World’s Population Density and Broadband Affordability

Population Density

The United Nations Environment Program provides data for the world’s population density, identifying large areas with less than 4 people per square Kilometer (white coloured areas). Vast areas of Canada, the western part of central United States, Central South America, Australia and the various hot and cold deserts together with the oceans reveal that only a small percentage of the globe is densely populated. In fact just 29% of the globe’s surface are land and just 66% of the land, or 19% of the globe, is populated.

Population density; Source: UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Geneva, UNEP Environmental Data Explorer

Broadband Affordability

GNI per capita (formerly GNP per capita) is the gross national income, converted to U.S. dollars using the World Bank Atlas method, divided by the midyear population. GNI is the sum of value added by all resident producers plus any product taxes (less subsidies) not included in the valuation of output plus net receipts of primary income (compensation of employees and property income) from abroad. GNI, calculated in national currency, is usually converted to U.S. dollars.

At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development released a new set of targets aimed at connecting the 50% of the world that remains offline, including a target to make “entry-level broadband services…affordable in developing countries, at less than 2% of monthly gross national income per capita.”

This results in cost targets per month between USD 10 and USD 100.

Opportunities for Satellites

On this base, satellite internet services are affordable in the sparsely populated areas of Canada and Australia and the western part of the United States and Alaska. Satellites are a perfect match for these regions with a likely demand for good broadband bandwidth per customer, as they only have a limited overall broadband capacity but can cover huge areas.

Opportunities for HAPS

With a cost target below USD 10 per month such services might stay unaffordable for e.g. most African people. Depending on the population density for Africa HAPS with less bandwidth but lower costs seem to be affordable, while in India and Asia the situation depends on the locally required data capacity. Hydrogen powered HAPS can provide a high bandwidth with speeds of up to Gigabit per second and high data capacity, they operate independent of latitude and can serve the densely populated areas of India and Asia, the west coast and the eastern part of the United States, South America, Europe, Russia and Australia.

Especially, Sub-Saharan Africa faces an extremely challenging situation to improve access to ICT as the GNI is in rural areas of the countries very much below the country median. For example, in Tanzania half of the people live on just USD 1.90 per day. Applying the ‘2% GNI’ rule, affordable monthly costs for broadband would just be about USD 1.10. In a student thesis from the University of Aberdeen the influence of ICT on the Human Development in Tanzania is discussed. The usage of mobile phones appears to have the highest positive influence on the Human Development. A road map for Tanzania would be to provide ubiquitous mobile phone connections at a very low target cost of just USD 1 per month. The problem here is not capacity but area-wide coverage, which HAPS can provide.

As of today, in early 2021, all of those components for a ground breaking world-wide ICT infrastructure, tailored to the local needs in terms of capacity and economy are already in place or under test.