Most of the world’s population (95%) is now covered by mobile broadband networks. But 40% of populations covered by these networks face other barriers that prevent them from getting online, according to a new report from GSMA.

Those barriers include a lack of literacy and digital skills, affordability (particularly handset affordability), access to relevant content and services, and safety and security concerns and access.

The report also showed that just over half (55%) of the world’s population is now connected to mobile internet, up from 43% in 2017.

The GSMA report added that most (94%) of the world’s ‘unconnected’ population – who are more likely to be poor, living in rural areas and women – live in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), where lack of internet access “holds them back from playing an active role in an increasingly online world.” As a result, these people are less likely to be able to deal with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, rising energy prices, the cost-of-living crisis and other economic disruptions.

The report also showed that nearly 300 million people came online in the past year. Most of the people who started using mobile internet in 2021 came from LMICs, meaning that for the first time half of the population LMICs is now using mobile internet.

“More than 55% of people globally are now benefiting from the transformational power of mobile internet connectivity,” said Mats Granryd, GSMA director general, in a prepared statement about the mobile broadband coverage report. “Mobile operators worldwide have now extended mobile coverage to 95% of the global population, and continue investing every day to increase that footprint. We should celebrate that achievement, but we shouldn’t let it blind us to the even bigger challenge.

“It’s time to make real strides on the journey to reach the 3.2 billion people who are not yet using mobile internet despite living within the footprint of mobile broadband networks. We call on governments and organizations worldwide to work alongside the mobile industry and make digital inclusion a genuine priority. Removing barriers to mobile internet adoption will boost economic recovery, improve social mobility and gender equality, and transform the lives of millions worldwide.”

The GSMA report comes on the heels of an Ericsson report that forecast that 90% of the wireless subscriptions in North America will be 5G in 2027, with more than 1 billion 5G subscribers by the end of this year.

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