According to industry body the GSMA over half (54%) of the world’s population owns a smartphone, but the rate of new mobile internet users has slowed.
The GSMA said in a statement that 4.3 million people now own a smartphone according to its annual State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2023. It found smartphone users are adept at seeking out mobile internet services to assist a wide variety of tasks. Around 4.6 billion people are using mobile internet 4 billion are doing so through a smartphone which accounts for 49% of the population. Meanwhile, 8% of the population (600 million) are using the internet through a feature phone.
Over two-thirds (69%) of smartphone owners are using mobile broadband through 4G-enabled devices due to mass global 4G and 5G deployments in mature markets such as North America, East Asia and Pacific.
Meanwhile, 69% of smartphones users access mobile internet in sub-saharan Africa, 33% do so in the Middle East and North Africa but on 3G-enabled devices. This means 2G and 3G networks remain a staple of coverage for millions in low and middle income countries.
Around 3.4 billion people remain unconnected to the internet, the majority of the unconnected are in areas covered by mobile broadband networks, showing a continued usage gap. The gap has dropped from 40% of the population in 2021 to 38% in 2022, representing a substantial 3 billion people. For comparison only 5% of those not using mobile internet live in areas with no coverage.
Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the regions with the least connected populations where the usage gaps are 59% and 52% respectively. Adults in rural areas of lower middle income nations are 29% less likely to use mobile intent than those in urban areas, while women are 19% less like than men to use mobile internet.
The report also found two-thirds of people who live in areas covered by mobile broadband network and not tapping into services, do not own a mobile phone with the GSMA pointing to challenges in affordability.
Other challenges still persist even with mobile device ownership includes digital skills, literacy, safety and security concerns, accessibility of enablers or services, and the availability of relevant content in local languages.
The remaining third of people (950 million) who live in rural locations but have access to services and devices are only using basic services such as voice or SMS.
Slowing uptake of mobile broadband
The GSMA study also found 200 million people began using the internet last year, but this was a dip of 100 million people compared year-on-year to 2021. Only a quarter of th depopulation in the least developed countries use mobile internet, compared to 52% of lower middle income nations and 85% of high-income countries. The majority of of unconnected people live in low middle income countries.
On data speeds, all regions saw average download speeds of at least 10Mbps, and the global overage increased from 27Mbps to 34Mbps.
GSMA director general Mats Granryd said: “Mobile is the primary – and, in most cases, only – way that most people in low- and middle-income countries access the internet. The fact that the growth rate at which people are adopting mobile internet has slowed is worrying. Lack of connectivity will deprive billions of people of access to vital services and revenue-generating opportunities – likely impacting poorer, less educated, rural and female users disproportionately. As the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and rise in climate-related emergencies affects these groups further, there is an urgent need to accelerate digital inclusion and break down the barriers to stop the digital divide from widening further.”