Vodafone, ITU establish global connectivity campaign

20 September 2021 | Melanie Mingas

Cover

Vodafone Group Plc and the International Telecommunication Union are to address the global digital divide through a new working group.

Co-chaired by ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and Vodafone Group CEO, Nick Read, the group’s launch partners are the Alliance for Affordable Internet; GSMA; the government of Ghana; Safaricom; Smart Africa; Vodacom Group; and the World Wide Web Foundation.

The Broadband Commission Working Group is billed as the "first multi-stakeholder initiative to address global mobile internet access gap" and will produce a report and set of "concrete recommendations".

These will include original analysis and data on the smartphone access gap; quantification of the social and economic impact of providing everyone with smartphone access by 2030, including assessment of moving users from 2G feature phones to 4G smartphones; and analysis of initiatives or pilots designed to increase smartphone access.

Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, said: “Vodafone is honoured to be part of this monumental global initiative with the UN, to improve the lives of billions of people through smartphone access. As our societies become more digital, everyone should have the ability to find jobs, be able to get public services, financial services and critical information that are increasingly only available through the internet. This is such a complex challenge that no network operator, device manufacturer, financial services provider or national government can solve on their own – but working together we can break through the barriers.”

As Read said, the issue isn't exclusively about access to networks. The group noted that of the 3.7 billion people not connected to the internet, 3.4 billion do live within range of mobile networks but are currently not accessing the internet, partly due to a lack of smartphone ownership.

As such Vodafone Group has also committed to launch two pilot projects on device affordability.

The Honourable Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister for Communications and Digitalisation, Ghana, said: “While Ghana and other countries have made great strides in the development of mobile infrastructure and the usage of digital services such as mobile money, it is noticeable that 45% of people in West Africa are covered by mobile broadband networks but do not use the internet. Addressing the mobile internet usage gap is vital for the long-term economic development of my country and many others across the world and will require new partnerships and focused action from a range of organisations.”

Telcos together

Coinciding with the launch, Vodafone, Vodacom and Safaricom have published the second edition of their 'Africa.Connected’ report. Produced by Caribou Digital, it suggests a multi-stakeholder approach with four key steps to enhancing digital inclusion across African nations, where the mobile usage gap is the largest in the world.

The steps are: making 4G devices more accessible; investing in the demand for 4G services; providing targeted financing for underserved demographics; and re-farming 2G spectrum to enable more 4G connections.

“This partnership is key to expand access to the internet,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “I am confident that the outcome report will provide guidance to all our stakeholders as we prepare for the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2022 to build a world where no one is left off-line.”