Mobile technology is associated with a variety of positive development and social outcomes, and as a result reaching the “final frontier” of uncovered populations is an important policy issue. We use proprietary 2012 data on mobile coverage from Collins Bartholomew to estimate the proportion of the population living in areas without mobile coverage globally and in selected regions and countries, and use spatial analysis to identify where these populations are concentrated. We then compare our coverage estimates to data from previous years and estimates from the most recent literature to provide a picture of recent trends in coverage expansion, considering separately the trends for coverage of urban and rural populations. We find that mobile coverage expansion rates are slowing, as easier to reach urban populations in developing countries are now almost entirely covered and the remaining uncovered populations are more dispersed in rural areas and therefore more difficult and costly to reach. This analysis of mobile coverage trends was the focus of an initial report on mobile coverage estimates. In a follow-up paper prepared for presentation at the 2016 APPAM International Conference, we investigate the assumption that levels of mobile network coverage are related to the degree of market liberalization at the country level.
We find that there is no significant association between mobile coverage and two indicators of mobile-specific market liberalization, the number of mobile operators and the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) for the mobile industry, but find a strong and positive significant association when using a measure of more general market liberalization, the Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) Business Regulatory Environment rating. This result indicates that general market liberalization to promote competitiveness in both the mobile industry and in complementary industries may support mobile coverage expansion. We also find a strong negative relationship between mobile coverage and the rural proportion of the population, and a strong positive relationship between coverage and GNI per capita, highlighting the importance of demand side factors in coverage expansion. However, we cannot assess whether market liberalization alone will be sufficient to reach universal mobile coverage, especially for rural populations, without also increasing GNI per capita or subsidizing expansion costs to less profitable areas. Our findings have significant implications for policymakers, as without efforts to promote coverage expansion, the largely rural, agricultural, and low-income populations without mobile coverage are likely to be increasingly disadvantaged by their inability to access information and financial services, among other potential benefits of mobile technology.
We also include slides from both our initial review of mobile coverage trends and our presentation at the 2016 APPAM International Conference.
View a blog post summarizing this work.