The GSMA has released the State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2021
The publication reiterates that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of the world’s population is now using the mobile internet.
Mobile internet usage translates to just over 4 billion connected people, 225 million more compared to 2019, and up from a third of people globally just six years ago.
However, while the growth is impressive growth in mobile internet connectivity, both in terms of mobile internet coverage and usage, the report highlights that work must accelerate to bridge the digital divide.
Of the 3.8 billion people who remain unconnected, only 450 million people do not live in areas with mobile broadband coverage, (“the coverage gap”).
The coverage gap represents a significant improvement year on year.
The far bigger challenge is the 3.4 billion people who live in areas that are already covered by mobile broadband, but are not using it, (“the usage gap”).
GSMA has also examined trends in the coverage and usage of mobile internet over the last six years and identifies the key barriers to mobile internet adoption.
Besides, GSMA looks at the early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the most significant regional effects.
Finally, it makes recommendations to help close the digital divide and ensure greater access to mobile internet connectivity.
In particular, we must address the key barriers to usage of mobile internet services, most notably literacy and digital skills, as well as affordability. Only through targeted and collaborative action can we bridge the digital divide – GSMA’s Chief Regulatory Officer, John Giusti.
According to GMSA, during the last six years, the coverage gap has continued to narrow based on the following highlights:
- In 2014, almost a quarter of the world’s population did not have access to a mobile broadband network.
- By the end of 2020, that figure was only 6%.
- Now, 94% of the world’s population has access to a broadband network, with most progress between 2014 and 2018.
- In 2020, global coverage increased by one percentage point, from 93% to 94%. This reduced the number of people living in areas without a mobile broadband network to 450 million. Those who remain uncovered typically live in sparsely populated rural areas with difficult terrain.
Moreover, the number of people using mobile internet has also increased for the second year in a row in line with the following metrics.
- However, the usage gap remains large and accounts for the majority of the unconnected.
- In 2020, 3.4 billion people (43% of the world’s population) lived within the footprint of a mobile broadband network but were not accessing mobile internet services.
- Although the usage gap is narrowing, it is now seven times larger than the coverage gap.
- In 2014, the usage gap accounted for 64% of the total unconnected population – this figure grew to 88% by 2020 due to the increase in mobile broadband coverage.
- Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) now account for almost 93% of the world’s unconnected population and more than 98% of the uncovered population.
- Between 2019 and 2020, the most significant increase in mobile internet usage is in East Asia (61%), which grew by 4%.
The pandemic has further highlighted the importance of mobile internet connectivity to the social and economic well-being of people around the world.
People with mobile internet access were able to stay connected with friends and family, conduct business, gain access to critical information and services, and otherwise ease the monotony of lockdown life.
Yet 47% of the population in LMICs are still not using the mobile internet despite living within mobile broadband network coverage.
Key barriers include:
- Lack of awareness of mobile internet and its benefits, literacy, and digital skills make up the largest barrier to adoption. Nearly a quarter of adults across the report’s surveyed countries are not aware of mobile internet and its benefits.
- Affordability: internet-enabled handsets and data became less affordable in many LMICs in 2020 due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These barriers often disproportionately affect specific segments of the population, especially people living in rural areas and women.