Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Digital Inclusion

Vodafone, ITU drive smartphone adoption

Article Image
Vodafone and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are embarking on a "major new initiative" to address the global digital divide – with the aim to give an additional 3.4 billion people access to the Internet through a smartphone by 2030.

The two said in a statement that even though 4G networks now cover 82% of the population of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the mobile usage gap is still six-times larger than the mobile coverage gap.

That means that out of the 3.7 billion people not connected to the Internet globally, 3.4 billion live within range of mobile networks but are currently not accessing the Internet, partly due to a lack of smartphone ownership.

"Mobile accounts for 86% of connections to the Internet in LMICs, emphasising the importance of mobile in addressing this issue. Yet billions of people continue to use 'dumb' feature phones, without an Internet connection, and the 2G market continues to grow," Vodafone said in a statement.

"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 telco added.

Working group

The initiative will start a new working group under the auspices of the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. The working group will identify policy, commercial and circular-economy interventions to increase smartphone access in line with the Broadband Commission Global Targets 2025 on affordability and connectivity.

Co-chaired by Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read, and ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, the Group's launch partners also include: the Alliance for Affordable Internet, GSMA, the government of Ghana, Safaricom, Smart Africa, Vodacom Group, and the World Wide Web Foundation.

Read said the digital divide is such a complex challenge that no network operator, device manufacturer, financial services provider or national government can solve on their own – but he believes that working together "we can break through the barriers."

"As our societies become more digital, everyone should have the ability to find jobs, be able to get public services, financial services and critical information that are increasingly only available through the Internet," he said.

Access for offline Africans is key to making the initiative work.

"While Ghana and other countries have made great strides in the development of mobile infrastructure and the usage of digital services such as mobile money, it is noticeable that 45% of people in West Africa are covered by mobile broadband networks but do not use the Internet," said Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, minister for communications and digitalisation in Ghana.

"Addressing the mobile Internet usage gap is vital for the long-term economic development of my country and many others across the world and will require new partnerships and focused action from a range of organisations," she said.


Want to know more about digital inclusion in Africa? Check out our dedicated Digital Inclusion content channel here on Connecting Africa.


The working group will produce a report and set of concrete recommendations including original analysis and data on the smartphone access gap; 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 4G smartphones; and analysis of initiatives or pilots designed to increase smartphone access.

Vodafone Group has also committed to launch two pilot projects on device affordability as part of this process.

"The UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation aims to achieve universal connectivity by 2030. Smartphone access is a key element of this in low- and middle-income countries 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," added Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, officer-in-charge of the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology.

Related posts:

— The Staff, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub

Story

Super-app Gozem raises $5M for expansion plans

Gozem, the Francophone African super-app, has raised $5 million in a Series A round to help fund its expansion plans.

Story

African startups raise almost $4B in 2021

Africa's startup ecosystem raised almost $4 billion in 2021 according to startups deals database Africa: The Big Deal – with Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya taking the lion's share.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Guest Perspectives

Story

Omdia View: October 2021

By Omdia Analysts

Across the Middle East and Africa, regulators are beginning to facilitate spectrum allocation to operators in the region for the deployment of new and innovative technology.

Story

Research Bites: Why Africans stop using mobile apps

By Chinedu Wilfred Okonkwo, Magda Huisman and Estelle Taylor

This article – in collaboration with the African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development – explores the reasons behind why Africans stop using certain mobile apps.

More Guest Perspectives

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

AfricaCom perspectives

Story

Digital inclusion as a catalyst for economic empowerment: Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu

Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu talks to Connecting Africa about how digital payment solutions and mobile money are transforming the lives of small business owners, women and marginalized groups in East Africa.

Story

Accelerating women in STEM: In conversation with GirlCode's Tinyiko Simbine

GirlCode co-founder and CFO Tinyiko Simbine talks about why it's important to help girls and young women excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Story

How Poa Internet is unlocking meaningful connectivity in East Africa

Poa Internet's CEO Andy Halsall shares his views on what it takes to develop last-mile connectivity and get Africans online in a meaningful way.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Flash poll

All polls

Archived webinars

Meeting SME’s where they are - Building inclusive ecosystems for Africa’s small business owners

Micro and small businesses have been, and still are, the spine and lifeblood of the African economy, making up 90% of businesses on the continent.

Many of these businesses have still been operating in traditional ways and serving non-digital customers. With Covid-19 expediting the digital transformation process, businesses - big and small - have been forced to adapt to operate successfully in a more digital-first environment.

To ensure that the digitalization of Africa’s market doesn’t leave micro and small businesses behind, digital solutions must be inclusive and create business-ready environments. But how can we ensure that African SMEs become digitally enabled?

In this webinar we will share from our own experience on how to create such an environment, and the actions we took in vcita to get there, including:

  • Closing the digital literacy gap through tech inclusion 
  • Making a positive impact on local communities
  • Building the foundations for digital inclusion and small business growth in a technology-accelerated world
  • Building the foundations for digital inclusion and small business growth in a technology-accelerated world

Register Here >>

More Webinars

Sponsored video

More videos

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up


Sign Up