Three-in-10 adults in emerging economies have no phone

Read time 3min 20sec

As ownership of mobile phones, especially smartphones, spreads rapidly across the globe, an average of three-in-10 adults in emerging economies still do not own a phone.

This is one of the key findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 28 122 adults in 11 emerging economies, including SA.It is part of a series of reports about the mobile landscape in emerging economies.

The report found there are still notable numbers of people who do not own or even use someone else’s mobile phone, with the mobile divide most pronounced in Venezuela (32%), India (30%) and the Philippines (27%), countries where about three-in-10 adults do not own a mobile phone.

In SA, 5% of surveyed respondents do not have or share a mobile phone, while Tunisia has 4%, Lebanon 9%, Kenya 3% and Jordan 3%.

The report found a median of 7% of polled people borrow or share phones with others.

Among non-mobile phone users, a median of 51% across eight countries say the cost of a phone is the reason they do not have one, with non-users in Venezuela (89%) and Tunisia (71%) topping the list.

A median of 34% of non-mobile users report that data costs are a reason, notes Pew.

“The spread of mobile phones brings a variety of benefits to users in emerging economies, and they can clearly spell out what appeals to them about the arrival of a phone in their lives,” explains Laura Silver, senior researcher at Pew Research Center.

“Still, our survey shows these devices bring new challenges and headaches to users at the same time they open up new divisions in their societies. It turns out that digital divides take several forms in these countries.”

According to a report by research firm Statista, today about 20 million to 22 million South Africans use a smartphone, which accounts for about one-third of the country's population.

The non-users are divided over whether they would like to own a mobile phone in the future: Venezuelan non-users stand out for their keen interest in acquiring a mobile phone; 86% of mobile phone non-users in Venezuela say they would like to get a phone in the future.

Elsewhere, these numbers vary markedly, from around half or more desiring a mobile phone in SA (65%), Colombia (61%) and Tunisia (52%), to fewer than half in Mexico (41%), the Philippines (35%), India (31%) and Lebanon (9%).

Mobile owner challenges

At the same time, the Pew research shows mobile divides also exist among those who own phones. A median of 46% of respondents say they frequently or occasionally have difficulties getting reliable phone connections, 37% say it can be a challenge to pay for their phones, and 33% report finding places to charge their phones is a problem at least occasionally.

In some countries, mobile owners’ challenges are particularly striking. In Lebanon, for example, 66% of owners say they avoid doing things with their phones because those activities use too much data. In Jordan, nearly half (48%) report having trouble paying for their phone, while in Tunisia, four-in-10 (40%) say it can be a challenge to find places to recharge their phones.

Pew researchers also found that in some countries, issues of technological literacy are particularly pronounced. For example, around a quarter of Indians (26%) say the primary reason they share a phone is because it is too complicated to use, followed by Mexicans (11%) and Filipinos (10%).

“Beyond those concerns, there are other issues that can disrupt life for some phone users and sharers. Around three-quarters or more of mobile phone owners in every country except India report concerns about identity theft, and around nine-in-10 or more in Mexico (95%), Colombia (94%), Tunisia (90%), SA (89%) and the Philippines (89%) say they are at least somewhat concerned about the security issue,” notes the report.

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