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Closing the network 'coverage gaps' in Asia

GSMA Intelligence is today publishing a report in collaboration with the GSMA’s Digital Inclusion programme focused on efforts to close mobile network 'coverage gaps' in Asia.

Affordability and network coverage are the two largest barriers to driving internet access among non-adopters. This is evident in the global numbers so far:

  Share of population Key barrier to adoption
Actively use the mobile internet
(2G, 3G or 4G)
(2.3 billion)
Covered by a 3G or 4G network
but do not use the mobile internet
(2.8 billion)
Not yet covered by
a 3G or 4G network
(1.9 billion)

We focus on coverage in this report. Globally, 90% of the world's population is covered by 2G networks and 73% by 3G. This implies that 10% of people are living in areas unable to access basic voice and SMS services, while 30% live outside of range of the mobile internet on a 3G speed or higher. We focus on Asia because it accounts for the majority (55%) of those in the world NOT yet connected to the internet, and because countries in this region have socioeconomic and geographic characteristics that make them ideal case studies to illustrate the challenges in providing rural coverage.

Filling these coverage gaps depends on developing economically viable network investment models that can overcome challenges on both the supply side (lack of roads, electricity and other infrastructure) and the demand side (rural communities are generally low income and thinly distributed).

We focus on a range of roll out strategies being pursued. Most prominent are voluntary network sharing (passive and active), which is being driven by investment from mobile operators and, increasingly, tower companies as a symbiotic partner. Secondly, we overview the efforts and merits of targeted support from government through subsidies and USFs. Finally, alternative access methods – including aerial technologies such as Google’s Loon and satellites – that are primarily targeting niche situations in remote regions through partnerships.

The appendix includes three country case studies to illustrate efforts, progress and learnings from the use of new models to expand coverage – India, Malaysia and Myanmar.

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