Cellular companies have had an vital and optimistic affect on growing international locations the place they’re the primary technique of connecting to the web. Nonetheless, cellular companies have capability constraints. They use restricted radio frequency spectrum, which signifies that cellular knowledge usually has utilization limits. Additionally they have excessive costs per unit (per gigabyte), which leads to decrease use per connection.

Mounted-line broadband, however, has considerably decrease costs per unit. It’s typically provided on an uncapped or limitless foundation and due to this fact has larger utilization per connection. This allows a wider vary of companies. Mounted traces are costly to roll out, however these prices are falling.

So a query arises: is cellular sufficient for growing international locations like South Africa?

It’s an vital query as a result of there’s a substantial “digital divide” between international locations, in addition to inside international locations like South Africa. This distinction in entry to digital expertise additionally exists between households which have entry to the web at residence and people that don’t.

In a latest paper, we regarded on the query of substitution between fastened and cellular broadband companies. Our outcomes present that having a pc and entry to an web connection at work or college is a minimum of as vital in driving broadband penetration as lowering cellular knowledge costs.

Our findings recommend that relying solely on cellular networks to bridge the “digital divide” shouldn’t be sufficient. Policymakers and regulators ought to think about methods of increasing entry to computer systems and web at work and faculties, along with increasing entry to fixed-line broadband.

The digital divide

Total, solely 10 % of households in South Africa report getting access to the web at residence. This compares to virtually 50 % throughout growing international locations. However even the low common web entry in South Africa masks vital regional disparities.

Within the Western Cape, for instance, 26 % of households have web entry at residence, in comparison with 2 % in Limpopo. This implies that entry to the web in South Africa may be very low general, and extremely skewed, reflecting the acute ranges of inequality.

Share of households with entry to the Web at residence, or for which a minimum of one member has entry to, or used the Web anyplace by way of a cellular cellphone. Statistics South Africa, 2018, Basic Family Survey

In our paper, we present that entry to the technique of utilizing the web, similar to proudly owning a pc, performs an vital function in family selections of fastened or cellular knowledge companies. The place a family has a pc, fastened and cellular are much less more likely to be substituted.

Our analysis exhibits that if fixed-line protection was expanded to your entire inhabitants and computer systems had been obtainable to all, fixed-line broadband penetration would enhance considerably by 9.6 share factors, whereas cellular broadband penetration would enhance by half of a share level.

That is in keeping with the optimistic relationship we observe between having a pc and residential web entry throughout international locations (see Determine 2).

Our outcomes additionally corroborate survey proof in South Africa and different international locations that determine the excessive price or lack of apparatus, similar to computer systems, as being a barrier to utilizing the web at residence. The worth of subscribing to service performs much less of a job.

Relationship between web entry at residence and having a pc (2012-2016). Determine produced from knowledge from the Worldwide Telecommunications Union

We additionally present that when customers entry the web at work or college they’re much less more likely to see fastened and cellular knowledge companies as substitutes. Having an web connection at work or college would add a further 5.7 share factors to fixed-line broadband penetration, and three share factors to cellular broadband penetration. That is over and above the impact of increasing fixed-line protection and offering households with computer systems.

This can be resulting from “studying results” the place customers of high-speed web at work and faculty be taught functions for high-speed web at residence.

As well as, being employed, and being self-employed specifically, makes fastened and cellular knowledge companies weaker substitutes. Unemployment in South Africa is at present 38.5 %. At larger ranges of employment and notably self-employment, extra fixed-line companies shall be wanted.

That is vital in view of a latest research. The research exhibits that the growth of high-speed web entry in African international locations, together with South Africa, outcomes not solely in higher employment but additionally in higher productiveness.


These outcomes have a number of implications for regulators and policymakers in growing international locations, notably in Africa. Regulators have to date centered largely on interventions in respect of cellular knowledge companies. However our findings recommend that this isn’t sufficient to develop entry to broadband.

Firstly, you will need to stimulate the demand for broadband companies. This may be carried out by offering the instruments, similar to computer systems, for utilizing such companies. Moreover, our outcomes recommend that making certain people have entry to the web at work and academic services would possible enhance broadband adoption.

Secondly, our findings present that, for giant teams of customers, fastened and cellular complement each other. Which means that higher fixed-line broadband adoption results in higher cellular knowledge adoption, and vice versa. The variety of customers that see fastened and cellular knowledge as enhances is larger at larger ranges of employment and self-employment. It is usually larger amongst those that have extra entry to computer systems and higher connectivity at work and at faculties.

This implies that relying solely on cellular networks to bridge the digital divide shouldn’t be sufficient.The Conversation

This text is republished from The Dialog by Ryan Hawthorne, Economist, College of Cape City and Lukasz Grzybowski, Affiliate Professor, College of Cape City underneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the authentic article.

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