According to a recent report by GSMA, the adoption of mobile internet continues to rise, with 57% of the global population, roughly 4.6 billion people, now utilizing mobile internet services. However, the growth rate of mobile internet adoption experienced a slowdown in 2022 compared to previous years. Only 200 million individuals started using mobile internet in 2022, a decrease from 300 million in 2021 and 2020.
The report data covers every operator group, network and MVNO in every country worldwide from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Interestingly, over three-quarters of the growth in mobile internet adoption in 2022 originated from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where 95% of the unconnected population resides. In least developed countries (LDCs), nearly 30 million additional people began utilizing mobile internet in 2022, resulting in one in four people in LDCs now having access to mobile internet.
Despite the progress in mobile internet adoption, mobile broadband coverage has remained relatively unchanged. Approximately 95% of the global population resides within the footprint of a mobile broadband network. However, the coverage gap, which represents those residing in areas without mobile broadband coverage, still affects nearly 400 million people (5% of the global population). These uncovered communities are predominantly rural, poor, and sparsely populated, making them the most challenging to reach.
Surprisingly, a significant portion of those not using mobile internet live in areas covered by mobile broadband. In 2022, about 3 billion people (38% of the global population) resided in areas covered by mobile internet but did not utilize it. Although the usage gap has been slowly shrinking in recent years, dropping from 40% in 2021 to 38% in 2022, it remains nearly eight times the size of the coverage gap. Surprisingly, even among adults aged 18 and above, 23% are still not using mobile internet despite having coverage. The primary reason for this is that the majority of those within mobile broadband coverage but not utilizing it do not yet own a mobile phone.
Connectivity levels vary significantly between regions and countries, with 95% of the unconnected population residing in LMICs. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the largest coverage and usage gaps. In LMICs, adults in rural areas are 29% less likely to use mobile internet than their urban counterparts, while women are 19% less likely to use mobile internet than men. In LDCs, only 25% of the population currently utilizes mobile internet, compared to 52% across LMICs overall and 85% in high-income countries (HICs).
The majority of the global population now owns a smartphone, which serves as the primary device for accessing mobile internet. As of the end of 2022, 54% of the global population (4.3 billion people) owned a smartphone. Of the 4.6 billion people using mobile internet, nearly 4 billion do so via a smartphone (49% of the global population), while approximately 600 million individuals utilize feature phones (8% of the global population). Furthermore, there are around 350 million smartphone owners who do not utilize mobile internet.
While 4G and 5G networks continue to expand, 2G and 3G networks remain crucial sources of coverage in LMICs. Despite the overall broadband coverage gap remaining relatively stable, the deployment of 4G and 5G networks continues to grow. Currently, 90% of the global population is covered by 4G, and 32% have access to 5G networks, representing an increase from 25% in 2021. The majority of the 5G network expansion in 2022 occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, while Sub-Saharan Africa witnessed significant growth in 4G network expansion. However, many mobile operators continue to maintain 2G and 3G networks, as a substantial portion of users, particularly in LMICs, still rely on these networks.
Data usage and network quality have shown significant improvements, although disparities remain between HICs and LMICs. Monthly global mobile data traffic per user increased from 8.4 GB in 2021 to 11.3 GB in 2022, marking the largest absolute increase since data tracking began in 2015. Network quality has improved across all regions, driven by enhanced networks and consumer migration to 4G or 5G. For the first time, all regions now have average download speeds of at least 10 Mbps, with the global average download speed increasing from 27 Mbps to 34 Mbps. However, HICs record download speeds four times greater than those in LMICs.
Although awareness of mobile internet continues to grow, the pace has significantly slowed since 2019. While more than 80% of the population in nine out of twelve surveyed countries were aware of mobile internet in 2022, women and those residing in rural areas remain less likely to be aware of its existence.This lack of awareness remains a critical initial barrier to mobile internet adoption in certain countries.
The report identifies affordability and skills as the two major barriers to mobile internet adoption and usage. Across the surveyed countries, affordability, particularly regarding the cost of handsets, remains the top reported barrier among mobile users who are aware of mobile internet but do not use it.
In conclusion, while the global adoption of mobile internet has continued to increase, there are still significant challenges to overcome. The growth rate of adoption has slowed, and there is a considerable usage gap among those residing in areas with mobile broadband coverage. Additionally, disparities in connectivity persist between regions, with LMICs, rural areas, and women facing lower rates of mobile internet usage. Efforts to bridge the coverage gap, improve affordability, and enhance digital skills are crucial to ensuring inclusive and equitable access to mobile internet for all