Avatar photo

By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist

Action plan set to bridge smartphone access gap

Only 45% of adults in emerging economies currently own a smartphone.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU)/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has ratified the first multi-stakeholder study aimed at creating practical tools and actions that could enable nearly 3 billion more people to access and use the internet through a smartphone by 2030.

Around a third of the global population still cannot or do not access the internet.

The Broadband Commission Working Group on Smartphone Access was co-chaired by Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of the ITU and Heidi Schroderus-Fox/ Rabab Fatima, UN High Representatives for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).

ALSO READ: Your iPhone not overpriced enough? Caviar added some rock for $10k

The Working Group also included representatives from the governments of Benin and Ghana.

Mobile internet gap

The adoption gap for mobile internet – which arises when individuals do not use the internet even when there is mobile network coverage in an area –  is now over seven times larger than the coverage gap globally.

The gap is even larger in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa.

The report, ‘Strategies Towards Universal Smartphone Access’, found that limited affordability and availability of smartphones, along with low consumer confidence, in part due to a lack of basic digital skills, are limiting internet adoption.

It also recommends further investigation into the use of device subsidies, and the re-use of pre-owned smartphones.

Read said access to the internet and smartphones are critical enablers of jobs, education, healthcare, financial services and much more.

“We need focused partnerships between business, government and civil society to drive smartphone adoption, through the five actions we have identified, to ensure we enable the transformative benefits of internet adoption for billions of people.”

Smartphone ownership

Fatima said only 45% of adults in emerging economies currently own a smartphone, compared to 76% in advanced economies.

“Women are also significantly less likely than men to own a smartphone and use the mobile internet if they live in low- and middle-income countries. Smartphones are not just consumer goods: they are accelerators for learning, connection and economic activity.

“But with the cost of a smartphone exceeding 70% of the average monthly income of people living in low and middle income countries4, enabling access and use to the internet must now become a policy priority for the international community.” She said.


The strategies for smartphone adoption build upon the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, which was launched earlier this year by the ITU, in close co-operation with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology.

Partner2Connect is a multistakeholder alliance to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally, with a focus on (but not limited to) the hardest- to-connect communities.

The coalition has so far had 428 pledges, with an estimated financial value of US$26.06billion (€26.04billion).

Pioneer pledges include Vodafone, through its main African business Vodacom, which will invest US$190 million (€190 million) over the next five years, to increase 4G population coverage to an additional 80 million people in Africa.

ALSO READ: YouTube announces new ways for creators to make money

Read more on these topics


Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits