Connectivity in the Least Developed Countries

Looking at the basic connectivity in the world, we see that 95% of the world population and 88% of the people living in the Least Developed Countries (LDC) are covered by 2G mobile networks. These percentages drop drastically if you look at the availability of 3G and 4G connections. Even though all of the LDCs have launched mobile 3G broadband networks, mobile broadband penetration is only just above 20% of the population compared to 50% worldwide and 90% in developed countries. Mobile 4G coverage is available in about ⅔ of the LDCs but mainly limited to urban areas. Fixed broadband penetration is very low, with levels below 1% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

If we break this down, overall we can differentiate three categories:

Lack of access to communication

12% of people living in the Least Developed Countries in the world are not covered by a mobile network, either 2G or broadband. Of the world population this group is about 5%. Looking at the LDCs, there is a handful of countries who have a 2G coverage below 80%. Here we are mainly talking about people living in areas that are very remote or rural, for whom the main bottleneck is the high costs of rolling out infrastructure and a lack of access to electricity.

Lack of access to information

This group is getting smaller, from 48% in 2017 to 45,6% currently. This refers to people who have access to communication but who do not use it, for various reasons. Research indicates that the most common barrier here is low secondary school education levels and subsequently a lack of (digital) skills and awareness about how and why to use the internet. A lack of relevant local content is also a barrier for internet uptake. Another great barrier is affordability. LDCs have the highest mobile broadband prices at 14% of the average monthly income. In comparison, in developing countries prices are less than 5% of the average monthly income. This is the case in only 5 of the LCDs.

Lack of access to free communication & information

The number of people who have access to free unrestricted communication is hard to estimate. Some research suggest that this might be only 20% of the world population, depending on the definition of free and unrestricted communication. Barriers here are political and infrastructure related, but also concern awareness and affordability.