Monday, 08 April 2019 08:26

Mobile net at 18%, but GSMA claims Pacific on cusp of digital revolution

Mobile net at 18%, but GSMA claims Pacific on cusp of digital revolution Image by ianknabel66 from Pixabay

The Pacific Islands have the lowest mobile Internet penetration rate in the world at 18%, but the mobile operators trade body, GSM Association, says the region has great potential and is on the cusp of a digital revolution.

The GSMA's report, The Mobile Economy Pacific Islands 2019, presented at the Pacific Islands Telecommunications Association 23rd AGM and annual conference, claimed that the islands would embark on a digital revolution with the aid of mobile technology.

The report said, however, that this depended on co-operation between governments in the region and mobile players.

“This is an exciting time for the Pacific Islands as it stands on the cusp of a digital revolution and mobile technology will play a pivotal role in this transformation, providing access to life-enhancing services such as health and education and acting as a catalyst for innovation and economic growth,” said Mats Granryd, director-general, GSMA.

“To ensure affordable, high-quality mobile services, collaboration across the mobile ecosystem, is key to unlocking the full potential of mobile and to connect everyone and everything to a better future.”

Only 38% of the population in the region was subscribed to a mobile service by the end of 2018, much below the average of 44% for least developed countries. There was variation in the region, ranging from 84% in Fiji to 11% in the Marshall Islands. Papua New Guinea, the most populous country, had a connection rate of 30%.

The report said operators were investing to improve LTE network coverage in the region and it was expected to account for more than half the connections by 2023, double what it was at the end of 2018.

People in the region were also shifting to mobile broadband and 4G, reflecting their take-up of smartphones; from 30% of connections at the end of 2018, this is forecast to more than double to 65% by 2025.

A lack of infrastructure in the region was put down to the fact that the digital switchover has not taken place and spectrum in the digital dividend band (700 MHz) has not been allocated to mobile services.

The mobile growth has increased access to financial services with nine live mobile money services available to those without bank accounts in six countries: two in Fiji, three in Papua New Guinea and one each in Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Other findings:

  • Mobile helping to boost financial inclusion: The Pacific Financial Inclusion Program was launched in 2008 and has funded 44 projects with financial service providers helping more than two million Pacific Islanders access formal financial services;
  • The ongoing shift to mobile broadband and digital transformation: at the end of 2018 mobile Internet penetration in the region was the lowest of any region in the world at 18%. However, 4G connections in the Pacific Islands are set to account for more than half of total connections by 2023, doubling the figure from the end of 2018 and increasing access to services;
  • Infrastructure challenges: Many countries in the Pacific Islands region face issues around insufficient infrastructure. Several countries are yet to complete the digital switchover process, including Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Solomon Islands; and
  • Unlocking the full potential of mobile: The upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference will be one of the best opportunities for governments and industry to identify a significant amount of harmonised millimetre wave spectrum, which will result in massive economies of scale for 5G in the future.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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