Vodafone Group and the United Nation’s (UN’s) International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have partnered to launch an initiative aimed at identifying policy, commercial and circular-economy interventions to increase smartphone access.
Of the 3.7-billion not connected to the Internet, 3.4-billion that live within range of mobile networks are currently not accessing the Internet in part owing to a lack of smartphone ownership, which the multistakeholder initiative aims to change by 2030.
The new dedicated working group, under the auspices of the ITU/UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, will be co-chaired by Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read and ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao, with launch partners that include the Alliance for Affordable Internet; GSMA; the government of Ghana; Safaricom; Smart Africa; Vodacom Group; and the World Wide Web Foundation.
With mobile broadband networks now covering 82% of the population of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the mobile use gap is six times larger than the mobile coverage gap.
Mobile accounts for 86% of connections to the Internet in LMICs, however, billions of people continue to use feature phones, without an Internet connection, and the second-generation (2G) market continues to grow.
That means the digital divide is widening as the global pandemic has accelerated the emergence of digital societies and smartphones are increasingly an essential gateway to access public services, including education and medical support, financial services, jobs and to run businesses, the firms said in a joint statement.
“Smartphone access is a key element of this in LMICs where mobile is the principal route to the Internet. As such, this working group can have an important role in ensuring that the shift to digital technology is beneficial and makes our societies more equal and not less.”
The Broadband Commission Working Group will produce a report and set of concrete recommendations including an original analysis and data on the smartphone access gap; the quantification of the social and economic impact of providing everyone with smartphone access by 2030, including assessment of moving users from 2G feature phones to fourth-generation smartphones; and an analysis of initiatives or pilots designed to increase smartphone access.
Vodafone Group has committed to launch two pilot projects on device affordability as part of this process.