The mobile broadband coverage gap persists at five per cent
In most developing countries, mobile broadband (3G or above) is the main way — and often the only way — to connect to the Internet. This kind of access is available to 95% of the world population. Bridging the “coverage gap”, that is, connecting the remaining five percent still off the grid is proving difficult: since crossing the 90% threshold in 2018, global 3G coverage has increased only by four percentage points.
Proportion of population covered by a mobile network, by technology
Note: The values for 2G and 3G networks show the incremental percentage of population that is not covered by a more advanced technology network (e.g. 95% - rounded - of the world population is covered by a 3G network, that is 7.1% + 87.7%).
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the gap constitutes 18%, predominantly affecting the population of central and western Africa. The coverage gap is almost the same in LDCs and LLDCs, falling short of SDG Target 9.c to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”
Proportion of population covered by a mobile network, 2022
Between 2015 and 2022, 4G network coverage doubled to reach 88% of the world’s population; but, as for previous technologies, growth is slowing down. 4G technology is now available to more than 90% of the population in most of the regions, except Latin America and the Caribbean (88% of the population), Northern Africa and Western Asia (83%), Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand, 59%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (49%).
In many countries older-generation networks are being switched off in favour of networks that are more efficient and allow the development of a digital ecosystem compatible with 5G. This is particularly the case for 3G, which is often shut down so that the freed-up spectrum can be re-used for 5G, while keeping 2G for older legacy devices. This is the case for most European operators, who are planning to have their 3G networks switched off by December 2025, and for the Asia-Pacific region. However, in other regions of the world the path is less clear, mainly because 2G and 3G networks retain a significant presence. This is the case notably in lower-income countries, where both technologies are an important means of communication. In those countries, the main obstacles to 5G deployment include high infrastructure costs, device affordability, and regulatory and adoption barriers.
Preliminary data show that 19% of the global population was covered by a 5G network in 2021. The highest roll-out was in Europe at 52%, followed by the Americas (38%) and the Asia-Pacific region (16%).