The GSMA says that more than half of the world’s population is now using mobile Internet, an increase from a third in 2014.
The expansion of cellular coverage across the world means only 6% of people cannot access any mobile network, down from 24% six years ago, according to the industry body’s ‘State of the Internet Connectivity Report’.
However, this increase in coverage is not being matched by adoption. Of the 3.8 million people that do not use mobile broadband, only 450 million live in areas without a single mobile network. This means the adoption gap is now seven times the coverage gap.
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The main barriers to adoption therefore are awareness, digital skills, and affordability. The report says that Covid-19 has increased the cost of both handsets and mobile data packages in certain parts of the world.
Low- and middle-income countries account for 93% of the world’s unconnected population and more than 98% of those that do not have coverage. This is of particular concern to the GSMA because mobile phones are the primary method for many people in developing nations because of the absence of fixed infrastructure.
The GSMA wants a collaborative approach to solving the issue that includes input from governments, operators and the wider industry, adding that the pandemic has demonstrated the benefits of connectivity to society.
“While more people than ever are now using the mobile internet, some fundamental barriers stop far too many people from using mobile internet. To close this usage gap, all of us – government and industry – need to do more,” said the GSMA Chief Regulatory Officer, John Giusti.
“In particular, we must address the key barriers to usage of mobile internet services, most notably literacy and digital skills, as well as affordability. Only through targeted and collaborative action can we bridge the digital divide.”
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.