There are 3.8 billion people who remain unconnected with only 450 million people living in areas without mobile broadband coverage while four billion people are now connected to mobile internet.
According to the global State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2021 released yesterday by the GSM Association at MWC Africa, in Kigali, Rwanda, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of the world’s population is now using the mobile internet.
The coverage gap represents a significant improvement year on year. The far bigger challenge is the 3.4 billion people who live in areas that are already covered by mobile broadband, but are not using it, (the usage gap).
The report examines trends in the coverage and usage of mobile internet over the last six years and identifies the key barriers to mobile internet adoption. It also looks at the early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the most significant regional effects.
The chief regulatory officer, GSMA, John Giusti said, “Mobile is the primary and often the only way to access the internet in low- and middle-income countries. 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.”
During the last six years, the coverage gap has continued to narrow. In 2014, almost a quarter of the world’s population did not have access to a mobile broadband network. By the end of 2020, that figure was only six per cent. Now, 94 per cent of the world’s population has access to a broadband network, with most progress between 2014 and 2018.
In 2020, global coverage increased by one percentage point, from 93 per cent to 94 per cent. This reduced the number of people living in areas without a mobile broadband network to 450 million. Those who remain uncovered typically live in sparsely populated rural areas with difficult terrain.
The number of people using mobile internet has also increased for the second year in a row: However, the usage gap remains large and accounts for the majority of the unconnected. In 2020, 3.4 billion people (43 per cent of the world’s population) lived within the footprint of a mobile broadband network but were not accessing mobile internet services.
Although the usage gap is narrowing, it is now seven times larger than the coverage gap. In 2014, the usage gap accounted for 64 per cent of the total unconnected population – this figure grew to 88 per cent by 2020 due to the increase in mobile broadband coverage.
Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) now account for almost 93 per cent of the world’s unconnected population and more than 98 per cent of the uncovered population. Between 2019 and 2020, the most significant increase in mobile internet usage is in East Asia (61 per cent), which grew by four per cent.