Bringing smartphones to an additional 3.4 billion people

Woman with her smartphone

We live in a digital age where more than two thirds of the world’s population are using the internet and yet there are still 2.7 billion people offline.

Most come from fragile, developing countries or conflict-affected areas and are within good internet coverage. It is the cost of a smartphone that is proving to be the toughest barrier.

Partnering with like-minded organisations, we are working towards a collective goal of ensuring that accessing the Internet through a smartphone is not a luxury.

As part of the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, we want to ensure that an additional 3.4 billion people can access and use the internet through a smartphone by 2030. And through Partner2Connect, we have pledged to invest US$190 million over the next five years to increase our 4G population coverage to an additional 80 million people in Africa – on top of existing network growth plans.

The barriers to owning a smartphone

In 2022, research from the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development found that only 45% of adults in emerging economies own a smartphone, compared to 76% of adults in advanced economies.

In addition, women are 19% less likely to own a smartphone than men[1].

Limited affordability and availability, along with low consumer confidence in part due to a lack of basic digital skills, are limiting smartphone ownership. To break down these barriers, network operators, device manufacturers and national governments will need to come together.

Examining the various initiatives that are already targeting this challenge, we identified three that will bring the most impact – flexible device financing models, reduced taxes and import duties, and improved distribution models to rural communities.

Doing our part, we’re focussing on device financing models.

Flexible finance makes phones Easy2Own

By spreading the upfront cost of a smartphone across multiple payments, devices can become affordable for those unable to cover the purchase price of a device in one hit.

Partnering with Google, our Kenyan business Safaricom launched a device financing initiative two years ago called Lipa Mdogo Mdogo (or, pay little by little).

Offering flexible payment plans, it allows customers with 2G and 3G phones (and no pending loans) to purchase smartphones at a 95% reduced cost, with an affordable daily amount to pay.

Since launch, more than 935,000 4G devices have been connected through this initiative.

In South Africa, Vodacom runs a similar initiative called Easy2Own, which allows customers on the Vodacom network to buy a smartphone and, after a one-off deposit of 10%, pay it off in affordable monthly payments over the following 11 months.

The plan also offers customers who settle their monthly instalments on time a 1GB data bundle valid for seven days each month, simply for honouring their agreement.

Lowering the cost of a smartphone

Another option is making the device itself cheaper to start with.

In Mozambique, Lesotho and South Africa, customers can benefit from Smart Kicka, the very first Vodacom-branded smartphone.

Helping reduce taxes and import duties, another factor driving up the retail cost of smartphones, Vodacom Kicka is priced at only R549, roughly €28..

When it launched in 2014, Smart Kicka tripled smartphone access and contributed towards achieving the current 60% smartphone penetration rate in the three countries.

Almost 10 years on and Smart Kick has driven the availability of smart devices up to 29.3 million in South Africa and 14.6 million smart devices across Egypt, Lesotho, Mozambique, DRC and Tanzania[2].

A smartphone is not a luxury

A smartphone can transform somebody’s life. Giving them access to endless resources and services, such as education, healthcare and finance.

There is no easy fix for getting smartphones into the hands of many.  Through these initiatives we are working to bring meaningful connectivity and digital transformation to ensure that no one is left behind.

[1] GSMA – The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023

[2] Vodacom_Group_Limited_Environmental, Social_and_Governance_Report_2023 (