September 19, 2021

What will it take to connect the other half of the world?

Video By

Mr. Mats Granryd

Director General, GSMA

State of Broadband 2021

Earlier this year, as I was walking the exhibition halls of MWC21 Barcelona I was impressed to see the rapid progress made by the mobile industry to advance new technologies and the rollout of 5G. This is Connected Impact. We are entering a new era of possibilities, and this is really a time to ecognize the unprecedented levels of connectivity we enjoy today. Across the world, 93% of the population is covered by mobile broadband (87% by 4G), resulting from more than $900 billion in CAPEX investment by mobile operators over the past five years. Not only has coverage expanded, but data consumption per user also continues to rise, enabled by ever increasing network capacity that saw average mobile download speeds go from 5 Mbps in 2014 to 17 Mbps in 2019[1].

However, not everyone is benefitting equally. Mobile internet adoption is not growing as fast as coverage is expanding, creating a significant usage gap.  In fact, of the 4 billion people that do not use mobile internet, 3.4 billion live in an area already covered by mobile broadband. People that remain offline are disproportionately poor, female, rural or have some form of disability[2]. For example, women are still 15% less likely to use mobile internet than men[3]. It is therefore crucial to reassess how we can now improve digital inclusion. Instead of primarily focusing on infrastructure, the approach must be people-centric, tackling the barriers that prevent people from adopting and using the internet, including:

  • Improving the affordability of internet-enabled handsets and data services;
  • Ensuring citizens have the required digital skills, literacy, awareness and understanding of the internet and its benefits;
  • Ensuring relevant content and services are available, including supporting the expansion of local digital ecosystems;
  • Addressing safety and security concerns and building consumer trust; and
  • Expanding access to enablers such as electricity, formal identification, and accessibility features.

Addressing these barriers requires concerted and joint efforts by mobile operators, device manufacturers, internet companies and civil society, as well as an enabling policy framework supporting those efforts. To help with this approach, we recently launched a report[4] that sets out a broad range of policy recommendations to increase mobile internet adoption.

An investment-friendly policy framework for infrastructure will remain a top priority for enabling ever better mobile internet experiences. However, a narrow focus on infrastructure policies will not be enough to address the digital divide. Only when we all work together to complement infrastructure initiatives with policies to accelerate adoption and use can we ensure we are not leaving anyone behind in an increasingly digital world.

[1] GSMA (2020) The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2020

[2] GSMA (2020) The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2020

[3] GSMA (2021) The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021

[4] GSMA (2021) Accelerating mobile internet adoption: Policy considerations to bridge the digital divide in low- and middle-income countries

The Commissioners’ case studies and articles reflect the views of their authors alone and do not reflect the views of the Broadband Commission