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10 Insights from the Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2022

By Guest Writer on December 14, 2022

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Over the past five years, nearly 1.4 billion people have gained access to the internet through a mobile phone and by the end of 2021, 55% of the world’s population was using mobile internet. This is providing people with access to critical information and services such as healthcare, education, e-commerce, financial services and income-generating opportunities.

Mobile is the primary – and in some cases only – way most people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) access the internet, particularly for women and those living in rural areas. While mobile has been driving digital inclusion, there remain significant connectivity gaps, with 3.6 billion people who still cannot realise the benefit of the internet, either because they are not covered by a mobile broadband network or, more often, because they face other barriers to using mobile internet.

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the importance of getting access to the internet. Mobile phones enabled people to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the pandemic by providing ongoing access to information and services online when movement was restricted. However, the lingering effects of the pandemic and the unequal global economic recovery threaten to exacerbate inequalities.

In 2021, the situation worsened for those who are already the most likely to be digitally excluded – the poorest 40% of the world’s population, those with low education and women. This highlights the importance of continuing to monitor the impact of the pandemic on digital inclusion, particularly among those most affected.

The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2022 analyses the trends over the last five years; in particular, it focuses on trends since 2019, before the onset of the pandemic. Mobile internet connectivity is not just about coverage but also ensuring that people are able to use the internet to meet their needs.

As defined by a multi-stakeholder working group as part of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, “meaningful connectivity” is about ensuring users have a safe, satisfying, enriching and productive online experience that is affordable. This requires an examination of the key barriers and enablers to meaningful connectivity, including infrastructure, affordability, skills, safety and security, and relevant content and services, each of which are considered in this report.

10 Insights from 2022 Mobile Internet Connectivity Report

Mobile internet use has reached 55% of the world’s population. By the end of 2021, 4.3 billion people were using mobile internet, an increase of almost 300 million since the end of 2020. Growth in mobile internet adoption has almost entirely been driven by people living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). As a result, for the first time, half of the population in LMICs is using mobile internet.

Mobile broadband coverage continues to slowly expand, with 95% of the world’s population covered by a mobile broadband network. At the end of 2021, the coverage gap – those living in areas without mobile broadband coverage – represented 5% of the world’s population (400 million people). The coverage gap has only reduced by 1 percentage point (pp) per year between 2018 and 2021, showing how challenging it is to cover the remaining population, who are predominantly poor and rural. In the least developed countries (LDCs), more than one in six people live in areas without mobile broadband coverage.

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. With network expansion slowing, mobile internet adoption has begun to outpace increases in mobile broadband coverage. After remaining relatively unchanged between 2014 and 2019, 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, the usage gap remains substantial and is almost eight times the size of the coverage gap.

Connectivity varies significantly by different socioeconomic groups and by country income levels, with 94% of the ‘unconnected’ living 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 and progress in reducing the mobile internet gender gap has stalled. 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).

Across all regions, there are now more mobile connections using 3G or 4G/5G smartphones than basic or feature phones. While Sub- Saharan Africa and South Asia have the lowest share of smartphone connections, they are also the regions with the highest growth rates. Over the last five years, they have had average annual growth rates of 20%.

Data usage and network quality continue to increase – but with a persistent gap between high- and lower-income countries. Global mobile data traffic per user reached more than 8.2 GB per month in 2021, compared to 6.2 GB per month in 2020. Data usage is on average twice as large in high-income countries (HICs) than in LMICs, with the exception of India. Upload and download speeds have improved but the gap in network quality between HICs and LMICs is widening.

Across the surveyed countries, mobile internet users are using their mobile phones more frequently for a range of online activities. Instant messaging, voice and video calling are the most popular internet activities with other activities growing in frequency of usage. For instance, the proportion of users using mobile internet for education purposes at least once a week has increased from 27% to 38% between 2019 and 2021.

Awareness of mobile internet continues to grow but has slowed significantly since 2019. In most of the countries surveyed, more than 80% of the population was aware of mobile internet in 2021. Women and people living in rural areas are increasingly aware but still lag behind men and those living in urban areas.

Affordability and skills remain the two greatest barriers to mobile internet adoption and use. For example, among mobile users who are aware of mobile internet but don’t use it, the top- reported barriers preventing mobile internet use are still affordability, particularly of handsets, and literacy and digital skills.

Across LMICs, affordability of data has continued to improve but affordability of entry- level internet-enabled handsets has remained relatively unchanged. Data costs have continued to reduce. In 2021, 1 GB of data cost less than 2% of monthly income in 56% of LMICs compared to 45% in 2020. However, the affordability of an internet-enabled handset has not significantly improved across all regions and for the poorest 20% of the population, the cost of a handset represents 54% of their monthly income.

A lightly edited excerpt from the GSMA State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2022

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4 Comments to “10 Insights from the Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2022”

  1. Hi there, I am curious that you don’t mention that this is a GSMA report. Could you kindly update this guest blog to credit GSMA? i.e. “10 Insights from the GSMA Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2022” and acknowledge somewhere in the intro that this comes from our report.
    If you update the link to the GSMA website instead of the report uploaded within ICT works, your readers will also have access to the wealth of resources available there: dynamic data and regional fact sheets etc. https://www.gsma.com/r/somic/
    Many thanks,
    Isabelle, Insights Director, GSMA

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Hi Isabelle,
      I usually do link to the original location at the bottom of the post. Apologies on the oversight here and I added in a reference now.
      I upload reports to ICTworks vs. linking to them in the text, as many report locations change. For example, the /somic/ link changes each year (2021 report, 2023 report, etc) and I want to have the original file on ICTworks. This site has outlasted many programs and websites already, and serves as the only location for many of those efforts’ reports.

  2. James BonTempo says:

    To the last point re: handset affordability, in 2010 (over a decade ago!) I wrote that a $20 smartphone would create a “tipping point” for mHealth. I arrived at that price based on a back-of-the-envelope economic analysis and comparison of service delivery with and without the aid of a mobile. Unfortunately, it seems all this time later we’re still struggling with the cost of devices. http://linearityofexpectation.blogspot.com/2010/02/20-smartphone-tipping-point-for-mhealth.html