94% of the world’s ‘unconnected’ population lives in LMICs

GSMA has released its much-anticipated State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2022, in which it details the current state of global connectivity

In The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity report 2022, GSMS detailed a comprehensive overview of this year’s key global connectivity trends. 

Alongside this, the main barriers to improved mobile internet adoption and tackling the global usage gap. 

To this aim, for the first time, the report has shared insights on mobile internet connectivity specifically among adults and by income group. The report also included a thorough assessment of the current status of mobile connectivity in the Least Developed Countries. 

“It is critical that we ensure no one is left behind in an increasingly connected world,” the report stated. 

95% of the world’s population is now covered by a mobile broadband network - the pace of global connectivity  

The report revealed that global mobile broadband coverage continues to slowly expand, with 95% of the world’s population now covered by a mobile broadband network. 

At the end of 2021, the coverage gap represented 5% of the world’s population. This year, the coverage gap has successfully reduced, but this has only been at a pace of 1 percentage point (pp) per year between 2018 and 2021. 

This clearly demonstrates how challenging it is to bring connectivity to the remaining population, who are predominantly located in poor rural areas. 

According to the report, in the least developed countries (LDCs), more than one in six people live in areas without mobile broadband coverage - a dramatic difference from the proportion of connectivity globally. 

In terms of mobile internet usage, 55% of the world's population are now using mobile internet. Although this figure has grown in recent years, the report states that this pace is almost entirely driven by people living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). 

Furthermore, across the surveyed countries, mobile internet users are using their mobile phones more frequently. This trend covers a wide range of online activities, including instant messaging, voice and video calling (which are the most popular internet activities). In fact, from 2019-2021, the proportion of users using mobile internet for education purposes at least once a week increased from 27% to 38%. 

The global mobile usage gap - how gender, income and location impacts usage trends 

One of the report’s most interesting findings was that, at the end of 2021, there were 3.2 billion people living within the footprint of a mobile broadband network but not using mobile internet. 

The share of the population living within the footprint of a mobile broadband network but not using mobile internet (i.e. the usage gap) decreased from 45% in 2019 to 40% in 2021. 

However despite a decrease, the usage gap remains substantial. In fact, it currently sits at almost eight times the size of the coverage gap. 

The report’s key findings about the global mobile usage gap include: 

  • 94% of the ‘unconnected’ population lives in LMICs
  • In LMICs, adults in rural areas are still 33% less likely to use mobile internet than those living in urban areas
  • Women in LMICs are 16% less likely to use mobile internet than men 
  • Across LMICs, the poorest 20% in terms of income are 49% less likely to access the internet than the richest 20%
  • At the end of 2021, only 20% of the population in LDCs were using mobile internet, compared to 55% in other LMICs (excluding LDCs). 

The report stated that affordability and skills remain the two greatest barriers to mobile internet usage. 

Among mobile users who are aware of mobile internet but don’t use it, the top-reported barriers are affordability (particularly the high cost of handsets), and literacy and digital skills. 

According to GSMA, the affordability of an internet-enabled handset has not significantly improved across all regions. In fact, for the poorest 20% of the population, the cost of a handset represents 54% of their monthly income.

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