NEW YORK, United States — Closing the mobile internet “appropriation gap” should be a priority for countries trying to meet the United Nations’ ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations said GSMAs Seventh Annual Impact of the Mobile Industry Report: Sustainable Development Goals.
The report shows that six years after being the first industry to commit to the SDGs, the mobile industry continues to increase its contribution to all 17 goals. But despite mobile operators’ ongoing commitment to the 2030 Agenda, there is still a long way to go.
A combination of global conflicts, rising food and energy poverty, economic insecurity and the ongoing impact of Covid-19 are creating significant headwinds and are currently threatening the progress of the SDGs around the world. In the face of these challenges, the report highlights the crucial role that mobile connectivity and connected technologies can play as enablers, helping countries “move better” to achieve economic recovery and resilience.
In many countries, especially in low- to middle-income countries, cell phones are the primary way to access the Internet. Mobile operator investments in network infrastructure have helped reduce the mobile broadband coverage gap from 1.4 billion people in 2015 to 400 million people in 2022, which has strongly contributed to a number of SDG indicators.
However, around 3.2 billion people covered by networks are still unable to reap the benefits of this connectivity due to a lack of skills, knowledge, affordability, relevant content and other factors. This “utilization gap” is fast becoming one of the biggest “brakes” on economic and social progress worldwide.
The report shows how people with access to fast, reliable networks are able to stay connected with friends and family, work remotely, access education and healthcare services, build innovative businesses, improve efficiencies and reduce CO2 – Reduce emissions. In contrast, those without access are most vulnerable to economic and social disruption and risk falling further behind as the world emerges from the pandemic, especially as online services become more and more an integral part of society.
Jose-Maria Alvarez Pallete, CEO of Telefonica and GSMA Chair, says: “In a world where conflict, food insecurity and economic uncertainty are high on the global agenda, mobile has never played a more prominent role. The GSMA SDG Impact Report demonstrates the transformative impact of communications in tackling these tremendous challenges, acting as a catalyst for positive change and making meaningful progress.”
Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, said: “The UN General Assembly in New York this week is a powerful reminder of the importance of collective action in the face of growing global challenges. The SDGs remain a guide for global progress, and the mobile industry is proud to be both an advocate for them and a key enabler for their implementation.
“Mobile connectivity and digital inclusion are essential tools to achieve the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda and to help the world face the headwinds of global inequality, poverty and conflict. We call on policymakers to address the barriers that limit private sector investment in high-quality mobile networks and join forces in closing the “utilization gap” that is preventing so many from realizing their potential in our increasingly connected world. Together we can harness the power of connectivity as a catalyst for economic recovery, social progress and digital inclusion, improving the lives of millions of people around the world.”
The SDG contributions of the mobile industry
The mobile industry increased its impact on all 17 SDGs in 2021, with compound annual increases accelerating compared to 2020. The average SDG Impact Score for the 17 SDGs reached 53, up from 49 in 2020 and 32 in 2015, meaning the mobile industry is achieving 53% of what it could potentially contribute to the SDGs. Other highlights are:
- There are now eleven SDGs where mobile’s contribution is above 50, compared to six in 2020 and none in 2015.
- The mobile industry continues to make its greatest impact on SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, driven by the reach of mobile networks and the consumption of mobile internet services.
- The biggest improvements were seen in the industry’s contribution to SDG 1: No poverty, SDG 2: No hunger and SDG 4: Quality education. This is due to the increasing proportion of people using cell phones for life-enhancing activities such as accessing government services, applying for and finding jobs, and obtaining educational information for themselves or their children.