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

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

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Chapter in forthcoming NBER book African Successes: Modernization and Development, Volume 3, Sebastian Edwards, Simon Johnson, and David N. Weil, editors
Forthcoming from University of Chicago Press
in African Successes Project

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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