The seventh annual GSMA SDG Impact Report shows that digital inclusion is central to SDG progress

NEW YORK, September 21, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — According to the GSMA’s seventh annual Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals, closing the mobile internet “utilization gap” should be a priority for countries trying to meet the ambitious UN 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 operators’ investments in network infrastructure have helped close the ‘coverage gap’.[1] for mobile broadband networks from 1.4 billion people in 2015 to 400 million people in 2022, making a strong contribution to a range 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.

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Jose Maria Alvarez PalleteCEO of Telefonica and Chairman of the GSMA said: “In a world where conflict, food insecurity and economic uncertainty are high on the global agenda, mobile has never played a more important role. The GSMA’s SDG Impact Report demonstrates the transformative impact of communication in tackling these tremendous challenges through action as a catalyst for positive change and meaningful progress.”

Director General of the GSMA, Mats Granrydsaid: “The UN General Assembly in new York This week is a powerful reminder of the importance of acting together 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 are severely constraining private sector investment – high-quality mobile networks and together helping to close 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 that will improve 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 the contribution of mobile 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.

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Download the report at:

Notes for editors:

  • At the end of 2021, 5.3 billion people (66% of the world’s population) were using a mobile phone, while 4.3 billion people (55% of the world’s population) also use mobile internet. This includes more than 3.3 billion mobile internet subscribers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where mobile internet is the primary, and in many cases the only, form of internet access.

  • The “utilization gap” – those living in areas covered by mobile broadband networks but not connected – has narrowed for the third straight year but still stands at 3.2 billion people. The mobile industry and its partners continue to grapple with the reasons for the usage gap, which generally relate to lack of affordability, lack of knowledge and skills, relevance and security concerns.

  • Utilization of mobile-enabled activities reached a new peak in 2021 as mobile subscribers further ventured into online services.
    3.5 billion people (67% of mobile subscribers) will use their phones for video calling in 2021. This equates to an additional 330 million people as of 2020 supporting remote work and other online activities.
    – 2.5 billion people (48% of mobile subscribers) used their phone to access educational information for themselves or their children, an increase of 410 million since 2020.
    – 2.1 billion people (41% of mobile subscribers) used their phone to improve or monitor their health, up from 270 million since 2020.

  • The use of mobile phone-based services remained significantly lower in developing countries. On average, the gap between the use of mobile-enabled services in high-income countries and LMICs is 17 percentage points, underscoring the importance of operators’ efforts to introduce more locally relevant content and upgrade networks to enable access to services that require higher quality Connection.

  • The mobile industry is making steady strides in disclosing climate impact data and setting emission reduction targets. At the end of 2021, 66% of operators by connection and 82% by revenue reported their climate impact, while 34% of operators by connection and 44% by revenue had set carbon reduction targets of net-zero by 2050.

  • Mobile and digital technology could enable almost 40% of the required CO2 Reductions needed by 2030 in the top four emitting industries. These four sectors – manufacturing, power and energy, transport and buildings – are responsible for 80% of global emissions.

  • The issuance of sustainability bonds in the mobile sector has increased significantly. This makes it clear that operators are increasingly securing their financing on the basis of social and environmental – and not just financial – goals.

  • As stakeholders become smarter and more critical of ESG claims, an effective and consistent approach to measuring and communicating performance is more important than ever. The GSMA recently launched ESG Metrics for Mobile, a unique framework for ESG reporting in the mobile sector with ten industry-specific KPIs. The KPIs will allow stakeholders to gain a much deeper understanding of the nuances and context of the industry, and provide opportunities for the industry to more consistently demonstrate its impact.

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About GSMA

The GSMA is a global organization that unites the mobile ecosystem to discover, develop and deliver innovations fundamental to positive business and societal change. Our vision is to unleash the full potential of connectivity so that people, industry and society thrive. The GSMA represents mobile operators and organizations across the mobile ecosystem and related industries and offers its members three major pillars: Connectivity for Good, Industry Services and Solutions and Outreach. This activity includes advancing policy, addressing today’s biggest societal challenges, underpinning the technology and interoperability that enable mobile working, and delivering the world’s largest platform to bring the mobile ecosystem together at the MWC and M360 event series .

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[1] The “coverage gap” refers to those living outside of areas covered by mobile broadband networks