Why Half the World is Still Without Smartphones

Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives, connecting us to the internet and each other. Recent reports suggest that over half of the world’s population now uses smartphones, but the distribution is not even. While some countries have high smartphone penetration, others lag behind, especially in rural areas. This article explores the current state of global smartphone usage, its impact, and the challenges ahead.

Key Takeaways

  • Over half of the world’s population uses smartphones.
  • Smartphone usage is higher in advanced economies compared to emerging ones.
  • Rural areas often need more access to smartphones.
  • The number of global smartphone users is expected to keep rising.
  • Mobile internet adoption is hindered by a need for digital literacy.
Why Half The World Is Still Without Smartphones

The Current State of Smartphone Usage

According to the GSMA’s latest study, over half of the global population owns at least one smartphone. Specifically, 54% of the world’s population, or 4.3 billion people, used a smartphone at the end of 2022. This number is expected to grow, with estimates suggesting that 5.25 billion people will use smartphones in 2023, marking a 4.9% annual increase.

Regional Differences

Smartphone usage varies significantly by region. For example, 85% of people in North America used mobile internet by the end of 2022, compared to 58% in 2015. In contrast, that figure grew from 20% to 44% over seven years in South Asia.

Urban vs Rural Divide

In Nigeria, only 58% of people living in urban areas and 32% in rural areas owned smartphones in 2022. This implies a 68% usage gap in rural areas and a 42% in urban areas. Similarly, in other countries, people living in rural areas are significantly less likely to own a smartphone than those in urban areas.

Half Of The World Is Still Without Internet Connection

Challenges and Barriers

One of the major challenges is the need for digital literacy and skills. Many people need to learn how to use a mobile phone or access the internet. This is especially true in Egypt, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where illiteracy is often reported as the top barrier to mobile internet adoption.

Economic Factors

The cost of smartphones and mobile internet can also be a barrier. Inflation and the cost of living have contributed to declining smartphone sales and ownership. For example, inflation reached much higher levels in some large LMICs (Low- and Middle-Income Countries), such as 19% in Nigeria and 34% in Ethiopia.

Half World Without Smartphones

The Future Outlook

The number of smartphone users is expected to continue rising. By 2024, it’s estimated that global smartphone users will reach 5.47 billion. However, the growth rate at which people are adopting mobile internet slowed in 2022, according to GSMA.


Smartphones have become a crucial part of modern life, but there’s still a long way to go in making them accessible to everyone. Addressing the challenges of digital literacy and economic barriers can help bridge the digital divide, especially in rural areas and emerging economies.

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