Vodafone Group teamed with the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to tackle a global digital divide by connecting a further 3.4 billion people to the internet by 2030 using smart devices.

The operator stated the pair aimed to address issues of device affordability which limit internet access. Vodafone and the ITU launched a working group to identify political, commercial and economic interventions which can increase smartphone access.

Vodafone also committed to launch two pilot programmes on device affordability.

The working group will be chaired by Vodafone CEO Nick Read and ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. Other members will include the GSMA; the Alliance for Affordable Internet; the government of Ghana; Safaricom; Smart Africa; and the World Wide Web Foundation.

In a statement announcing the initiative, Vodafone cited GSMA Connected Society research showing 82 per cent of the citizens of low- and middle-income countries are now covered by 4G mobile networks, but many lack a capable device.

Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Ghana’s Minister for Communications and Digitalisation, stated 45 per cent of people in West Africa are covered by mobile broadband networks but do not use the internet.

Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, officer-in-charge of the office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, explained the Vodafone and ITU working group will play a key role in helping the body achieve its goal of universal connectivity by 2030 by helping ensure the global shift to digital technology “is beneficial and makes our societies more equal and not less.”