Internet use in emerging countries linked to GDP

Guy Daniels
By Guy Daniels

Feb 14, 2014

A new report from the Pew Research Centre looks at how emerging nations are embracing the internet and mobile technologies. No surprises there, but Pew goes into a lot of detail on a country-by-country level.

One of the key findings is that while the internet still has a limited reach in the emerging and developing world, once people do gain access to the internet, they quickly begin to integrate it into their lives. The report finds that a significant number of people in these countries say they use the internet on a daily basis, including half of those polled in Lebanon, Russia and Argentina. At least 20 per cent use the internet daily in 15 of the 24 nations surveyed. And in 21 of these countries, a majority of internet users also participate in sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Internet usage is also strongly correlated with income. The study found that generally, the higher a country’s GDP per capita, the higher its percentage of internet users. The three nations with the highest per capita incomes in this survey – Chile, Argentina and Russia – also have the highest internet usage rates. Not surprisingly, in two of the poorest countries surveyed, Pakistan and Uganda, about 90 per cent of the population never go online.

(There's a very good interactive chart here)

More than half of the population in each of the nations surveyed say they own a mobile phone. The highest percentages are 95 per cent in Jordan and China, 94 per cent in Russia, and 91 per cent in Chile and South Africa. Compare this with landlines, where across the 24 countries surveyed, an average of only 23 per cent say they have a working phone in their house (dropping to a mere 1 per cent in Ghana and Kenya). Smartphone ownership isn’t so high – there is no country in the study where even half of the population owns a smartphone. However, at least 20 per cent have a smartphone in 11 countries surveyed.

Texting remains the most popular application of mobile phones, with 78 per cent of mobile phone users surveyed in the 24 countries saying they regularly send messages. Percentages are universally high, except in Pakistan where the rate falls to a lowly 38 per cent.

There are some interesting quantitative findings around mobile money. Despite all the press and attention, it remains one of the least common mobile phone activities, with just 8 per cent of phone users in Africa regularly making or receiving payments (the median average is actually 11 per cent across all 24 emerging countries surveyed). However, where mobile money services are deployed, the usage rises – 68 per cent in Kenya, where the M-Pesa service was first developed. But whilst Uganda also shows good mobile money take-up (50 per cent), South Africa fares less well with 29 per cent and Nigeria barely makes it above the average with 13 per cent.

Outside Africa, Russia ranks as the highest take-up of mobile money with 24 per cent of phone owners using the service (whether or not you regards Russia as an emerging or developing country is another matter though). The figure doesn’t get above 11 per cent in Asia, whilst in South America Venezuela leads the way with 18 per cent.

Using mobiles to receive healthcare information is actually a more popular service, with an average of 15 per cent in the survey. Venezuela once again shows how progressive its users are with a 30 per cent take-up, with Nigeria at 28 per cent and Egypt at 23 per cent.

The survey was conducted among 24,263 people in 24 emerging and developing economies from March to May last year, and all interviews were conducted face-to-face.

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