Smartphone ownership grew, mobile internet user growth stalled in 2021 – Further slowdown is expected by the end of 2022

Smartphone Usage

In India, women’s growth in smartphone ownership and mobile internet use slowed down in 2021 after increasing substantially the year before, whereas men’s growth in these areas continued to increase consistently starting in 2019.

According to a mobile gender gap analysis by GSMA, India has a 14% gender difference in cell phone ownership but a startling 41% deficit in mobile internet use, second only to Bangladesh. The survey reveals that while mobile internet use remained stable at 30% in 2021, women’s smartphone ownership increased slightly from 25% in 2020 to 26% in 2021.

The percentage of men who possess smartphones increased significantly from 41% in 2020 to 49% in 2021, while the percentage of men who use mobile internet increased from 45% in 2020 to 51% in 2021. In India, the most significant barrier to owning a mobile phone for both sexes was the cost of the handset, but for women, literacy and knowledge of mobile usage remained major obstacles. Additionally, 14% of female mobile users said that data charges were prohibitive.

The study discovered that both men and women in India engaged in a larger range of use cases than those in other nations as a result of the widespread use of smart feature phones with cutting-edge features. Smart feature phones can help with the pricing issues and serve as a first step toward making women’s use of smartphones more commonplace. The survey discovers that these devices have voice instructions to meet the low literacy levels.

In India, women’s mobile internet use increased significantly between 2020 and 2021, according to the GSMA, as a result of shifting market dynamics that made internet access more accessible. The COVID-19 limitations and lockdowns also encouraged more women to use the internet, which helped close the gender gap.

In India, the proportion of use cases carried out by female mobile phone owners likewise follows a similar pattern. The use cases, which included video calls, education, and prospects for revenue generation, significantly grew from 3.2 use cases per week in 2019 to 4.9 in 2020 before plateauing in 2021. The survey claims that between 2019 and 2020, the percentage of women making video calls on their phones increased from 16% to 34%. In 2021, this stayed unchanged while male usage increased.

Two sizable sociodemographic groups that experienced the mobile usage dynamics differently were also highlighted in the paper. Women who are more affluent and have higher levels of education found they are still being digitally excluded, with limited job prospects, access to public services, income, and ability to save for high-end smartphone models. In contrast, women who are less affluent and have lower levels of education found they are still being digitally excluded.

Interestingly, according to Qualcomm which is one of the largest mobile chipset manufacturers in the world, the smartphone sales will see a double digit drop by the end of 2022. Previously, the company had predicted a single digit fall in sales numbers, which has now been revised in light of the worsening economic environment worldwide. As per Qualcomm, two of its largest customers – Apple and Samsung have struggles to sell phones this year and the rapid deterioration in demand and the easing supply constraints have led to significant unsold inventory buildups for the company.

This means, that in addition to the slowdown in internet user growth, as witnessed in 2021, even smartphone sales appear to have peaked at least for now. It will be noteworthy to watch the impact that this development has on the access to technology across sections of the society in an increasingly digitised world.

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