GSMA: Closing the digital divide in Central Asia and the South Caucasus 

The GSMA has  published a report – Closing the digital divide in Central Asia and the South Caucasus – which affirms that mobile technology is fundamental to expanding connectivity across the region, with over 40% of the population living in rural areas where mobile connectivity is the primary, and often only, form of internet access.   The report assesses the state of mobile adoption and infrastructure availability in Armenia; Azerbaijan; Georgia; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; and Uzbekistan.  

GSMA Intelligence estimated around 45 million people across the eight countries used mobile internet (as of the date of publication). This represented a significant increase from 14.1 million recorded a decade earlier, though it still leaves around 50 million unconnected. Although lack of coverage was cited as still a challenge in parts of Central Asia, where around 10 per cent of the population in some markets lived in underserved areas, it generally noted the pace of adoption was lagging rollout.

GSMA Intelligence noted collaboration as key to addressing the digital divide in the regions, adding there is a need to “increase digital skills and literacy and improve affordability, in addition to investing in local digital ecosystems and an enabling policy environment that can accelerate growth in local content, services and applications”

The new report was launched to mark the opening of M360 Eurasia 2023, which today welcomed global leaders from the mobile ecosystem and adjacent industries for two days of learning, debate and networking at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

“Since the first mobile phone call 50 years ago, our industry has evolved, adapted and advanced the world around us, serving 5.4 billion unique customers. As we enter the era of intelligent connectivity, it feels like anything is possible, but it has also never been more important for us to focus on closing the digital divide. Together we must keep working to build a firm foundation for the next generation of intelligent connectivity and ensure that no one is left behind in our global digital economy,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, on stage for the opening ceremony and keynote.

“I am delighted to welcome the global connectivity community to Baku for M360 Eurasia,” said H.E. Rashad Nabiyev, Minister of Digital Development and Transport for the Republic of Azerbaijan. “As we continue our digital transformation journey in Azerbaijan, we look forward to hearing leaders in mobile and technology explore the latest trends in connectivity and the importance of digital resilience.” 

As of April 2023, commercial 5G services were only available in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, though GSMA Intelligence noted activities around the latest generation of mobile technology were ramping more widely.

“Although 5G is on the horizon in several markets in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, the focus for many operators in the medium term is to expand 4G capacity in urban areas and 4G coverage to underserved areas, and accelerate uptake among consumers.”

Closing the Digital Divide in Eurasia: 

M360 Eurasia comes to Baku, Azerbaijan as progress to build the digitally powered economy of the future continues in the region, driven by ambitious digital transformation initiatives and a general trend towards greater digitisation.  

The new report from the GSMA, which evaluates the connectivity landscape of eight countries1 in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, outlines the digital divide and spotlights ongoing initiatives in the region to close it with recommended action points for stakeholders to accelerate progress. 

Other key findings from the report include: 

  • While 45 million people are now using mobile internet across the eight countries evaluated, a digital divide remains with nearly 50 million unconnected people at risk of missing out on the benefits of mobile internet.  
  • The adoption of mobile internet services has not kept pace with the expansion of network coverage, resulting in a significant usage gap2. As of 2022, the regional usage gap was widest in Georgia (52%) and Turkmenistan (50%), and lowest in Armenia (33%) and Azerbaijan (31%) versus a global average of 41%. 
  • While 4G is now the dominant technology in Azerbaijan (59%) and Kazakhstan (62%), 3G still accounts for over 40% of total connections across the region versus a global average of 17%. 
  • The region’s 5G uptake is still in its infancy with commercial 5G services only available in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as of April 2023. The medium-term focus for operators in the region is to expand 4G capacity in urban areas and 4G coverage to underserved areas. 
  • While 4G coverage has reached 83% of the population in Central Asia, extending coverage to the last frontier can be costly and complex. This has led to operators increasingly turning to alternate technologies, such as satellite backhaul, and innovative partnerships as a means of closing the digital divide. 
  • Closing the region’s digital divide will require substantial collaborative actions. To this end, governments and policymakers should implement measures that can attract investment in the deployment of network infrastructure in underserved areas; create innovative digital services to stimulate demand; and address the various non-infrastructure barriers to mobile internet adoption. 

M360 Series: Regional focus, global impact:

M360 Eurasia marks this year’s first iteration of the M360 Series. Presented by the GSMA, M360 is a series of global events that unifies the regional mobile ecosystem to discover, develop and deliver innovation that is the foundation to positive business environments and societal change. 

The events facilitate inspirational keynotes, engaging panel discussions and insightful case studies across mobile technology and adjacent industry verticals. 

To download the report, please click here: Closing the digital divide in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

About GSMA:
The GSMA is a global organisation unifying the mobile ecosystem to discover, develop and deliver innovation foundational to positive business environments and societal change. Our vision is to unlock the full power of connectivity so that people, industry, and society thrive. Representing mobile operators and organisations across the mobile ecosystem and adjacent industries, the GSMA delivers for its members across three broad pillars: Connectivity for Good, Industry Services and Solutions, and Outreach. This activity includes advancing policy, tackling today’s biggest societal challenges, underpinning the technology and interoperability that make mobile work, and providing the world’s largest platform to convene the mobile ecosystem at the MWC and M360 series of events. 



GSMA calls for policy push to close digital divide