Indonesian users in sparsely-populated rural areas connect to 4G more than 70% of the time

Indonesia is the largest Southeast Asian country by both geography and population. Stretching more than 3,000 miles from east to west and 1,000 miles from north to south, Indonesia is composed of 17,500 islands, of which 10,500 are inhabited, with more than 40% of the population dwelling in sparsely populated rural areas. This archipelagic geography coupled with diverse population densities presents a huge challenge to the country’s mobile network operators as they try to expand and maintain reliable networks. Opensignal found that despite 4G networks approaching near-ubiquitous level, a connectivity gap exists between sparsely populated rural areas and densely populated urban areas of Indonesia.

We analyzed 4G Availability — a measure of the proportion of time users spend connected to 4G, on average — across Indonesia using census data from Indonesia’s Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) to classify the regencies and cities into five distinct categories, based on their population density:

  • Cat. 1 — Up to 50 people per km2
  • Cat. 2 — 50 to 100 people per km2
  • Cat. 3 — 100 to 300 people per km2
  • Cat. 4 — 300 to 1000 people per km2
  • Cat. 5 — More than 1000 people per km2

We found that while our users in the most densely populated areas (Cat. 5) could connect to 4G services 89.7% of the time, users in the most sparsely populated areas (Cat.1) could latch onto a 4G signal only 76% of the time — a gap of 13 percentage points. When we examined the time users spend connected to all mobile data networks (3G and 4G services combined), this disparity diminished but continued to exist. The 3G/4G Availability dropped by 10.3 percentage points, from 96.3% in the most densely populated areas (Cat. 5) to 86% in the most sparsely populated areas (Cat. 1).

Closing this gap is not just a technical but also an economic challenge. Opensignal data shows that our users experienced the lowest mobile internet connectivity in the regencies with the lowest population density and those with a higher proportion of rural areas, since it’s commercially lucrative for operators to deploy and upgrade their networks in dense urban areas first. We saw the same trend in our recent analyzes of Indonesia's neighbors. The urban-rural digital divide in 4G Availability widened up to 14 percentage points in the Philippines and more than tripled to almost 40 points in Malaysia. Likewise, the divide in 3G/4G Availability approached more than double in both the countries, putting our users in Indonesia in a stronger position.

In the last few years, we have seen some notable improvements in our users' mobile network experience across Indonesia as it progresses to become a digital economy. With its 3G lifecycle reaching maturity and 4G becoming the more dominant technology for smartphone users, 95% of the population now uses mobile to access the internet. And this is driven for the most part by strategic network investments and spectrum refarming (800 MHz and 900 MHz) to reduce the prevailing gap in rural areas, backed by strategic spectrum and investment policies from the government.