Discussion Papers

No. 470: Impact of coverage obligations on mobile network coverage in the EU

Authors: Bernd Sörries, Matthias Franken, Dajan Baischew, Stefano Lucidi

(full version only available in German)


Mobile phone coverage in Germany has been a recurring topic in the press for some time and the subject of controversial political and expert discussions. Despite relatively high population density and economic prosperity, Germany is only average in a European comparison. What causes the differences between countries? There is a lack of literature that goes beyond showing descriptive statistics or that tries to provide (quantitative) explanations for differences in mobile phone coverage.

In this discussion paper, we use econometric methods (multiple linear regression) to determine the extent to which past legal coverage obligations in the context of spectrum allocation have had an actual impact on 3G and 4G mobile coverage across EU member states. The comparison of countries shows that coverage obligations have a consistently positive and significant effect on mobile coverage. The influence of coverage obligations has the strongest effect on mobile coverage in the first years after the allocation of frequencies. This is an expected result considering that coverage obligations are linked to the goal of promoting the expansion of mobile networks as quickly as possible. In addition to the influence of coverage obligations on mobile coverage, we also show that GDP per capita has a positive influence on mobile coverage, i.e. the better the country's economic performance, the better its mobile coverage. In contrast, no clear influence of demographic factors, such as population density or the degree of urbanization, on mobile phone coverage could be demonstrated. Accordingly, there are countries with a low population density that have high mobile coverage and countries with a relatively high population density and comparatively low mobile coverage.

In sum, the present study has developed an approach that makes it possible to measure the effect of coverage requirements on mobile coverage. In the future, using larger amounts of data, it would be possible to expand and deepen the present analyses. For example, taking mobile coverage by provider or smaller territorial classifications into account could provide more precise results and insights into the factors influencing mobile expansion. Future studies could also examine impacts of the associated coverage obligations concerning the expansion of 5G.

Discussion paper is available for download.

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