MWC takes place in Barcelona. Photo: Press Release

How mobile phones can help sustainable development

GSMA, an organization that brings together the largest mobile operators in the world, reports how important connectivity is to achieve the 17 SDGs of the UN.

In February 2016, during the Mobile World Congress (MWC) - the largest technology exhibition fair, held annually in Barcelona, Spain -, the mobile sector publicly committed to working towards the United Nations (UN)’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) . Since then, MWC’s works that contribute to the SDGs agenda are gathered in a document, first published in 2017, called the "Mobile Industry Impact Report".


What are the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs)? Launched in September 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a 17-point plan to end poverty, prevent climate change and fight injustice and inequality until 2030. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved and the 193 Member States of the United Nations unanimously approved them.

In this report, 300 telephone companies around the world account for what they have done to contribute to the 2030’s targets. The analyses in the document are based on activities carried out or sponsored by the mobile industry, such as the use of communication to boost local businesses and the generation of job opportunities for people living in poverty, among others. For each SDG, the importance of the benefit is assessed in a given region, and a score of 0 to 100 is attributed. If a SDG scores 37.5, this means that the industry is making 37.5% of what they potentially could contribute to fulfill this SDG. Check the main results per region and per SDG.

Impacts per region

Mobile telephony has enabled connectivity and brought important benefits in fighting inequality in Latin America, fomenting peace and justice in the Middle East, facing the challenges of universal sanitation in the United States, as well as improving productivity and efficiency of European companies. Check out how.

Latin America

Between 2016 and 2017, when the most recent report was released, there was a 39% to 51% increase in access to social networks in Latin America, which contributed to the development of SDG 10 (to reduce inequalities through social and political inclusion). Although we have been witnessing a lot of the bad side of social networks as of late, it is unquestionable that, by expanding their access, citizens often find causes and people to engage with and change their realities for the better.

Middle East

In the Middle East, there was a 70% increase in connection speed in the same period, a fundamental change to comply with SDG 16 (fomenting peace, justice and social equality). In countries in this region, such as Syria, refugees have used smartphones with a fast internet connection to find security crossings to neighboring countries and to facilitate difficult communication between families and friends in war zones. In addition, mobile applications have also been used to provide health and education solutions for those fleeing conflict regions.

USA

In developed countries, such as the United States, major changes have been made in compliance with SDGs 6 (to protect drinking water and sanitation to everyone) and 14 (to protect life in water). Both goals benefit greatly from data networks and mobile telephony. Wireless sensors in supply networks can improve offer and demand efficiency, for instance, by identifying leaks and by better recording consumption behavior. Studies in these regions have shown that the so-called “smart meters” – which monitor the flow of consumption and communicate with the distribution network – are able to reduce water consumption by more than 15%.

Europe

In Europe, in turn, more than 25,000 small and medium-sized businesses have started using mobile internet since 2016 - meaning almost 65% of businesses. The smartphone is increasingly being used to drive productivity improvements and foster inclusive growth, thereby contributing to SDG 10 on reducting inequalities.

Homem tira foto de obra de arte em homenagem aos ODS. Foto: Divulgação
Man takes photo of work of art in honor of SDGs. Photo: Press Release

The impacts brought by SDGs

In addition to bringing clippings per region, the "Mobile Industry Impact Report" also highlights the contributions of the mobile industry to meeting specific SDGs. According to the survey, five SDGs benefited most from the connectivity and data flow enabled by the industry.

SDG 1: No Poverty

Mobile telephony rose from 58% to 61% in developing countries, while 3G coverage jumped from 74% to 79% from 2016 to 2017, reaching more than 340 million people. This has a direct impact on access to financial services, according to the report. The so-called "mobile money" used in 92 countries, enables people to transfer values via SMS in a simple, safe and immediate way. They can "withdraw" these values through an agent, send money to other users, pay bills and buy products in stores. n 2007,  Kenyawas launched M-Pesa, the first service to demonstrate the potential of "mobile money" technology in emerging markets. This innovation is now present in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and has about 30 million active users.

SDG 3: Good health and well-being

Mobile phone coverage can have a major impact on the health and well-being of a region. Lately, there have been a number of epidemics whose monitoring relied heavily on data traffic over mobile networks. Along with Big Data techniques, this data was used in an unprecedented way to map the flow of people in areas affected by epidemics. This information was used by public health organizations to respond more effectively to the spread of diseases.

The impacts of improved coverage are not limited to extreme situations, such as epidemics. In Brazil, chronic patients’ care has benefited from this communication channel, as shown by AxisMed. One of the services offered by the company remotely monitors and, using mobile phone coverage, provides biometric data of devices connected to the patients. This data is then passed on to medical professionals who accompanies the treatment. The equipment is able to monitor blood glucose, blood pressure and other metrics, depending on the patient's condition. Today, it is estimated that chronic cases account for about 40% of health costs in the private sector - and the prospect is that it will increase with the aging of the population.

SDG 5: Gender Equality

Another commitment of the telephone industry is to ensure that more women are connected to the network by 2030, particularly in developing markets. According to the report, there were almost 100 million new mobile subscribers and 160 million new internet subscribers between 2016 and 2017.

Women are also using mobile phones to access services that improve their lives, such as caring for health and education, be that theirs or that of their children. In addition, a baseline study used in the report and conducted in 11 low-income countries pointed out that 68% of women feel safer with a mobile phone.

That’s not all: given that half of the potential consumers in the world are women, ending the gender gap in the use of mobile devices could inject US$ 170 billion in the sector by 2020. Also in 2016, GSMA launched the Connected Women Commitment Initiative, whereby mobile operators made a formal commitment to reduce the gender gap in their mobile money and mobile internet customer bases by 2020. Currently, 36 mobile operators in Africa, Asia and Latin America took on 51 commitments, which cover more than 2.5 million women so far.

SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Between 2016 and 2017, there was an increase from 41.6 points to 44.8 in this segment. The main drivers of this improvement were the expansion and cheapening of mobile internet coverage. During this period, spending on a 500MB internet plan, which accounted for 5% of GDP per capita in developed countries, has now risen to 4%. In developing countries, the same rate fell from 17% to 11%. Moreover, 45 million new users were included in the base of people connected to the internet.

In rural Tanzania, three operators signed a letter agreeing to implement 3G on a pilot basis - using solar-powered technology - and test a tripartite national roaming agreement, the first of its kind in Africa. GSMA has supported the drafting of the agreement and coordinated the operational effort to implement the pilot sites and ensure dissemination of information between the parties. The implementation enabled 3G broadband coverage to 50,000 Tanzanians for the first time.

SDG 13: Climate Action

The increase in network coverage and the quality of services was the main boost in complying with SDG 13, which deals with actions to fight climate change. The development of mobile telephony speeds up solutions related to natural disasters, through emergency communication and early warnings. As in the case of epidemics, the use of Big Data can also provide critical information to monitor population transfers before and during emergencies, thereby improving government planning.

Innovations in smart, internet-based logistics allow for efficient flows, thereby avoiding traffic or anticipating the need for new transport infrastructures. In 2016, in Norway, Telia launched an application for tracking and locating parking lots.

According to Telia, one million oil barrels are burned worldwide everyday by drivers looking for a place to stop the car. Smart parking solutions will reduce unnecessary driving time, thereby reducing traffic and the amount of daily vehicle emissions.