NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

New cellular networks in Malawi: Correlates of service rollout and network performance

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

NBER Working Paper No. 16616
Issued in December 2010
NBER Program(s):   LS

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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Forthcoming as New Cellular Networks in Malawi: Correlates of Service Rollout and Effects on Employment, Dmitris Batzilis, Taryn Dinkelman, Emily Oster, Rebecca Thornton, Deric Zanera, in African Successes #1 (2014),

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