Demand for free mobile Internet in emerging markets reaches new high

upstream The demand for uninterrupted, free mobile Internet access is only increasing as the world dives deeper into the pandemic. That’s according to data released by mobile technology company, Upstream. In emerging markets, mobile network operators are having to deal with increased pressure to bridge the digital divide, with subscribers repeatedly asking for increased connectivity. Brazilians’ number one online search keyword on mobile devices is “Internet gratis”, while South Africans’ most frequently asked question is “How to get free data?”

This is according to data gathered in Q2 2020 by Upstream’s Zero-D, an online platform that allows mobile network operators to offer free, ad-funded access to essential internet services when their users have run out of data. While mature markets move their focus to speed and accessibility in the form of 5G, emerging markets are still trying to establish a basic and sustainable form of connectivity amid lacking infrastructure and high mobile data prices.

In addition to search data, the Zero-D report also looked at the number of news articles visited in various categories, from health and entertainment to sports and politics. In both South Africa and Brazil, health is the number one topic, accounting for around 28% of all articles read (pre-pandemic health accounted for around 5%).

Zero-D has been satisfying this demand, implementing new special features for education and tools that provide essential information about COVID-19, such as useful Q&As sourced from WHO at prominent positions within the portal and a widget reflecting up to date statistics on COVID-19 cases, sourced by John Hopkins CSSE.

Individuals are still being urged to stay at home, perhaps looking for distractions from the pandemic in the form of video streaming, gaming or other forms of online entertainment, all of which are on the rise.

Entertainment was still the number one overall search category on mobile devices, accounting for 22% in Brazil and 19.5% in South Africa. In South Africa, “games” was the number one keyword accounting for 11% of total searches, while all searches related to videos accounted for 20%, and music 18%.

Reality TV topped the entertainment category in Brazil, as Big Brother Brazil ranked 5th in the list of top keywords, accounting for 3% of total searches. Meanwhile, interest in sports in the country surprisingly dropped significantly, with the category being relegated to sixth place in the list of top searched articles.

upstreamConnectivity has been a real issue for millions of people around the world during the pandemic. In emerging markets such as Brazil and South Africa, where users still physically purchase data top-ups, it’s not always easy or affordable to stay online.

Kostas Kastanis, Deputy CEO, Upstream