(Ecofin Agency) - The report highlights that some 680 million people living south of the Sahara do not use mobile Internet despite living in areas where mobile broadband networks are available. This is due in particular to the high cost of connectivity, lack of literacy and digital skills, the report says.
The cost of 1 GB of mobile data in sub-Saharan Africa, after decreasing from 2017 to 2021, rose from 3.3% of monthly per capita income in 2021 to 3.5% in 2022, according to a report published on October 11 by the Global Association of Mobile Operators and Manufacturers (GSMA).
Entitled "The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2023," the report points out that mobile data prices in the region remain the highest in the world. It is well above the "affordability threshold," which has been set at 2% of monthly per capita income by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency specialized in information and communication technologies.
According to the GSMA report, 290 million people were identified as mobile Internet users in SSA by the end of 2022. This is 25% of the region's population, against 17% in 2017. However, this regional average masks disparities between sub-regions. At the end of last year, mobile internet adoption ranged from 33% in Southern Africa to 17% in Central Africa. If we consider only adults aged 18 or over, the average level of mobile Internet connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa rose from 25% to 42%.
On a regional scale, around 85% of the population is now covered by a mobile broadband network. The coverage gap (corresponding to people living in areas not covered by a mobile broadband network) concerns 180 million people, representing 15% of the region's population.
Despite this high coverage rate, some 680 million people living south of the Sahara do not use mobile Internet, even though they live in areas covered by a mobile broadband network. The usage deficit (corresponding to people who live in areas covered by a mobile broadband network but who do not use mobile Internet) has narrowed over the past year, although it remains significant. It still concerns more than half (59%) of the region's population.
4G network coverage rises to 65%
The unconnected tend to be poorer, less educated, and older. People in rural areas are increasingly using mobile Internet, but there is still a significant gap between rural and urban areas.
The usage gap is also because a non-negligible proportion of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is still unaware of mobile Internet and its benefits. In Ethiopia, only 46% of people living in rural areas claim to be familiar with mobile Internet. Considering that around 77% of the population of this country is rural, this represents a significant proportion of the total population.
Overall, women and people living in rural areas are still less likely to be familiar with mobile Internet. Other main barriers to mobile Internet adoption are a lack of literacy and digital skills and the high cost of Internet-enabled phones.
Around 17% of the SSA population use mobile Internet on a smartphone and 8% on a feature phone. Thus, 32% of mobile Internet users do not connect via a smartphone. Moreover, 69% of smartphones used to access mobile Internet are only compatible with third-generation (3G) networks, whereas 65% of the population was covered by 4G networks in 2022, compared with just 19% in 2017.
The report also reveals that 4.6 billion people worldwide were using mobile Internet at the end of last year, representing 57% of the planet's population.
Global coverage remains virtually unchanged, with 95% of the world's population now covered by a mobile broadband network. However, there are still 3 billion people who do not use mobile Internet even though they live in areas covered by a mobile broadband network.