The end of 2015 saw 3.2 billion people connected to the internet. With rates continuing to rise steadily, people are plugging into online networks that foster social and economic development, empowering them with new tools for more effective communication and more efficient economic activity. As impressive as these figures are though, 4 billion people remain offline, without access to these opportunities. Bridging the digital divide is of paramount importance if the world’s most disadvantaged populations are to participate in the increasingly connected economy, and because people are increasingly turning to mobile phones as their primary gateway to the mobile networks represent the linchpin to inclusive, ICT-enabled development.
Last week, the GSMA launched a new analytical tool called the Mobile Connectivity Index to measure the state of readiness of 134 countries with regards to providing citizens with mobile internet connectivity. The index is a composite indicator that incorporates analysis of four key enablers that bear on a country’s ability to support mobile internet adoption.
Infrastructure—availability of reliable mobile internet network coverage
Affordability—the appropriate price points for mobile services given local incomes
Consumer Readiness—the level of skill and awareness of the population to effectively use the internet
Content—availability of online services/products for which there is strong local demand
These key enablers are in turn comprised of multiple dimensions that are associated with several indicators readily available from such sources as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), GSMA Intelligence, the World Bank, United Nations, and others. While there are other indicators that measure certain aspects of connectivity and ICT capacity, the Mobile Connectivity Index focuses specifically on mobile connectivity (as opposed to general internet connectivity). The structure of the Mobile Connectivity Index allows for a quantitative measurement that answers key questions around which factors are required for mobile connectivity to thrive in a marketplace and specifically where developing countries can focus resources to improve universal access for their citizens. Given current trends that suggest closing the digital divide in developing countries will likely be done through mobile devices, the Mobile Connectivity Index is directly relevant to international development efforts.
Results of the Mobile Connectivity Index Launch Report
The launch of the Mobile Connectivity Index is linked to a launch report by GSMA that includes the results of an analysis with the tool in 134 countries. Regional results are unsurprising, with North America, Australia, and Europe topping the scores and Sub-Saharan Africa representing the greatest untapped potential. Digging deeper than geographic disparities, many factors explain the distribution of countries along the index scoring scale. The GSMA report grouped countries into multiple clusters according to similarities in characteristics of their enabling environments coupled with mobile penetration rates. This clustering allows for the categorization of countries into one of five categories ranging from “Leader” to “Discoverer.” The map below illustrates this classification of countries globally:
The central importance of mobile networks in development efforts is also touched upon in the report, which references studies by the World Bank and others on outsized economic benefits of connectivity and describes how mobile networks support the attainment of each of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. From mobile money services to real-time market information services, and SIM-enabled digital identities to digital health services, the mobile networks on which such services are built are an increasingly central pillar of national infrastructure, and the opportunity cost associated with not being connected to these networks continues to grow. Bringing the next 4 billion global citizens online will require strategic investments from governments and private sector actors, and GSMA’s Mobile Connectivity Indicator is a strong foundation on which data-driven investment decisions can be made.