Abstract: The United Nations Broadband Commission has committed the international community to accelerate universal broadband. However, the cost of meeting this objective, and the feasibility of doing so on a commercially viable basis, are not well understood. Using scenario analysis, this paper compares the global cost-effectiveness of different infrastructure strategies for the developing world to achieve universal 4G or 5G mobile broadband. Utilizing remote sensing and demand forecasting, least-cost network designs are developed for eight representative low and middle-income countries (Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Pakistan, Albania, Peru and Mexico), the results from which form the basis for aggregation to the global level. The cost of meeting a minimum 10 Mbps per user is estimated at USD 1.7 trillion using 5G Non-Standalone, approximately 0.6% of annual GDP for the developing world over the next decade. However, by creating a favorable regulatory environment, governments can bring down these costs by as much as three quarters, to USD 0.5 trillion (approximately 0.2% of annual GDP), and avoid the need for public subsidy. Providing governments make judicious choices, adopting fiscal and regulatory regimes conducive to lowering costs, universal broadband may be within reach of most developing countries over the next decade.
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