An Additional 1.6 Billion Mobile Internet Subscribers Forecast by 2020; GSMA Publishes Digital Inclusion Report Highlighting Efforts to Connect ‘Offline’ Populations

Cape Town: Half of the world’s population will be using mobile devices to access the internet by 2020, according to new data released by GSMA Intelligence at the GSMA Mobile 360-Africa event today. It is calculated that there were 2.2 billion mobile internet subscribers in 2013, representing approximately 30 per cent of the global population. GSMA Intelligence forecasts that an additional 1.6 billion citizens worldwide will become mobile internet users over the next six years, bringing the total number to 3.8 billion, or around half of the world’s expected population in 2020.  

“Our new findings underline how mobile is now the gateway to the internet for billions of citizens across the world and will be responsible for connecting millions of currently ‘offline’ global citizens to the internet in the years to 2020 and beyond,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General of the GSMA. “Developing innovative ways to accelerate digital inclusion in the form of affordable mobile internet access is now a key focus for the GSMA, its operator members and the broader mobile industry ecosystem.”

Developing World Driving Mobile Internet Subscriber Growth
Almost all of the additional mobile internet users expected over the next six years will come from the developing world. According to GSMA Intelligence, the number of mobile internet users in the developing world will double from 1.5 billion in 2013 to 3 billion by 2020, rising from 25 per cent of the developing world population to 45 per cent over the period (see table). Here in Sub-Saharan Africa, just 17 per cent of the population were mobile internet subscribers in 2013, but penetration is forecast to increase to 37 per cent by 2020.  

Many users in the developing world still access the mobile internet via 2G connections – over 60 per cent do so in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, a rapid technology migration is currently underway towards mobile broadband (3G/4G) internet. In 2013, 900 million of the 2.2 billion mobile internet subscribers connected via 2G, while 1.3 billion connected via mobile broadband. By 2020, it is forecast that, of the 3.8 billion total mobile internet users globally, the number of 2G mobile internet subscribers will shrink to 800 million and mobile broadband internet users will have more than doubled to reach 3 billion.

Mobile internet subscribers




2.2 billion

3.8 billion


0.7 billion

0.8 billion


1.5 billion

3.0 billion


0.9 billion

0.8 billion


1.3 billion

3.0 billion




Mobile internet subscriber penetration (% population)












Source: GSMA Intelligence

Delivering Digital Inclusion
The GSMA also published a Digital Inclusion report, which focuses on the challenges in extending mobile internet services to currently unconnected populations. The GSMA’s Digital Inclusion programme is collaborating with mobile operators, governments, broader mobile ecosystem players and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to address the barriers to mobile internet adoption in the developing world. The report highlights four critical areas that need to be addressed to enable ‘offline’ populations to access mobile internet services:

  1. Extending network coverage into remote, off-grid locations, which could require government support for voluntary network infrastructure sharing, the release of low-frequency spectrum and public subsidies;
  2. Removing the affordability barrier by working to lower the cost of mobile ownership and ensuring that mobile internet devices and data plans are not subject to restrictive government taxes and fees;
  3. Tackling illiteracy and the lack of internet awareness, which are considered the main consumer barriers to mobile internet adoption, even in cases where coverage and affordability issues have been addressed. According to the United Nations, there were 774 million illiterate adults globally in 2011; and
  4. Ensuring that mobile internet content is available on as many devices as possible in the correct languages, and is relevant to the needs and interests of local users. E-government services are emerging as a major source of local content in developing countries and are therefore seen as a key driver of mobile internet usage.

“Mobile technology is already playing an invaluable role in the social, economic and environmental development of the developing world; the mobile internet has the potential to trigger a new wave of growth and innovation if we can remove the barriers to digital inclusion,” added Bouverot.

To download the Digital Inclusion report, visit www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/digital-inclusion-report-2014.

Note to Editors:
A mobile internet subscriber is defined as an individual that has accessed an internet service on one or more of their mobile devices. Any activity that consumes mobile data is considered a mobile internet service, including web browsing, mobile instant messaging, mobile social networking, email, app downloads and online gaming, video and music. It does not include traditional mobile operator services such as voice, SMS and MMS.

Mobile internet subscriber estimates and forecasts are based on primary research conducted by GSMA Intelligence. Overall, 42 markets have been surveyed worldwide with an equal split between developed (21) and developing countries (21). These 42 countries represent 74 per cent of the global mobile market in terms of unique mobile subscribers.


About the GSMA
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. Spanning more than 220 countries and territories, the GSMA unites nearly 800 of the world’s mobile operators with 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in industry sectors such as financial services, healthcare, media, transport and utilities. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress and Mobile Asia Expo. 

For more information, please visit the GSMA corporate website at www.gsma.com. Follow the GSMA on Twitter: @GSMA.

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