GSMA Launches Global Coalition to Boost Handset Affordability for Low-Income Populations

GSMA’s new coalition, including global operators and organizations, aims to make internet-enabled devices affordable.

A new global coalition which will drive innovative solutions to boost handset affordability for some of the world’s poorest populations was announced by the GSMA. Members include major global mobile operators, vendors, device ecosystem players, international organisations and financing institutions, such as the World Bank Group, the ITU and the WEF Edison Alliance. The coalition will collaborate to improve access to affordable internet-enabled devices to close the ‘Usage Gap’, which holds back around three billion people worldwide from maximising their potential in the global digital economy.

Mobile remains the primary – and often only – way people in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) access the internet, accounting for 84% of broadband connections in 2023. Yet three billion people – 38% of the world’s population – live in areas covered by mobile internet but do not use it due to barriers, including digital literacy and skills, lack of relevant content, online safety and access. Handset affordability is often recognised as the most significant barrier to get people online.

The new coalition will assess multiple ‘levers’ to reduce the cost of entry into the digital economy for low-income populations, with particular focus on LMICs and areas where handset affordability presents the highest barrier to getting online, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. By exploring new solutions including ‘de-risking’ financing mechanisms, with the support of the World Bank Group, the coalition will enhance and complement ongoing efforts to expand digital access and affordability.

Going forward, the GSMA will continue to facilitate close collaboration between coalition members to share learnings, asses, and deploy tailored innovative models that can effectively narrow the usage gap.

Mobile has helped billions of people worldwide to play an active role in our increasingly digital world, but the cost of entry can still be too high for many on low incomes. Together with global mobile operators, and the support of the World Bank Group and other key coalition members, we’re determined to act on this issue.

By building creative solutions to bring mobile internet into the hands of those who need it the most, we believe we can make real strides towards closing the Usage Gap and help millions more maximise their potential by getting online.

Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA

Making internet connected devices more affordable is critical to accelerating digitalization in developing countries and ensuring no one is left behind. We’ve seen the power of digital technologies to unlock growth and job creation and to ease access to education and health services, but people must first be connected to make this a reality. This coalition brings together key players across industry and the development community to help bring this aspiration to life.

Guangzhe Chen, Vice President for Infrastructure, World Bank

In an age of unimaginable digital opportunities, devices are still out of reach for too many. With the 2025 Broadband Commission affordability target on the horizon, this new global coalition is an excellent complement to the work of the Commission’s Working Group on Smartphone Access. It has the power to accelerate affordability and bring us one step closer to universal meaningful connectivity, a cornerstone of ITU’s mission and our digital future.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary General, ITU

Today’s announcement of the Handset Affordability Coalition represents a tangible commitment from the mobile industry towards tackling the most substantial barrier to mobile adoption worldwide, and is backed by the GSMA’s Breaking Barriers campaign, which calls for greater focus and collaboration between governments and the mobile industry to address the multiple challenges holding back individuals from getting online.

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