Vodafone 2024 Annual Report

35 Vodafone Group Plc Annual Report 2024

Strategic report



Other information

We want to spread the benefit of the digital society to more people, regardless of who they are or where they live. Firstly, through closing the digital divide by connecting those who are still unconnected. Secondly, by providing digital services to help people and small businesses prosper. Through Vodafone Foundation we support some of the most vulnerable groups in society. One third of the planet (2.6 billion) is still offline. In Africa, just 37% of people are using the internet, and in the world’s least developed countries the figure drops to 35%. 1 Although the number of internet users in low-income countries is growing, it remains below growth requirements to achieve the UN’s target of universal meaningful connectivity by 2030. This target is further threatened by high inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, which has eroded real incomes and pushed millions more into poverty. The internet is a vital part of everyday life, enabling us to communicate, and to access entertainment and vital services such as mobile money. Research from the World Bank shows that mobile broadband can reduce the number of households in extreme poverty by four percentage points. Expanding broadband penetration across Africa by 10% could boost GDP per capita by 2.5%. 2 Likewise, we know that MSMEs are less likely to use digital services compared to their larger counterparts. More than 1.2 million European businesses with fewer than 250 employees are not yet digitalised, to compete globally and increase resilience, they need to access the digital opportunities of the future. This will provide an economic boost to the economies where the MSMEs operate as they contribute in excess of €4 trillion to the EU economy annually. Our Empowering People strategy focuses on three key areas to ensure that everyone benefits from the digital society. Firstly, we want to close the digital divide through targeted interventions to bring those who are still unconnected online. Secondly, we want to provide a range of digital services that help people and small businesses prosper online. Finally, through our Vodafone Foundation we support some of the most vulnerable groups in society who often fall outside our customer base, including refugees and victims of domestic abuse. Closing the digital divide Increasing broadband coverage Connecting everyone to digital services, particularly across Africa, is a significant challenge. Fixed and mobile services are increasing globally, with 4G mobile broadband networks reaching 90% of the world’s population, but coverage in sub-Saharan Africa lags behind at 65%. 1 Expanding coverage to rural networks remains a key focus for us, with 25% of the EU population and 58% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa living in rural areas. 2 Expansion of rural networks can often be more challenging and have a lower return on investment due to lower population densities. New approaches, partnerships and a blend of technologies across land, sea and space will help us to overcome some of these barriers and help deliver universal coverage. In order to drive digital inclusion to the hardest-to-connect communities, we continue to make good progress on our goal to bring 4G to an additional 70 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (as part of our participation in the UN Partner2Connect digital coalition in March 2022). This targeted intervention includes four of the least developed countries (‘LDCs’) – Mozambique, Tanzania, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – and will help to close a particular gap in internet usage between urban communities and rural communities. During the year we have added 4G technology to an Empowering People

additional 1,408 sites across these countries, providing 4G coverage to an additional 13.8 million people. Meanwhile, our partnership with AST & Science LLC seeks to develop the first space-based mobile network. This is designed to connect directly to consumers’ 4G and 5G devices without the need for specialised hardware. This year we successfully made the world’s first space-based 5G call using a conventional smartphone. The space- based network is intended to enable even those in the hardest-to- reach areas to connect to the internet, ultimately reaching an estimated 1.6 billion people across 49 countries. This will include a number of LDCs where coverage is currently lowest. We are also partnering to increase capacity, quality and availability of internet connectivity between Africa and the rest of the world through the 2Africa submarine cable partnership. The system will deliver more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa today, supporting the growth of 4G, 5G and fixed broadband access for hundreds of millions of people. In Europe, we are investing in rural areas, helping small businesses overcome barriers to connectivity and digitalisation. FY24 network deployment 1 4G sites deployed (000s) 4G population coverage Europe 68.0 99% Africa 33.4 74% Group (Europe, Africa and Turkey) 128.5 85% Note: 1. Excludes discontinued operations in Italy and Spain. Increasing smartphone ownership The digital divide goes beyond coverage, and relates to usage of networks already deployed. Globally, 38% of the world’s population (three billion people) are not using mobile internet despite living in areas with mobile broadband coverage. This usage gap remains almost eight times the size of the coverage gap. 2 There are many barriers preventing the use of mobile broadband, including lack of awareness, low digital skills, and the prohibitive upfront cost of smartphones. Given that smartphones are increasingly the main gateway to digital services, lowering the cost of devices is key to addressing the digital divide. Smartphone ownership is lowest in emerging markets. Only 45% of adults in emerging markets own a smartphone compared to 76% in advanced economies. Women are less likely to own a smartphone than men. Affordability is one of the key challenges to smartphone adoption. Smartphones can cost more than 70% of average income in LDCs, making them unaffordable. We recognise that we cannot solve this issue by ourselves, and in 2022 we co-chaired the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development Working Group on Smartphone Access. The working group drew upon the expertise of a cross-sectoral body of commissioners and experts. The outcome report, ‘Strategies towards universal smartphone access’ identified key interventions to make smartphones accessible to all, including: increasing device financing options; introducing fair taxation and import duties; and improving distribution to remote areas. In addition, the working group recommended investigating further the use of device subsidies and pre-owned smartphones. We continue to work with partners to address the barriers to smartphone ownership; for example, through the GSMA Smartphone Access working group.

Notes: 1. The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report, GSMA, 2023. 2. World Bank, 2022. Click to read the UN General Assembly Report: broadbandcommission.org

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