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GSMA Report Reveals Smartphone Owners Now the Global Majority

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Over half (54%) of the global population – some 4.3 billion people – now owns a smartphone, according to the GSMA’s annual State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2023 (SOMIC) published this week.

Smartphone owners are much more likely to be aware of, and adopt, mobile internet services, as well as use it more frequently and for a wider variety of tasks.

For example, of the 4.6 billion people now using mobile internet, almost 4 billion do so using a smartphone, representing just under half (49%) of the world’s population. Meanwhile, 600 million people – 8% of the global population – are accessing the internet using a feature phone.

For the first time, the SOMIC 2023 report, breaks down mobile internet connections by device type, revealing significant regional variations. The global expansion of 4G and 5G networks has paved the way for over two-thirds (69%) of smartphone owners accessing mobile broadband to be doing so on a 4G-enabled device, while 17% are doing so on a 5G-enabled device – driven largely by mature markets such as North America and East Asia & Pacific.

Meanwhile, 69% of smartphones used to access mobile internet in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 33% in the Middle East and North Africa, are still only 3G-capable, meaning 2G and 3G networks remain an important source of coverage for millions of users in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The GSMA’s sixth annual SOMIC report, published ahead of MWC Kigali 2023, analyses the latest trends in global connectivity since 2015, provides insights into mobile internet usage and barriers to adoption in LMICs, and outlines the key challenges that must be addressed to ensure everyone can connect to the internet.

Spotlight on the usage gap and the digital divide

While more people are using mobile internet than ever before – 57% of the global population – 3.4 billion people remain unconnected. The majority of those who are not using mobile internet live in areas covered by a mobile broadband network – the usage gap.

This usage gap has fallen slightly from 40% of the global population in 2021 to 38% in 2022 – representing 3 billion people – but remains substantial. By comparison only 5% of those not using mobile internet live in areas without mobile broadband coverage – the coverage gap.

Regional discrepancies and a digital divide persist; for example, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia represent the regions with the least connected populations and where the usage gaps are 59% and 52% respectively.

In LMICs, adults in rural areas are still 29% less likely to use mobile internet than those in urban areas, while women are 19% less likely to use mobile internet than men.

In addition, the report reveals that two-thirds of the individuals who live within areas covered by a mobile broadband network but who are not using mobile internet do not own a mobile phone, highlighting the importance of tackling issues such as handset affordability.

However, even where people do own smartphones, many are still unable to use them due to barriers such as digital skills and literacy, safety and security concerns, accessibility of enablers or services, and the availability of relevant content in local languages.

The remaining third of the usage gap, representing 950 million people, consists of users who own or have access to a smartphone (350 million) or basic or feature phone (600 million), but are only using basic services like voice or SMS. Smartphone owners should, in theory, face fewer barriers to accessing the internet, given they already have a device, is often a primary barrier to using the internet.

Other key findings

  • While 200 million people began using mobile internet in 2022, the growth rate at which people are adopting it has slowed in the last year, falling from 300 million in 2021 and 2020.
  • Only 25% of the population in the world’s least developed countries use mobile internet, compared to 52% across LMICs and 85% across high-income countries.
  • Mobile broadband coverage has remained relatively unchanged, with 95% of the global population living within the footprint of a mobile broadband network.
    • 5% of the world’s population is still not covered by mobile broadband, representing almost 400 million people.
  • Connectivity varies significantly between and within regions and countries, with 95% of the unconnected living in LMICs.
  • For the first time, all regions now have average download speeds of at least 10Mbps, while the global average download speed increased from 27Mbps to 34Mbps.

Breaking barriers to ensure no one is left unconnected

Mobile internet connectivity delivers significant social and economic benefits to both individuals and society, helping to improve wellbeing, increase household consumption and positively impact GDP.

In recent years, efforts have been made to break down the barriers to the usage gap, while striving for digital inclusion, recognising its transformative potential for societies. While there have been notable achievements and mobile internet adoption continues to grow, the SOMIC report shows progress is slowing and that increased action is required to ensure everybody can access mobile internet.

To this end, the GSMA is calling for a greater collaborative effort from all stakeholders, including government, policymakers and the mobile ecosystem, to break the barriers to the digital divide, provide coverage for those living in areas without mobile broadband and overcome barriers to usage. Actions must be informed by an understanding of the usage gap, the needs of individuals not yet using mobile internet, the barriers they face, and the opportunities to address them.

Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, said: “Mobile is the primary – and, in most cases, only – way that most people in low- and middle-income countries access the internet. The fact that the growth rate at which people are adopting mobile internet has slowed is worrying.

“Lack of connectivity will deprive billions of people of access to vital services and revenue-generating opportunities – likely impacting poorer, less educated, rural and female users disproportionately.

“As the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and rise in climate-related emergencies affects these groups further, there is an urgent need to accelerate digital inclusion and break down the barriers to stop the digital divide from widening further.”

 


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9mobile Urges Subscribers to Link their NIN to Their Phone Lines to Avoid Disconnection

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Telecommunication network, 9mobile, has urged its subscribers who have not linked their SIM cards with their National Identity Number (NIN) to carry out the exercise on or before February 28, 2024, to avoid disconnection from the network.

Customers who do not comply with this directive will be unable to make or receive calls, have no access to the internet, no SMS, no One Time Password (OTP), and no bank alerts.

This was revealed by the Director, Customer Care at 9mobile, Ehimare Omoike, who said that this action was in line with the directive of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

The Commission had in December 2023 directed that all telephone subscribers must have their NIN linked on their operator’s network to verify the identity of the phone users and minimize the criminal use of network services. At the moment, more than 35% of subscribers’ lines are yet to be linked to their NIN, forcing authorities to issue a deadline.

Ehimare noted that customers whose mobile lines are not linked to their NIN will be disconnected from all telecommunication service of the network. “Your line will be disconnected when you do not link your SIM to your National Identity Number (NIN).

“The implication here is that as a subscriber on 9mobile network, you will be completely shut out from access to the virtual world and you will be greatly inconvenienced.

“We therefore urge all our valued subscribers to endeavour to link their mobile lines with their NIN before February 28, 2024, to keep enjoying endless and seamless value offerings that enhance their lifestyle from 9mobile.”

He advised 9mobile subscribers to go and link their line now by visiting any 9mobile outlets for instant linking of their lines, or visit  https://9mobile.com.ng/experience-centres to check the nearest 9mobile experience centers.

It will be recalled that the compulsory registration by Nigerians of the National Identity Number (NIN) and the subsequent linkage of the NIN to their Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards is a policy by the Federal Government through the NCC to improve the integrity and transparency of the SIM registration process and consolidate the achievements of the SIM registration exercise of 2019.

The long-term goal of this initiative is to attain a widespread digital identity database and improve security in Nigeria.

The linking involves validating the NIN with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and matching the subscriber’s NIN records with the SIM registration information (verification) to ensure proper subscriber identification.

 


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Airtel Ads to Support African Businesses Achieve Effective and Enhanced Advertising Reach

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Airtel Africa has launched Airtel Ads, Africa’s first integrated Demand-Side Platform (DSP) aimed at empowering advertisers and agencies to efficiently manage, purchase, and optimize digital ad inventory across multiple ad exchanges in real-time.

Powered by Intent.ai, Airtel Ads is designed for media agencies and businesses, streamlining the process of purchasing advertising space.

This feature enables advertisers to make informed ad placement decisions by combining various tools and functionalities within a single platform and offers a comprehensive solution for digital advertising management.

The platform will leverage Airtel Africa’s extensive customer base of more than 150 million customers, utilizing data from both telecommunications services and mobile wallets.

This approach aims to not only target digitally engaged individuals but also include those traditionally excluded from the digital realm through its 2G and feature phone user base.

Additionally, through the integrated Airtel Voice Reward Ads, the platform has the capability to reach consumers on various devices.

Understanding the current limitations in ad performance for organisations, Airtel Ads aims to seamlessly merge all ad networks with Airtel Africa’s first party telecommunications data.

It will provide a unified advertising platform with precise audience segmentation, a dedicated marketing team, data analytics with post-campaign support in addition to both native language support and access to 260+ bidding parameters.

The platform, powered by ai based brand safety tools, will also accept payments in local African currencies.

Since its inception, the platform has achieved a weekly audience reach of 27 billion impressions, 23.5 million in-app daily impressions and over 200 million daily SMS notifications daily with end-of-SMS tag messaging potential.

Speaking on the launch, Airtel Africa’s Chief Commercial Officer, Anthony Shiner said: “We are excited to introduce Airtel Ads in Africa. This innovative platform will support advertisers and businesses to gain unprecedented control over their marketing campaigns, leveraging Airtel Africa’s extensive customer base and world class technology.

“Airtel Ads is a testament to our leadership in shaping the communications landscape in Africa, ensuring businesses are supported to achieve their objectives using data first tools to inform their business decisions.”


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Anambra State ICT Agency Unveils Pilot Phase of Free Public Wi-Fi Initiative in Awka

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In a monumental leap toward transforming Anambra State into a smart mega city, Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, CFR, has reaffirmed his commitment to a technologically advanced future for the state, through the launch of the pilot phase of the Public Wi-Fi initiative tagged Solution Wi-Fi.

Driven by the Anambra State ICT Agency in collaboration with Pineheight Systems Limited (PHSWEB), this pilot phase initiative, which signposts a resounding fulfillment of promises outlined in the People’s Manifesto, marks a significant stride towards launching the state into the digital age.

As part of his visionary manifesto detailed on Pages 20 and 33, Governor Soludo pledged to “Provide cheap (and ultimately free) Wi-Fi hotspots in public places for the takeoff of the State’s emergence into the digital age” and “Work with development partners to deploy broadband access to schools across all levels and public libraries to improve access to the internet for all and continue to build the digital tribe.”

According to a statement signed by the MD/CEO of the Anambra State ICT Agency, Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata, CFA, the agency is dedicated to realizing Governor Soludo’s vision of “Everything Technology, Technology Everywhere”, adding that this pilot phase is part of the ongoing technological transformation under the Soludo Agenda.

CFA explained, “The broader vision includes collaboration with development partners to provide broadband access to schools and public libraries, thereby enhancing internet accessibility across all strata of the society.”

CFA emphasized that the Solution Wi-Fi initiative, now operational in three strategic locations in the state capital Awka namely Aroma Junction, Book Foundation, and UNIZIK Back gate, will see users within these locations enjoy one hour of free internet access, every 24 hours, during the pilot phase.

He further explained that all 3 locations are not only strategic but quite important for students and businesses alike. “The deployment of the Solution Wi-Fi to these areas will no doubt boost educational activities while businesses can also leverage it to enhance their online presence.

“High speed and free internet access can also help our teeming young population to begin to create content that will yield revenue amongst other prospects, the opportunities are endless,” CFA concluded.

To access the free Solution Wi-Fi, businesses around the designated locations and individuals, can upon activation of their Wi-Fi, and selection of “Solution Wi-Fi”, follow the SMS authentication prompt, to create a username (phone number). After which they will receive an auto-generated code via SMS. This code serves as the password, granting them one hour of fast internet access per day, with an effective range of up to 200 meters, depending on the user’s device.

This groundbreaking initiative underscores Anambra State’s unwavering commitment to technological excellence, recently acknowledged at the National Council on Communication, Innovation, and Digital Economy (NCCIDE) meeting in Kano, where the state received prestigious awards, including Overall Best State in Digital Technology Development, First Position for Best State in Digital Infrastructure Technology Development, and First Runner-up in e-government Implementation and Digital Technology Human Capital Development.

Anambra State proudly takes its place on the technology map of Nigeria, a testament to Governor Soludo’s steadfast commitment and investment in technology, and the State ICT Agency reaffirms its commitment to a future marked by technological advancement, innovation, and unparalleled progress for the state.


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