982.
By listing properties as “historic heritage,” they are provided with additional safeguards to protect these buildings and their history. According to the Secretariat of Social Communication and Culture, a “historical heritage” designation serves “to preserve, through the application of the law, assets of historical, cultural, architectural and environmental value for the population, preventing them from being destroyed or mischaracterized.” In Brazil, properties are listed as such by the Federal Government with the intermediation of IPHAN or municipal administrations.
The challenge of bringing connectivity and innovation to 3.6 million carnival fans
Olinda is located 6 km from Recife and is considered part of the Recife metropolitan region. The distance is so short that you can take a day-trip via public transportation to enjoy Olinda’s famous Historic Center. There, you can visit the Basilica de São Bento, the São Francisco Convent and the Alto da Sé, an outdoor space that hosts several national fairs.
In addition to the architecture dating back to the colonial years, Olinda is also famous for its local dances—frevo, maracatu, afoxé and caboclinho—as well as its carnival rehearsals. Olinda boasts one of the most popular Carnivals in the country with its festive rhythms and famous giant dolls that parade through the streets during religious processions, a tradition that dates back to 15th century Europe.
In 2020, the city received 3.6 million carnival fans (400,000 of whom came from outside of Brazil), bringing in R$ 295 million in tourism revenue and creating more than 100,000 jobs. Hotel occupancy reached 98% during this Carnival period.
As Carnival in Olinda continues to grow every year, greater infrastructure investments are needed and that includes investment in cellular connectivity.
First thing’s first: designing the solution
It is important to point out that the connectivity issues in Olinda were due to capacity, not cellular coverage. This means that the existing infrastructure in the city was unable to support the large number of people connecting to the same network at the same time. In this scenario, the signal broadcasts to all users through a single wireless asset (a single tower, for example), which creates a bottleneck in the operator’s network.
Carlos Ferraz, professor at the Center for Informatics at UFPE (Federal University of Pernambuco), offers an example of a strategy employed by cell phone operators to combat this issue during the Olinda Carnival, where there is an exceptionally large concentration of people: “At the Olinda Carnival or at the ‘Galo da Madrugada’ Parade, for example, you will see several portable antennas, which the operators bring in because they know that there will be greater demand and they need to offer a better quality signal. “
In general, capacity problems can be thought of as the slices of a cake, a metaphor used by Fabio Luciano Verdi, professor of Computer Science at Campus Sorocaba at UFSCar (Federal University of São Carlos): “The more users, the smaller the channel fraction for each one. It’s like sharing a cake with more people without increasing its size: the size of the slice will be smaller”.
To find a permanent solution to the network capacity issues in Olinda, a large wireless carrier asked QMC for a camouflaged project that would both meet the carrier’s connection needs and abide by historic preservation protections.
A unique camouflage challenge in Olinda
As one of the best-preserved cities in Brazil, Olinda’s city government (at both municipal and state levels) is committed to ensuring the site’s Historical Heritage status. Given the city’s pledge, QMC partnered with the Quatro Cantos Inn to install a camouflaged wireless system.
Located in the historic center of Olinda, the Quatro Cantos Inn is a 19th century mansion with a privileged location. It is in the middle of the city center, where from bedroom windows you can see the Alto da Sé.
While the location and the historical significance of the building could not be beat, the lack of cell phone signal was a problem for the Inn and its guests. Although there was a longstanding desire to obtain a better broadband connection and navigation experience, concerns surrounding compliance with the requirements of governmental entities led to a period of inaction.
The choice of the Quatro Cantos Inn for the project was strategic: in order to provide connectivity to the entire Olinda Historic Center, it was necessary to find a location that could consistently beam signal to the entire region without any physical barriers that would block the signal.
In addition, because the entire region is protected by UNESCO, it was imperative that QMC’s connectivity solution did not interfere with the city’s natural landscape, meaning that macro tower solutions were not an option.
In their own words:
“From the beginning, we had two major concerns: the architecture of our Inn and getting the necessary permits and licenses. QMC has always been very aligned with our objectives, and I am sure that the camouflaged structure facilitated the approval of the regulators and municipal officials.”
Ticiane Didier, co- owner of Quatro Cantos Inn