Countries which have achieved the biggest improvements in mobile connectivity have also typically made greater strides towards the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda, according to the GSMA’s Mobile Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Asia-Pacific, for example, has seen significant scaling of mobile between 2015-2022 and a sharp rise in the number of unique subscribers and mobile connections. Together, the faster network speeds facilitated by the roll-out of 4G and 5G technologies, the decline in prices and increase in smartphone adoption, ushered in a wave of new digital services that underpinned an uptake in the region’s SDG contribution.

As per the report, developed markets with higher levels of mobile connectivity, such as North America and Europe, typically achieve higher levels of SDG impact. For example, in North America, 85 per cent of the region’s population subscribe to mobile internet services, and the region’s 5G maturity is supporting the industry’s SDG contribution by spurring the use of new applications and services across different sectors; while in Europe, over 70 per cent of mobile users use their devices for video calls, mobile financial services or for obtaining information on products and services, contributing to a range of SDGs.

The GSMA’s eighth annual SDG impact report evaluates the mobile industry’s progress against each goal and identifies areas where it needs to improve or accelerate actions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The report found that since 2015, the mobile industry has increased its impact on each of the 17 SDGs. Mobile technology provides billions of people with their primary means of access to the internet and a multitude of life-enhancing services across education, healthcare and finance. The industry also serves as the linchpin of the digital economy and a catalyst for transformation across different sectors.

Key findings:

  • In 2022, the average SDG impact score across the 17 goals was 53, meaning the industry has achieved 53 per cent of its potential contribution to the SDGs – up from 33 per cent in 2015.
  • The mobile industry achieved its highest impact on SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, driven by the unique reach of mobile coverage worldwide. Since 2015, the population living in areas without mobile coverage dropped from 1.8 billion to 400 million at the end of 2022.
  • Since 2015, almost 2 billion people have gained access to the internet through a mobile device, with some 4.5 billion people – or 57 per cent of the world’s population – connected by the end of 2022.
  • Progress has been made to reduce disparities in mobile internet adoption between different user segments, supporting the industry’s contribution to SDG 5: Gender Equality andSDG 10: Reducing Inequalities. In particular, mobile internet usage has risen by 47 per cent among the world’s poorest 40 per cent, representing an increase of 710 million since 2015 to 1.5 billion people in 2022; what’s more, 61 per cent of women in low- and middle-income countries are now using mobile internet, representing an increase of 470 million since 2017 to 1.4 billion people in 2022.
  • The mobile industry achieved its highest level of improvement in SDG 4: Quality Educationwith 2.3 billion people (42 per cent of mobile subscribers) using mobile to access educational information for themselves or their children, an increase of 1.6 billion individuals since 2015.
  • 6 billion people (49 per cent of mobile subscribers) used mobile financial services in 2022, an increase of 1.6 billion since 2015. The use of mobile banking and payments help individuals to better manage their finances and create employment opportunities, contributing to SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.

The report highlights that while the industry has tracked promising performance against each goal since 2015, the global cost-of-living crisis, conflicts, Covid-19 pandemic and rise in climate-related emergencies have impeded the efforts of every sector to achieve the 2030 Agenda. As a result, the report warns that the industry will only reach 76 per cent of its full potential impact on the 17 SDGs by 2030, based on its current trajectory.

Looking ahead to 2030, the report recommends that mobile operators must collaborate with governments, regulators and the international community, to increase the pace and scale of the sector’s contribution and release its untapped potential. Actions that will contribute to increase the industry’s SDG impact include: reforming policy to support sustainable levels of investment in mobile broadband infrastructure; leveraging the role of the international community, UN agencies, and multilateral development banks to prioritise investment in digital development; driving use of mobile solutions by all segments of the population and enterprises; and consistently tapping into mobile-enabled innovation to address societal challenges.

Commenting on the report, José María Álvarez-Pallete López, chief executive officer (CEO), Telefónica and chairman of the GSMA said, “Mobile technology has become the primary means of internet access for billions of people, especially in LMICs, enabling access to critical information, services, education, healthcare, and income-generating opportunities. However, despite these achievements, more must be done to enhance mobile’s contribution to the SDGs. The mobile industry must collaborate closely with stakeholders, including public administrations, other industries, civil society, and the international community, to scale up mobile’s impact.”

Meanwhile, Mats Granryd, director general, GSMA, said, “The mobile industry plays a significant role in advancing the UN SDGs, providing billions of people with access to the internet and a multitude of life-enhancing services across education, healthcare, finance and more – however, the findings of this year’s SDG impact report show that a fundamental shift in commitment, solidarity, financing and action will be needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda. As countries with higher levels of mobile connectivity typically achieve greater SDG impact, the industry, along with its partners, must collaborate to facilitate sustainable and inclusive digital transformation to put the world on a better path.”

The findings of the GSMA’s SDG impact report were published during a reception with the Broadband Commission, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and have been issued alongside a separate report from the ITU focused on the digital sector’s SDG impact.