The Global Systems for Mobile Communication (GSMA) has projected that by 2030 at least 88 percent of Africans will own a mobile phone, a challenge that officials say needs collaborative efforts to address the current levels of ‘unconnectivity’ despite the continent’s potential.
This was stressed by GSMA officials and service providers during a press briefing on “Breaking Barriers: Closing The Usage Gap – which follows the launch of the 2023 State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report and builds on the issues of Handset Affordability raised at the ongoing Mobile World Congress (MWC) Kigali.
According to data from GSMA, the goal is to reach an 88% smartphone adoption rate in the sub-Saharan region by 2030, which is an increase of over 37% from today.
“So, as you can see, there is a long journey ahead. And progress can only happen if we come together as an industry to break down the barriers to mobile internet adoption – most pressingly, lack of affordability and low levels of digital skills – and close the divide,” said Max Cuvellier, Head of Mobile For Development, at GSMA.
There are two ways people can be ‘unconnected’: The coverage gap (those who live in an area not covered by a mobile broadband network) and The usage gap (Those who live within the footprint of a mobile broadband network but do not use mobile internet services).
The report shows that barriers to mobile connectivity usage include lack of Knowledge and skills, Affordability, Security and safety concerns for users, Relevance and access to network enablers such as internet-enabled handsets, agents, and formal ID, or devices and services are not accessible or easy to use.
GSMA data on Mobile Economy 2023 in Sub-Saharan Africa shows that smartphone adoption is currently at 51% but also has the highest usage gap globally, with 680 million people unconnected (or 59% of the population) and also falls behind all regions globally, with only 25% of its population connected its mobile broadband services.
In addressing these barriers to mobile connectivity usage GSMA suggested Digital skills initiatives focused on users’ needs and circumstances, lowering the cost of internet-enabled handsets and data can be achieved through innovative data pricing strategies and handset-financing options, in addition to adopting tax policies,.
The report also suggested setting mechanisms and frameworks that recognise online risks should be put in place to build consumer trust, and Investment in local digital ecosystems and an enabling policy environment can accelerate growth in local content, services, and applications that meet the needs of people and their own language.
Officials agreed that while these initiatives are steps in the right direction to bridge the existing gaps, there is no silver bullet to address the multifaceted challenges surrounding smartphone affordability, especially in Africa.
Angela Wamola, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa at GSMA showed that in sub-Saharan Africa, around 60% of the population does not use mobile internet despite living in an area with coverage and Smartphone affordability is a key barrier to using mobile internet in the region.
“This is an area of growing concern, as reducing the internet usage gap is critical to closing the digital divide. We there need collaboration, innovative financing, local manufacturing, and sustainable solutions are key to closing the digital divide,” Wamola said.
Wamola also said that it is high time for Africa to move into action and commended the request of governments to have the GSMA and other stakeholders create and guide policy frameworks towards this end.
Since We Care’s launch in 2014, local mobile operators have been actively partnering with governments, regulators, and NGOs to endorse and encourage each campaign. Each solution is designed to positively impact the societies in which they operate. Critical issues addressed include; promoting digital inclusion, bolstering child protection, reducing handset theft, supporting handicapped citizens, and protecting the environment.
As a starting point, GSMA and MTN Rwanda launched the “We Care” programme in Rwanda, which is already active in 19 countries, after 28 successful launches involving 64 mobile network operators.
Rwanda marked the third African country to join the We Care family, following successful Child Protection programs in Kenya and a focus on Reducing Handset Theft in Cote d’Ivoire.
Saint Doe, MTN Rwanda’s Chief Consumer and Digital Officer said this program will focus on educating users, creating relevant to Rwanda resources, and improving the usability of mobile phones to enhance the MTN-Bank of Kigali “Macye Macye” initiative, a flexible payment plan that allows customers to pay for smartphones daily, weekly, or monthly until the device is fully owned.
Approximately one in four citizens in Rwanda currently subscribe to mobile internet services; a lack of digital skills among the population and a perceived lack of locally relevant content are among the key barriers to large-scale adoption.