Open source coverage maps

In August, the weekly newsletter was about why there is no common standard for mobile coverage maps and the result was a wide range in accuracy, with operator coverage maps generally unusable. This week is a follow-up and compares one source for mobile coverage maps, Open Cell ID, versus actual coverage. RIS designs and operates Universal Access and Service (UAS) portals for Namibia and Malawi, so we have access to accurate population and geographic coverage maps. The table below compares geographic and population coverage. In Malawi, Open Cell ID geographic coverage misses 45% of the geographic area that is actually covered. In Namibia, the situation is more extreme because it is a large but mostly empty country: Open Cell ID geographic coverage misses 83% of the geographic area that is actually covered. 

When it comes to population coverage, the situation is better: for Malawi, Open Cell ID shows 30% less population coverage than is actually the case. In Namibia, Open Cell ID shows 20% population coverage compared to actual coverage. 

Area Sqkm118,480824,292
Actual broadband coverage in sq. km71,309141,936
Actual broadband geographic coverage (%)60%17%
Open Cell ID broadband coverage in sq. km38,91528,674
Broadband geographic coverage - Open Cell ID33%3%
Actual broadband population coverage18,301,3352,292,582
Actual broadband population coverage (%)96%90%
Open Cell ID broadband population coverage12,736,7941,835,060
Open Cell ID broadband population coverage (%)67%72%

Open Cell ID is a wonderful resource, but it needs to be supported by additional data. Why regulators hide tower locations is a mystery – Canada makes all tower locations publicly available. Why can’t the rest of the world? 

Other news from around Africa
  • MTN and Telkom: One of the biggest mergers in Africa has collapsed after MTN called off discussions because Telkom couldn’t guarantee exclusivity. Telkom has also received a competing bid from Rain, a much smaller South African telco. 
  • Uganda passes new social media law: In one example, the new law would make sharing photos online without permission subject to 10 years in jail. On the one hand, online privacy is a real issue, but this approach is an example of the Mark Twain quote: “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. There has to be a more reasonable and nuanced approach to the problem.