American fact tank, Pew Research, has released a new report on internet, smartphone and social media penetration across the world.
As part of the report, the group surveyed 40,448 respondents from 37 different countries face-to-face over a period of several months.
It found that while the gap in internet use between emerging and advanced economies has narrowed in recent years, there are still large parts of the world where significant numbers of citizens do not use the internet.
Internet penetration rates – as measured by internet use or smartphone ownership – remain high in North America and much of Europe, as well as in parts of the Asia-Pacific.
Among the countries surveyed, South Korea stands out as the most heavily connected society, with 96% of adults reporting internet use. Yet, others are not far behind. In Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, the US, Israel, the UK, Germany, France and Spain, roughly nine-in-ten report internet use.
Regionally, internet use is lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, where a median of 41% across six countries use the internet. South Africa (59%) is the only country in the region where at least half the population is online.
South Africa also stands out for its tremendous growth in the last few years, and the most substantial increases in internet use since 2015 were in South Africa and Lebanon, which each experienced a 17-percentage-point increase.
The pattern of smartphone ownership is similar to internet use, with people in wealthier countries exhibiting higher rates of ownership. But the gap in smartphone ownership is narrower than in the past, as many move directly from not owning a phone at all to owning a mobile device.
Notably, Pew said that landline phones are simply being skipped by large numbers of people in emerging and developing markets such as South Africa.
Across the countries surveyed, a median of 59% report owning a smartphone, such as a Galaxy or iPhone.
A further 31% report owning another type of mobile device, such as a flip or feature phone. Only about one-in-ten (8%) across the 39 countries report having no mobile device at all.
Despite the increasing levels of smartphone use, ownership still lags in India, Indonesia and Africa. Among these, only in South Africa do at least half of the respondents report owning a smartphone.