Policy Choices Can Help Keep Universal Broadband Targets Affordable: A Spatial Model of 4G and 5G Roll-Out in Developing Countries
62 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2020 Last revised: 4 Feb 2021
Date Written: December 15, 2020
In recognition of the transformative opportunities that broadband connectivity presents, the United Nations Broadband Commission has committed the international community to accelerate universal access across the developing world. However, the cost of meeting this objective, and the feasibility of doing so on a commercially viable basis, are not well understood. This paper compares the global cost-effectiveness of different infrastructure strategies for the developing world to achieve universal 4G or 5G mobile broadband. Utilizing remote sensing and geospatial infrastructure simulation, least-cost network designs are developed for eight representative low and middle-income countries (Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Pakistan, Albania, Peru and Mexico), the results from which form the basis for aggregation to the global level. To provide at least 2 Mbps per user, 4G is often the cheapest option to reach universal coverage. The cost of meeting the UN Broadband Commission target of a minimum 10 Mbps per user is estimated at $1.7 trillion using 5G NSA, equating to approximately 0.6% of annual GDP for the developing world over the next decade. However, by creating a favorable regulatory environment, governments can bring down these costs by as much as three quarters – to $0.5 trillion (approximately 0.2% of annual GDP) – and avoid the need for public subsidy. Providing governments make judicious choices, adopting fiscal and regulatory regimes conducive to lowering costs, broadband universal service may be within reach of most developing countries over the next decade.
Keywords: Policy, broadband, 4G, 5G, universal service
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