According to the Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2023, published by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), there is a growing prevalence of smartphone ownership on a global scale. GSMA is an association representing the interests of mobile operators and the broader mobile industry worldwide.
As per the findings, around 4.3 billion individuals, accounting for 55% of the world's population, are now smartphone owners. Moreover, the report reveals that there are 4.6 billion users of mobile internet, and a significant portion of this, 4 billion, accesses the internet via smartphones.
Despite the advancements, the report underscores ongoing difficulties, particularly in terms of the digital divide and disparities in usage. A notable finding from the report is the unequal access to mobile internet connections across different regions.
What are the key findings of the report?
For the purpose of this study, a nationally representative sample of around 1,000 adults aged 18 and above was surveyed in all countries, with the exception of India and China, where the sample was around 2,000. Here's what the study highlights.
- Although mobile internet adoption continues to increase, with 57% of the global population (4.6 billion people) now using mobile internet, the growth rate at which people are adopting mobile internet slowed in 2022.
- The extent of mobile broadband coverage has remained relatively consistent, encompassing 95% of the global population. Interestingly, a substantial portion of those who do not use mobile internet reside in regions already covered by mobile broadband networks.
- There are notable discrepancies in connectivity both between and within regions and countries, with 95% of individuals lacking access primarily residing in low and middle-income group countries (LMICs).
- A majority of the global population, approximately 4 billion people, now possess smartphones, which serve as the primary means for accessing mobile internet. While 4G and 5G networks continue to expand, it's important to note that 2G and 3G networks still play a significant role in providing coverage, especially in LMICs.
3.4 billion people remain unconnected to mobile internet
The GSMA report highlights the digital divide globally, wherein, approximately 3.4 billion people remain unconnected to mobile internet. Although majority of the regions with no mobile internet have access to mobile broadband networks but 38% of people living there choose not to use it. Furthermore, 5% are still not covered by mobile broadband.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the connectivity gap is even more pronounced at 59 percent, while in South Asia, it stands at 52 percent, underscoring the significant hurdles these regions encounter in achieving extensive digital inclusion.
In mature markets such as North America and East Asia and the Pacific, 69% of smartphone users have adopted 4G-enabled devices. However, the scenario is quite different in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, where 69% and 33% of smartphones, respectively, are constrained to 3G capabilities.
The report also reveals a crucial disparity that 600 million individuals, equivalent to 8 percent of the world's population, connect to the internet through feature phones. This underscores the variety of devices shaping internet usage trends on a global scale.
A feature phone incorporates features such as the ability to access the internet and store and play music but lacks the advanced functionality of a smartphone. Additionally, across LMICs, affordability of a basic internet friendly mobile set is equivalent to 24% of average monthly income for women, and 13% for men.
According to the GSMA report, obstacles such as digital expertise, literacy, apprehensions about safety continue to exist, hindering smartphone users from making optimal use of their devices for internet connectivity.