Universal Use Of Mobile Broadband Has Not Yet Been Achieved

“To bring more people online, it is important to focus on reducing overall socio-economic inequalities.”

Access to the Internet may be taken for granted by people living in developed countries, but more than half of the global population is still unconnected. A report by the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said that 47% of the global population is online. According to ITU’s annual Measuring the Information Society report1, the world is getting ever more connected but billions of people either don’t have access or don’t use available Internet services. The continued rollout of 3G and 4G networks has made the Internet accessible to more people, with 84% of the world’s population covered by mobile broadband. Despite this increased coverage, there is a disparity between people on the Internet and the number of people who have network access.

The ubiquitous nature of the Internet in the developed and emerging markets has not meant that everybody uses it, rather there is a growing divide between the people who do and those that choose not to go online. The report said that the offline population–around 3.9 billion people–is mainly female, elderly, less educated, rural and low income. People with high levels of education tend to use the Internet on a very regular basis, especially for ecommerce and financial services. People on the Internet with low education levels tend to go online for communication and entertainment purposes.

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This suggests that there is a significant section of society that is not benefiting from the myriad opportunities that the Internet offers, said the ITU.

“To bring more people online, it is important to focus on reducing overall socio-economic inequalities,” said the ITU’s Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, in a press release3. “Education and income levels are strong determinants of whether or not people use the Internet.”

Universal Use Of Mobile Broadband Has Not Yet Been Achieved

Source: ITU, Measuring the Information Society Report 2016, ICT Uptake 2005-2016

Why Half Of The World Is Still Unconnected

Just providing people with access to the Internet is no longer enough, said the ITU. The information and communication technology (ICT) sector must endeavor to improve infrastructure in countries where access is limited and address broad social-economic inequalities where possible.

Although an improved infrastructure is important, ICTs must also consider pricing, quality of service and ongoing development of Internet-centric skills. All three of these factors are in with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals4 set out by the United Nations and adopted by member countries in September 2015. Mobile phones will continue to play a major role in making the world a global village. By the end of 2016, the ITU estimated that 95% of the world will live in an area that has a mobile cellular signal. There are almost as many mobile subscriptions as there are people on the planet, but there is still a significant proportion that do not own or use a device.

See also: Where Are The Four Billion People On Earth That Still Can’t Get Online?5

The ITU said that it was often the youngest (aged under 14) and oldest (over 74) segments of a population that don’t own or use a mobile device. For those aged between 15 and 74, mobile phone penetration was around 85%. In developing markets, around 20% of the population do not use or own a mobile6 phone. In larger developing economies such as India, Pakistan and Indonesia, that number increases to around 40%. The main reason for this is that the benefits of having a mobile device are less obvious in communities where mobile uptake among community members is low. This low uptake can be attributed to poor network quality and a lack of ICT skills, especially in rural areas.

Affordability remains the main barrier to mobile phone ownership. The report said that in many countries, it was the cost of the handset and not the service itself that prevented people from buying a device. At the same time, people who live in rural areas were less likely to use a mobile device, which the ITU said was linked to the mobile infrastructure itself. Gender also played a part with women in developing nations reliant on somebody else’s device or SIM card to access cellular services.

Universal Use Of Mobile Broadband Has Not Yet Been Achieved

Source: ITU, Measuring the Information Society Report 2016, ICT penetration levels 2016

“Universal use of mobile-cellular services has not been achieved yet,” said the ITU. “Policy-makers and the telecommunication industry in developing countries should focus on targeted policies for promoting mobile adoption. As the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has pledged, ICTs can be a strong empowerment tool, and no one should be deprived of their benefits because of economic, educational, social or technical barriers.”

Mobile Has Increased Global Internet Usage

On a regional7 level, the Republic of Korea remains the top country in terms of the ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI) with a score of 8.84. The index covers 175 countries worldwide and uses indicators such as ICT access, use and skills to give a snapshot of a country’s Internet development.

Almost every country improved their IDI value in the last 12 months, with the global average increasing to 4.94 out of 10. The average IDI for developed countries was 7.40 compared to 4.07 for developing countries. Europe was the leader in ICT development with the highest overall IDI value across all world regions–7.35–while the Asia-Pacific region can count seven countries who have IDI values of more than 7.50, the ITU said.

The United States ranked 15th with a score of 8.17.

“This year’s results show that nearly all of the 175 countries covered by the index improved their IDI values between 2015 and 2016,” said the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau director Brahima Sanou, “During the same period, stronger improvements have been made on ICT use than access, mainly as a result of strong growth in mobile-broadband uptake globally.

This has allowed an increasing number of people, in particular from the developing world, to join the information society and benefit from the many services and applications provided through the Internet.”

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  1. ^ Measuring the Information Society report (
  2. ^ Get It Now (
  3. ^ in a press release (
  4. ^ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (
  5. ^ Where Are The Four Billion People On Earth That Still Can’t Get Online? (
  6. ^ mobile (
  7. ^ regional (
  8. ^ Subscribe to ARC here (