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publication February 4, 2019

Digital Connectivity in Lao PDR: Lagging Behind Peers


Digital connectivity—access to affordable and reliable internet services—has become a key driver of economic and social development.  Around the world, economic activities and government services are increasingly moving online.

By almost every measure, Lao PDR is lagging significantly in terms of accessibility, quality and affordability of internet services compared to other comparable regional economies.

  • Access to mobile broadband is increasing, but rural and more remote communities are still underserved.
  • Fixed broadband, which is required for high-capacity data transmission, is particularly limited.
  • Prices for internet are comparatively high.  High capacity fixed broadband services are very limited and extremely expensive.
  • The relatively high cost is slowing access, with mobile subscription and broadband internet subscription rates lower than in neighboring countries.
  • There is a minimum retail tariff regime for mobile, voice and data services, and this may reduce the ability of operators to compete on price and services.
  • Quality of service and affordability of internet are continuing concerns that are slowing the introduction and use of digital services and applications.
  • The average 2G/3G connection is on the low side for speed, and while the 4G connection speed falls within regional averages, Lao PDR is the only country in the region with only one operator offering 4G.
  • A qualitative survey of consumer attitudes suggests that consumers find internet speed slow and service unreliable, resulting in low value for money.
  • Regulatory capacity and expertise is increasing but remains comparatively low, further limiting market growth and investment.

Lao PDR is well-positioned to take advantage of digital connectivity to improve growth, competitiveness, and services provision, but interventions are needed to ensure that Lao PDR does not fall further behind regional peers. Recommendations include:

  • Policy, legal, and regulatory reforms to stimulate investments in infrastructure needed to improve digital services
  • Increased private participation, with strategic use of public funds to support less commercially viable investments
  • Support for regulatory capacity building to ensure efficient use of resources
  • A review of the status of the national network to identify bottlenecks and infrastructure needs to deliver higher levels of traffic in the future
  • Improved reporting from the industry on access, pricing and service quality
  • Review of minimum retail tariffs for mobile services to determine whether they reduce price and quality competitiveness among operators