New GSMA Studies Highlight Barriers to Mobile Broadband Adoption in Latin America and the Caribbean

February 23, 2016

Press Release

Locally Relevant Content and Digital Literacy Skills Key to Digital Inclusion in the Region

Barcelona: Tackling digital literacy and ensuring that locally relevant content and services are available will be key to connecting the estimated 363 million citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean that are covered by mobile broadband networks but not yet connected. According to a series of new reports commissioned by GSMA’s Connected Society and produced by GSMA Intelligence, further collaboration between mobile operators and governments will be key to extending mobile connectivity and internet services to millions of citizens across the region. Affordability and network coverage are identified as the other main barriers to digital inclusion in the region.

“Mobile broadband is the primary method of delivering affordable internet access across the Latin America and Caribbean region, delivering a range of economic and social benefits and supporting the UN Social Development Goals,” said Sebastian Cabello, the GSMA’s Head of Latin America. “But there is also the danger of a widening ‘digital divide’ in the region due to millions being either unable or unwilling to use mobile broadband services. We therefore urge governments to work with the mobile industry to address the barriers to adoption and ensure that the mobile internet is more accessible, useful and understandable for everyone.” 

“The mobile industry is committed to playing a key role in connecting unconnected populations in Latin America and around the world,” said Matthew Bloxham, Head of the GSMA’s Connected Society programme. “The GSMA is actively working with mobile operators, governments and the wider international development community to design and implement commercially sustainable and scalable initiatives that can unlock the key supply-side and demand-side barriers to adoption of mobile internet services.”

Measuring the Mobile Broadband Demand Gap
The Latin America and Caribbean region is home to 634 million people. According to the latest research, the mobile broadband coverage gap in the region is relatively small, with only about 10 per cent of the population – or 64 million people – living outside the footprint of a 3G or 4G network. A further 33 per cent (207 million) of the population live within range and subscribe to mobile broadband services. This leaves 57 per cent (363 million) of the total population that are covered by mobile broadband networks but not yet connected.

More than 100 million people in this latter category reside in Brazil, the region’s largest market. The demand gap also varies widely across the region, ranging from countries such as Chile and Costa Rica, where the proportion of citizens subscribing to mobile broadband is relatively high, to markets such as Guatemala and Ecuador, where there are significant gaps between mobile broadband availability and adoption.

Understanding the Barriers to Digital Inclusion
Insights from the GSMA Intelligence Consumer Survey 2015 and various national household surveys from across the region highlight four primary barriers that need to be addressed to increase mobile broadband adoption:

  • Absence of locally relevant content: Research points to a limited supply of attractive content – both in terms of local language and local relevance. Analysis of web traffic data shows that less than 30 per cent of content accessed in Latin America and the Caribbean is in local languages – despite the prevalence of Spanish and Portuguese languages in the region. Moreover, the content available on app stores and mobile operator websites is largely entertainment-related, creating a misconception among non-users that the internet is just an entertainment tool and masking the relevance and lifestyle-changing potential of the mobile internet. Locally relevant content is highlighted by the consumer survey to be a more important factor than cost or other considerations in most markets.
  • Lack of digital skills: Although basic literacy rates in the region are higher than the global average, there remains a gap in digital literacy and skills. The research shows that insufficient ICT infrastructure and teaching support for digital education prevents many mobile users from exploring the benefits of the internet.
  • Affordability: The Latin America and Caribbean region has the highest regional level of income inequality in the world. Affordability is a significant barrier to internet adoption for people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. For the bottom 40 per cent of the population, the cost of mobile ownership is on average 17 per cent of income, compared to just 2 per cent of income for the top 20 per cent of the population. One of the key barriers to affordability is the taxation of mobile services, particularly in countries such as Brazil and Argentina where consumer taxes account for over 30 per cent of the total cost of mobile ownership. A reduction in sector-specific taxes, fees and levies applied to both consumers and operators could therefore help to improve affordability.
  • Network coverage: Providing mobile broadband coverage to 90 per cent of the region’s population has been a significant achievement. However, covering the remaining, sparsely populated areas (such as mountain ranges, rainforests and islands), may not be commercially viable without collaboration and some form of public partnership.

Three studies have been commissioned by the GSMA’s Connected Society programme and the GSMA Latin America office and produced by GSMA Intelligence. Each report outlines potential areas of collaboration for operators, governments and development organisations, featuring case studies of existing initiatives that have been successful in tackling the various barriers to adoption. The reports are available below:
“Digital inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean”
English | Español  
“Content in Latin America: Shift to local, shift to mobile”English | Español  
“Closing the coverage gap in Latin America”English | Español



About the GSMA
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress, Mobile World Congress Shanghai and the Mobile 360 Series conferences. 

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