GSMA: Smartphone ownership surpasses 50% yet digital divide persists

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According to the GSMA’s annual State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2023, over half of the world’s population – approximately 4.3 billion people – now own smartphones.

This surge in smartphone ownership has significantly influenced the adoption of mobile internet services globally, with nearly 4 billion out of 4.6 billion mobile internet users accessing it via smartphones.

Despite this progress, the report highlights persistent challenges; especially concerning the digital divide and usage gaps. One of the striking findings of the report is the regional disparities in mobile internet connections.

While 69 percent of smartphone owners in mature markets like North America and East Asia & Pacific are using 4G-enabled devices, the situation contrasts sharply in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa; where 69 percent and 33 percent of smartphones, respectively, are limited to 3G capabilities.

This dichotomy underscores the importance of 2G and 3G networks in low- and middle-income countries, ensuring vital internet access for millions of users.

Despite the overall growth in mobile internet usage, a significant proportion of the global population – approximately 3.4 billion people – remains unconnected. The percentage of individuals living in areas with mobile broadband coverage but not using it stands at 38 percent.

This connectivity gap rises to 59 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 52 percent in South Asia, emphasising the challenges faced by these regions in achieving widespread digital inclusion.

The report unveils another critical insight: 600 million people – constituting eight percent of the global population – access the internet using feature phones. This highlights the diversity of devices influencing internet usage patterns worldwide.

Additionally, barriers such as digital skills, literacy, safety concerns, and the availability of relevant content persist, preventing even smartphone owners from fully utilising their devices for internet access.

While mobile internet adoption continues to grow, the report signals a slowdown in its growth rate; emphasising the urgency of the situation.

Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, said: “Lack of connectivity will deprive billions of people of access to vital services and revenue-generating opportunities – likely impacting poorer, less educated, rural and female users disproportionately.

“As the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and rise in climate-related emergencies affects these groups further, there is an urgent need to accelerate digital inclusion and break down the barriers to stop the digital divide from widening further.”

Efforts to bridge the digital divide must be intensified, focusing on addressing barriers to usage, improving digital literacy, and ensuring affordable and accessible internet-enabled devices.

(Photo by Creative Christians on Unsplash)

See also: UK joins leading nations to strengthen telecoms security and innovation

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