Industry association GSMA implored adoption of pro-investment policies for network deployments in underserved areas and measures to help stimulate consumer demand as part of research into digital adoption in the Central Asia and South Caucasus regions.

The GSMA Intelligence study Closing the digital divide in Central Asia and the South Caucasus was released at the association’s Mobile 360 Eurasia in Baku, Azerbaijan earlier today (16 May).

It assesses the state of mobile adoption and infrastructure availability in Armenia; Azerbaijan; Georgia; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; and Uzbekistan.

GSMA Intelligence estimated around 45 million people across the eight countries used mobile internet (as of the date of publication). This represented a significant increase from 14.1 million recorded a decade earlier, though it still leaves around 50 million unconnected.

Although lack of coverage was cited as still a challenge in parts of Central Asia, where around 10 per cent of the population in some markets lived in underserved areas, it generally noted the pace of adoption was lagging rollout.

“While the industry continues to invest in innovative solutions and partnerships to extend connectivity to still underserved and far-flung communities, the adoption of mobile internet services has not kept pace with the expansion of network coverage,” the research group wrote.

GSMA Intelligence noted collaboration as key to addressing the digital divide in the regions, adding there is a need to “increase digital skills and literacy and improve affordability, in addition to investing in local digital ecosystems and an enabling policy environment that can accelerate growth in local content, services and applications”.

Generation shifts
In terms of mobile connectivity technologies, 4G was found to be the dominant generation in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, while 3G accounted for at least a third of total connections across the other markets.

Globally 3G connections comprised 17 per cent of connections in 2022.

As of April 2023, commercial 5G services were only available in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, though GSMA Intelligence noted activities around the latest generation of mobile technology were ramping more widely.

“Although 5G is on the horizon in several markets in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, the focus for many operators in the medium term is to expand 4G capacity in urban areas and 4G coverage to underserved areas, and accelerate uptake among consumers.”