The growing key role of cellular networks for providing Internet connectivity in many places around the world makes the case for considering such networks as part of the critical infrastructure of these economies.

The tremendous growth of the mobile Internet, with over 11 billion devices connected by 2020, and its economic implications, have motivated several reports. And yet, we still lack an understanding of the impact of cellular networks around the world.

There are a number of reasons for this. For starters, it is currently challenging to tell whether a particular IP address comes from a cellular or fixed-line user.

In much of the world, cellular users reside in networks that combine both cellular and fixed-line customers, which complicates any straightforward attempt at identification. Knowing a device type (smartphone or tablet) has limited value as most mobile devices have multiple interfaces and users tend to offload cellular traffic to WiFi when available.

And while instrumented devices or data collected from a network operator’s core could provide detailed information on cell network usage, scaling these sorts of studies have proven to be difficult.

A comprehensive understanding of cellular access has a wide range of applications for different stakeholders in the Internet. For content providers and delivery networks, identifying access technology would help to diagnose and address performance issues in the wild. Researchers and operators could better understand how networks are being used around the world and identify potential trends, while policy-makers could have a firmer statistical footing for investment decisions.

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