Step 1a: Understand background challenges in mapping

The rationale for beginning with mapping is to identify areas of limited or no affordable connectivity in order to begin the process of identifying both the potential reasons for the limited service and potential sustainable solutions.

Mapping connectivity is fraught with complications because numerous technologies provide digital communications; an amalgam of the coverage areas served by those technologies therefore needs to be developed and compared to the geographic location of individuals. For example, the ITU estimates that just over 2 billion people reside within at least 10 kilometers of high speed fiber optic cables. However, in terms of cellular connectivity, GSMA estimates that 90 percent of the world’s population live within the coverage areas of mobile data network operators. See the figure below. Satellite providers, on the other hand, are providing service to some geographies that remain unserved by terrestrial networks (comprised of fibre, cellular and other technologies), including suburban, rural and isolated areas. However, a composite view of all, or even most, service coverage areas has not been developed at global level, and seldom exists at national level, because mapping the various types of communication network infrastructure is a complicated endeavour, for a number of reasons: different layers of technology with different coverage reach; much of the infrastructure data are commercially proprietary; the data are constantly changing over time because of investment and decommissioning; geographic scope; and the need to overlay relevant geographical features such as topography and socio-economic data.

Figure 12: Terrestrial mobile coverage and usage gaps around the world

Source: Handforth

‘Coverage gap’ refers to those who do not live within the footprint of a mobile broadband network ‘Usage gap’ refers to those who live within the footprint of a mobile broadband network but are not using mobile internet. ‘Connected’ refers to those who have used internet services on a mobile device (consuming mobile data).