Mobile’s impact on the SDGs
Mobile has scaled significantly in Asia Pacific since 2015. The number of unique subscribers and mobile connections have grown much faster than the global average, and there has been rapid uptake of mobile broadband in the region, driven by the rollout of 4G networks. This shift towards faster network speeds, alongside a decline in prices and increase in uptake of smartphones, has ushered in a wave of new digital services in areas such as education and health that underpins mobile’s contribution to the SDGs. 5G will underpin much of the innovation and new services on mobile-based platforms in the coming years, helped by the rapid rollout and adoption of the technology.
Commonwealth of Independent States
Mobile technology has been fundamental to expanding connectivity across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), driving the industry’s impact on SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities. Across Central Asia and the South Caucasus, for example, more than 40% of the population on average live in rural, and often mountainous, areas. In such places, mobile connectivity is typically the first, and often only, form of access to internet connectivity because of limited fixed broadband infrastructure and the costs associated with deployment in rural environments.
In Europe, mobile networks are increasingly ubiquitous and can reach more locations than other technologies. Moreover, mobile internet subscriber penetration is high, allowing users to access a range of life-enhancing services. Over 70% of mobile users in Europe use their devices for video calls, mobile financial services or obtaining information and products and services. European operators are also making significant strides on SDG 13: Climate Action, with direct (Scope 1 and 2) emissions per connection falling since last year and absolute emissions plateauing. This is driven by the rise in renewable electricity use.
Between 2015 and 2022, the number of mobile internet subscribers in Latin America grew by almost 60%, fuelling the mobile industry’s contribution to the SDGs. Yet 39% of the region’s population remain unconnected to mobile internet. This comprises a coverage gap of 6% (around 40 million people living in areas not covered by a mobile broadband network) and a usage gap of 33% (around 210 million people living within coverage of a network but not using mobile internet services). Closing these gaps is crucial to maximising mobile’s impact on the SDGs in the region.
Middle East and North Africa
The number of mobile internet users in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) reached 330 million at the end of 2022, equivalent to a penetration rate of 48%. The increasing migration to mobile broadband services is supporting the mobile industry’s contribution to the SDGs. 4G now accounts for almost half of total mobile connections in the region. Meanwhile, the transition to 5G is gaining traction, led by the GCC member states. Improvements in network quality are paving the way for users to access a broader range of services. Mobile operators are active in providing new services in areas such as healthcare, education and fintech.
In North America, 85% of the region’s population subscribe to mobile internet services, driving the industry’s contribution across a range of SDGs. Moreover, the US and Canada are among the global leaders in terms of 5G adoption, reflecting the ambitious 5G deployment plans of operators and a rapidly expanding device and content ecosystem. This supports the industry’s contribution to the SDGs by spurring the use of new applications and services in sectors such as automotive, healthcare and manufacturing.
By the end of 2022, 490 million people subscribed to mobile services in Sub-Saharan Africa, representing 43% of the population – an increase of 170 million since 2015. Moreover, during the same period, the number of mobile internet subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled, rising from 120 million to 270 million people. This highlights how mobile represents a growing platform to accelerate Sub-Saharan Africa’s progress on the SDGs and to drive socioeconomic advancement in areas such as healthcare, education, digital commerce, industrial automation and smart city infrastructure. This is evidenced by the continued uptake of mobile money, which reached 763 million registered accounts in the region in 2022 (a year-on-year increase of 17%).