The digital divide is holding humanity back – geospatial mapping can help 

The digital divide prevents billions of people accessing the internet. Learn how 3D mapping tech can help close the digital divide

The digital divide prevents billions of people from having access to the internet –  especially in rural areas. But thanks to modern satellite mapping technologies, it’s easier than ever for telecommunications companies to know where and how to provide internet services.

At a glance:

  • The telecommunications industry has a vital role in bridging the digital divide
  • Developing countries, rural areas, and remote islands are among the worst affected
  • Learn about options to close the digital divide
  • Find out how geospatial data and RF mapping can make internet infrastructure deployment projects more efficient

Access to high-speed internet could transform the lives of the billions of people who currently lack it. Imagine a farmer, who could find out how to adapt his crops to a changing climate. Or an ambitious rural student who wants to learn more than her school can teach. Or a businesswoman who discovers an export market for her artisanal handicrafts. 


Today, however, the digital divide prevents countless people from accessing the information and opportunities available online. According to the World Economic Forum, 2.9 billion people lack meaningful access to the internet, and only 53% of humanity has access to high-speed internet. This lack of access is most acute in developing countries, but it persists in the developed world too. In the US, 39% of people living in rural areas can’t get high-speed internet at home, while in many countries of southeast Europe, more than a fifth of the population has never used the World Wide Web.

Telecom firms provide the vital infrastructure that allows people to access the internet, and so play a vital role in bridging the digital divide. While they’ve been highly successful at connecting urban areas, it’s much harder (and more expensive) to connect sparsely-populated rural environments. But with very detailed mapping, it’s becoming much easier for them to plan out where and how to reach those missing billions.

What is the digital divide?

The digital divide simply refers to the gap between people who have access to reliable, good-quality internet, and those who do not. Typically, the gap is most apparent when comparing developed and developing countries, and also urban areas versus rural areas. 

The digital divide continues to exist for many reasons. In some cases, it’s simply down to a lack of available finance for rolling out the infrastructure. Other times, there may be too few people living in an area to make the investment worthwhile. Sometimes, connecting people in certain regions is complicated by geographical factors (impenetrable forests, mountain ranges, lack of roads) or political factors (civil and international conflicts). 

There are nuances, of course. Many people live in areas where there might be internet coverage, for instance, but they cannot afford internet subscriptions. Others may lack the skills to use computers or smartphones, so remain excluded.

How can telcos close the digital divide?

Bridging the digital divide is the responsibility of many different actors – government agencies, internet companies, telcos, and, to an extent, citizens. Government agencies need to provide funding, training, and information to encourage adoption and help people get online. Internet companies, meanwhile, need to make the technology relevant (i.e., providing content, information, services, and news in local languages). And individuals can also be proactive when it comes to learning to use the internet too. 

Nevertheless, telcos have the greatest influence here. By providing the infrastructure to deliver access to high-speed internet, they’re the most important players. So how can they provide access outside the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of urban areas?

Related: Why RF planning needs better maps for 5G to succeed

Fixed wireless

Fixed wireless ‘hotspots’ provide subscribers with a 3G, 4G or 5G signal when they are close to the building where they’re installed. It provides faster internet to people close by.

Mobile broadband

Mobile broadband is another option for people in rural areas. It requires a cell tower to be installed, but then allows many people to connect to the web via a dongle or other connected devices. 

Satellite Internet

Satellite internet has the advantage of not requiring any infrastructure to be built. However, it tends to be much slower than other options. 

Wired broadband and ‘dial up’

Various kinds of wired broadband can help tackle the digital divide in some rural areas, but the cost of laying broadband to remote places (and a small number of customers) makes this a less attractive option. Meanwhile, ‘dial-up’ connections via the existing telephone network may be suitable, though they tend to be slow.

Geospatial mapping helps telcos bridging the digital divide

Although there are several ways to get rural communities connected, the most practical and affordable are mobile broadband and fixed wireless. However, setting up cell towers or hotspots in rural areas comes with challenges:

  • Topography: The physical landscape includes many obstacles (mountains, hills, rocks, etc.) which affect radio frequency transmission. 
  • Vegetation and landscape: Trees, forests, lakes, and bodies of water attenuate radio waves. 
  • Location of (potential) customers: Outside urban areas, populations can be hard to reach, and information about the location of villages or the number of inhabitants is not always available. 
  • Spread: In rural areas, populations may be spread sparsely over great distances, so finding the best location for a cell tower or hotspot is challenging. 

And this is where geospatial mapping helps. By using up-to-date, 2D and 3D maps of the Earth’s surface, it is possible to gather the information telcos need to place infrastructure in the most suitable, impactful, and cost-efficient locations. 

With LuxCarta’s 2D and 3D maps, you can generate an accurate map of a chosen landscape and use this to identify the most suitable location to place cell towers. Our maps at different resolutions can provide invaluable information when planning out broadband infrastructure projects:

  • Land use and cover maps show recent images of land use, giving you the most accurate view of local conditions and the size of communities. 
  • Global elevation models give you a clear view of local topography, clutter, and any barriers that may affect access to the internet. 
  • AI-powered tree, building, and road extraction helps you understand local development, the size of communities, and physical access. 

With this information, telecom companies can better plan the location and position of cell towers, making sure they’re in the best place to reach communities that could truly benefit from access to high-speed internet.

Related: How high-res population maps support RF planning

Tackle the digital divide with LuxCarta

In the 21st century, access to the internet is increasingly seen as a basic right. It provides a source of invaluable information and news for people everywhere, not to mention entertainment, socializing, learning, and business opportunities. However, the digital divide persists, and billions of people continue to live with no meaningful internet access. 

But, with the well-planned installation of cell towers and upgrades to existing infrastructure, telecom companies can help to close the digital divide. LuxCarta’s mapping solutions help you to plan your coverage expansion projects, by providing the most recent, accurate, and powerful maps of the places you plan to serve. 


Contact us today, to learn how we can help you close the digital divide, or discover our Region Planner.



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