New Cellular Networks in Malawi: Correlates of Service Rollout and Network Performance

Dimitris Batzilis, Taryn Dinkelman, Emily Oster, Rebecca Thornton, Deric Zanera

Chapter in NBER book African Successes, Volume III: Modernization and Development (2016), Sebastian Edwards, Simon Johnson, and David N. Weil, editors (p. 215 - 245)
Published in September 2016 by University of Chicago Press
© 2016 by the National Bureau of Economic Research
in Research on Africa

Cellular technologies have become increasingly important in the developing world; infrastructure for mobile networks has expanded dramatically over the past two decades giving access to remote areas without previous phone service. Despite this expansion, relatively little is known about the correlates of the rollout of cellular phone networks or the performance of these networks. Since the rollout of cellular networks has been largely spearheaded by an active private sector in telecommunications, how demand-side and cost-side factors affect the timing of rollout and quality of network service is of particular interest. In this paper we use new data to estimate the correlates of cellular phone access and network performance across rural areas of Malawi. We compile a dataset which combines administrative data of the entire cellular network of Malawi with geographic and Census data to describe the rollout and the performance of the cellular network measured by the dropped call rate. We find that both demand-side and cost-side factors are important in determining the timing of network access, while demand-side factors appear most relevant for the dropped call rate, one metric of network quality.

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w16616, New cellular networks in Malawi: Correlates of service rollout and network performance, Dimitrios Batzilis, Taryn Dinkelman, Emily Oster, Rebecca Thornton, Deric Zanera
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