Head of Mobile for Development (M4D) at the GSMA, Max Cuvellier, spoke to Connecting Africa Editor Paula Gilbert at MWC Kigali 2023 about Africa's mobile Internet usage gap, the reasons it exists and ways to bridge the gap and bring more Africans online.
He explained the difference between the coverage gap – people living in areas without any mobile broadband coverage – and the usage gap – individuals who are not using the mobile Internet despite living in an area that is covered by a mobile network.
The GSMA's Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa Report for 2023, revealed that the coverage gap in Sub-Saharan Africa has narrowed to 15% but a considerable mobile Internet usage gap of 59% remains in the region.
"One thing to note is that Africa has a very young population so if you look at the adult population only it's about [an even] split. So out of the 85% covered you have about 43% who are using the mobile Internet and 42% who are not – but that 42% amounts to hundreds-of-millions of people and we need to bridge that gap," he said.
He spoke about the barriers keeping people offline, the most noteworthy being the high cost of mobile devices, a lack of digital skills, safety and security concerns, a lack of relevant content and services, and access issues like not having an identity document to get a SIM card or a lack of power to charge a device.
"There are a lot of inequalities in our physical world today, if we are not working hard on inclusion and bridging that usage gap, what we will just be doing is translating those inequalities online, and this is not the online world that we want," Cuvellier added.
He spoke about the opportunities that people are missing out on by not using the Internet and the practical solutions that the telecoms industry is putting in place to narrow the usage gap, especially for women.
— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa