How affordable internet is helping women in India to bridge the mobile phone gender gap
As per The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019 released by GSMA, mobile internet awareness appears to have grown year on year in all countries, even among those with the lowest levels of mobile internet use. In India, while only 19 per cent of women were aware of mobile internet in 2018, this figure increased to 42 per cent in 2019, the report says.
While women are still 23 per cent less likely than men to use mobile internet in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), this represents a reduction in the gender gap from 26 per cent in 2017. This has been driven in large part by a closure in the mobile internet gender gap in India where changing market dynamics have made mobile internet more affordable, the report states. The GSMA’s Mobile Connectivity Index, which tracks countries’ progress on key enablers of mobile internet access and use, shows a 26 percentage point increase in the affordability of mobile internet in India between 2014 and 2017 — the largest increase in any country in this period. This has likely contributed to the reduction in the gender gap in India over the last year, the report adds.
Affordability, literacy and digital skills, a perceived lack of relevance, and safety and security concerns are the most important barriers to mobile ownership and mobile internet use for women. Affordability, particularly of handsets, is the top barrier to mobile ownership, the report states.
What’s driving the change?
The influx of low-cost smartphones in the market led by Chinese companies like Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and Huawei, as well as Reliance Jio’s disruptive entry in the internet space has made mobiles and mobile internet really affordable. Within this pack, Xiaomi has garnered the highest market share for the last five quarters in a row and has stolen a march over its competitors by offering quality phones at extremely competitive prices.
Meanwhile, Jio launched its service in September 2016 and offered free data to users until the end of December, with a data cap of 4 GB per day. The offer was then extended through the ‘Happy new year’ plan, with a reduced cap of 1 GB per day. Jio was thus successful in bringing on board other network providers who too started coming out with competitive plans offering data at much cheaper rates.
Jio announced its paid ‘Prime’ plans in March 2017 but even after that, the average cost per GB of data remained very low, at almost Rs 11 per GB.
In February 2017, Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani announced that Jio had crossed 100 million subscribers. In the same year, it was reported that Jio had captured 39 per cent of the mobile broadband market in India.
Jio has played a major role in increasing 4G penetration in India. It helped the rural population acquire 83 million 4G subscriptions out of the total 238 million 4G subscriptions by December 2017. Jio is currently on course to offer 4G LTE network coverage to 99 per cent of India’s population.
An Akamai report suggests that the average Indian broadband speed has also increased to 6.8 Mbps which is making internet even more accessible.
In all countries surveyed in 2018, a nationally representative sample of around 1,000 male and female adults aged 18+ were surveyed, with the exception of India and China, where the sample was around 2,000, the report says. The sampling frame was predominantly based on data from National Statistics Offices, including census data where possible, and a range of other sources. To ensure a representative geographical distribution of interview subjects, particularly urban versus rural, around 100 sampling points were used per country. However, very remote areas or areas with security concerns were excluded. Interviews were conducted with individuals in the local language, and typically within the home. All surveys were interviewer-administered using handheld devices. Both female and male interviewers conducted the surveys. Data was weighted to known population profiles to correct any imbalances in the distributions achieved during fieldwork.
Respondents were considered to be aware of mobile internet if they reported having used it in the past, or were aware of the internet and that it could be used on a mobile phone.