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Mobile access — the last mile

Mobile networks are now pervasive, with 2G coverage above 90% in the majority of markets and heavy investment being made by operators to bring 3G to similar levels. However, there is still a section of the population – perhaps 10-15% - living outside of coverage range. Most of these are in emerging markets, mid and low income, and most (although not all) are in rural areas. Reaching these last unconnected segments represents the ‘final frontier’ of connectivity. We expect an additional 1.1 billion individuals to subscribe to mobile services for the first time in emerging markets over the period 2014-2020, with rising internet penetration in parallel – in effect, a coalescence of technology adoption. However, the increasing advocacy from government on achieving ‘universal’ access to mobile and the internet poses searching questions on the ways and means to achieve this.

This has led to a raft of experiments with alternative connectivity technologies backed and promoted by big internet players, namely Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Examples include aerial networks – including trialling connectivity via balloons, drones and satellites – amongst others.

The largest challenges to mobile access are affordability and coverage. We assess the use cases and viability of these alternative connectivity technologies in this context and against the significant innovation at the network access level that is coming from the mobile operators.

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