Vodafone Group and ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, have today launched a new initiative to connect 3.4BN people with smartphones by 2030.
With mobile broadband (4G) networks now covering 82% of the population of Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), the mobile usage gap is 6x larger than the mobile coverage gap. In line with the Broadband Commission Global Targets 2025 on affordability and connectivity, the two will identify policy, commercial and circular-economy interventions to increase smartphone access.
Co-chaired by Vodafone Group CEO, Nick Read, and ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, the Group’s launch partners also include the Alliance for Affordable Internet; GSMA, the government of Ghana, Safaricom, Smart Africa, Vodacom Group, and the World Wide Web Foundation.
Mobile accounts for 86% of connections to the internet in LMICs3, emphasizing the importance of mobile in addressing this issue. Yet billions of people continue to use ‘dumb’ feature phones, without an internet connection, and the 2G market continues to grow. That means the digital divide is widening as the global pandemic has accelerated the emergence of digital societies and smartphones are increasingly an essential gateway to access public services – including education and medical support – financial services, jobs and to run businesses.
“Vodafone is honoured to be part of this monumental global initiative with the UN, to improve the lives of billions of people through smartphone access. As our societies become more digital, everyone should have the ability to find jobs, be able to get public services, financial services and critical information that are increasingly only available through the internet. This is such a complex challenge that no network operator, device manufacturer, financial services provider or national government can solve on their own – but working together we can break through the barriers.” Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, said.
Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group said the pledge by the United Nations, Vodafone Group Plc and the ITU to increase smartphone access for 3.4 billion people around the world is timely and important.
”As Vodacom works to connect the next 100 million African people through its Africa.Connected campaign, we look forward to supporting Vodafone’s ambition to ensure that no one is excluded from the global digital economy, and may enjoy access to education, jobs, public and financial services,” he said.
Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the ITU, said said achieving the Broadband Commission Global Targets requires a multi-stakeholder approach. ”I am pleased to co-chair this newly established Working Group, which will also help address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that we put smart devices in the hands of those who are left behind.”
Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, who is the Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, said the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation aims to achieve universal connectivity by 2030.
”Smartphone access is a key element of this in low- and middle-income countries where mobile is the principal route to the internet. As such, this working group can have an important role in ensuring that the shift to digital technology is beneficial and makes our societies more equal and not less,” he said.
The Broadband Commission Working Group will produce a report and set of concrete recommendations including original analysis and data on the smartphone access gap, quantification of the social and economic impact of providing everyone with smartphone access by 2030, including assessment of moving users from 2G feature phones to 4G smartphones and analysis of initiatives or pilots designed to increase smartphone access. Vodafone Group has committed to launch two pilot projects on device affordability as part of this process.
“While Ghana and other countries have made great strides in the development of mobile infrastructure and the usage of digital services such as mobile money, it is noticeable that 45% of people in West Africa are covered by mobile broadband networks but do not use the internet. Addressing the mobile internet usage gap is vital for the long-term economic development of my country and many others across the world and will require new partnerships and focused action from a range of organisations.” The Honourable Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister for Communications and Digitalisation, Ghana, said.