HALF of the world’s population will be using mobile devices to access the Internet by 2020, according to new data released by GSMA Intelligence at the GSMA Mobile 360-Africa event.
It is calculated that there were 2.2 billion mobile Internet subscribers in 2013, representing approximately 30% of the global population.
GSMA Intelligence forecasts that an additional 1.6 billion citizens worldwide will become mobile Internet users over the next six years, bringing the total number to 3.8 billion, or around half of the world’s expected population in 2020.
“Our new findings underline how mobile is now the gateway to the Internet for billions of citizens across the world and will be responsible for connecting millions of currently ‘offline’ global citizens to the Internet in the years to 2020 and beyond,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General of the GSMA.
“Developing innovative ways to accelerate digital inclusion in the form of affordable mobile Internet access is now a key focus for the GSMA, its operator members, and the broader mobile industry ecosystem,” she added.
The GSMA (GSM Association) defines a mobile Internet subscriber as an individual who has accessed an Internet service on one or more of their mobile devices.
Any activity that consumes mobile data is considered a mobile Internet service, including web browsing, mobile instant messaging, mobile social networking, email, app downloads and online gaming, video and music.
It does not include traditional mobile operator services such as voice, SMS and MMS, the GSMA said in a statement.
Mobile Internet subscriber estimates and forecasts were based on primary research conducted by GSMA Intelligence. Overall, 42 markets have been surveyed worldwide with an equal split between developed (21) and developing countries (21).
These 42 countries represent 74% of the global mobile market in terms of unique mobile subscribers, the GSMA said.
Developing world driving growth
Almost all of the additional mobile Internet users expected over the next six years will come from the developing world.
According to GSMA Intelligence, the number of mobile Internet users in the developing world will double from 1.5 billion in 2013 to 3 billion by 2020, rising from 25% of the developing world population to 45% over the period.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, just 17% of the population were mobile Internet subscribers in 2013, but penetration is forecast to increase to 37% by 2020.
Many users in the developing world still access the mobile Internet via 2G connections – over 60% do so in Sub-Saharan Africa, the GSMA said.
However, a rapid technology migration is currently underway towards mobile broadband (3G/ 4G) Internet.
In 2013, 900 million of the 2.2 billion mobile Internet subscribers connected via 2G, while 1.3 billion connected via mobile broadband.
By 2020, it is forecast that, of the 3.8 billion total mobile Internet users globally, the number of 2G mobile Internet subscribers will shrink to 800 million, and mobile broadband Internet users will have more than doubled to reach three billion.
Delivering ‘digital inclusion’
The GSMA also published a Digital Inclusion report which focuses on the challenges in extending mobile Internet services to currently unconnected populations.
The GSMA’s Digital Inclusion programme is collaborating with mobile operators, governments, broader mobile ecosystem players and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to address the barriers to mobile Internet adoption in the developing world.
The report highlights four critical areas that need to be addressed to enable ‘offline’ populations to access mobile internet services:
“Mobile technology is already playing an invaluable role in the social, economic and environmental development of the developing world; the mobile Internet has the potential to trigger a new wave of growth and innovation if we can remove the barriers to digital inclusion,” said Bouverot.