LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 AFRICA, TANZANIA: Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, hailed the positive impact mobile technology has had across Africa but identified four areas that need to be addressed to increase digital inclusion.
While the head of the mobile industry association used his opening keynote address this morning to highlight a number of success stories from the world’s second largest mobile region – including the growth of mobile money, mHealth and mAgri services across the continent, the ability for SIM-enabled digital identity to give individuals a formal identity for the first time, and the 6.7 per cent contribution (more than $150 billion) from mobile to the region’s GDP in 2015 – Granyrd pointed out that less than half of the population subscribes to mobile services, lower than the global average of 63 per cent mobile penetration.
And while mobile internet adoption in Africa has seen a tripling of subscribers in the last 5 years to 300 million, this represents only one quarter of the total population. “900 million people are digitally excluded and unable to enjoy socio-economic benefits delivered by mobile internet,” said Granryd. “Even in 2020, 60 per cent of the population in the region will still not be connected to the internet.”
Granryd noted that this reveals “significant barriers to adoption, particularly for underserved population groups, such as those in rural areas, women, low income and youths.”
To extend mobile access across Africa, Granryd wants to see improvements in network coverage, affordability, digital skills and awareness, and locally relevant content.
Network coverage can be enhanced by expanding mobile broadband networks to underserved population groups “by promoting infrastructure sharing, regulatory best practice and technical innovation,” he stated.
Meanwhile the industry needs to address mobile-specific taxation to help make internet access more affordable, especially for ‘bottom of the pyramid’ citizens.
And Granryd said communities should be trained “so they understand the benefits and opportunities of being online and have skills to use mobile internet.”
Fourth on his list was the need for locally relevant content: “We need to encourage and promote development of content and services that are relevant to underserved population groups.”
Granryd cited the GSMA’s Connected Society programme as working “with and on behalf of the mobile ecosystem to overcome these barriers”.
He also highlighted mobile’s role in addressing some of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, designed to end poverty, combat climate change and fight injustice and inequality.
“Mobile networks have the power to address these Goals as no other technology can. The GSMA and mobile operators around the world are united behind the Goals and ensuring that connectivity plays a key role in helping to achieve them,” he concluded.