Global Trends 2017: internet use up, social doubles – half the world has a smartphone

Internet usage grew slightly faster in 2016 than it did in 2015, while social media users more than doubled in a year, spurred on by mobile, according to a comprehensive global report, the 2017 Digital Yearbook from We Are Social Singapore.

The report also found that the rate of growth for unique mobile users increased by more than half compared to last year, with 81 million more new users in 2016 compared to the growth reported in last year’s analysis.

Developed economies’ share of global digital users dropped this year, as digital growth in Asia-Pacific – particularly in South and Southeast Asia – moved the balance further East.

We Are Social’s 2017 Digital Yearbook, has headline digital user data for every country in the world.

It’s not just the internet that’s growing rapidly, either; We Are Social has identified a wealth of other important milestones as part of this year’s Global Digital report, including:
• More than half the world now uses a smartphone
• Almost two-thirds of the world’s population now has a mobile phone
• More than half of the world’s web traffic now comes from mobile phones
• More than half of all mobile connections around the world are now ‘broadband’
• More than one in five of the world’s population shopped online in the past 30 days.

Global Overview
The digital world experienced spectacular growth in 2016, with the pace of change accelerating across almost all key indicators versus 2015.

The headline numbers are:
• 3.77 billion global internet users in 2017, equaling 50 per cent penetration
• 2.80 billion global social media users in 2017, equaling 37 per cent penetration
• 4.92 billion global mobile users in 2017, equaling 66 per cent penetration
• 2.56 billion global mobile social media users in 2017, equaling 34 per cent penetration
• 1.61 billion global e-commerce users in 2017, equaling 22 per cent penetration

The pace of change was a key story in last year’s Digital in 2016 report too, but considering that global internet penetration has now surpassed 50 per cent, the report suggested some surprise by how much the rate of change continued to accelerate over the past 12 months

• Internet users grew by 10 per cent in 2016, up 354 million compared to 2015
• Active social media users increased by 21 per cent, up 482 million versus 2015
• Unique mobile users grew by 5 per cent, up 222 million over the past 12 months
• Mobile social media users grew by 30 per cent, up an impressive 581 million in 2016.

Internet users grew by slightly more than they did in 2015, while social media and mobile social media users were up by more than double the number of new users reported last year. The rate of growth for unique mobile users increased by more than half compared to last year, with 81 million more new users in 2016 compared to the growth we reported in last year’s analysis.

It’s also interesting to note that developed economies’ share of global digital users dropped this year, as digital growth in Asia-Pacific – particularly in South and Southeast Asia – moved the balance further East.

APAC is now home to more than half the world’s internet users, 54 per cent of the world’s social media users, and 56 per cent of all mobile social media users.

Once again though, it’s the pace of change that tells the most interesting story here: Asia-Pacific accounted for 70 per cent of total growth in global internet users, 62 per cent of the growth in social media users, and 64 per cent of the growth in mobile social media users. The pace of change in APAC show no signs of slowing either, and we’re confident that 2017 will be another bumper year for growth across the Far East, especially in Southeast Asia.

Regional Overviews

Digital in Africa grew only slightly in 2017, although the internet user data reported this year reflects some significant source corrections versus the 2016 report. In particular, the number of internet users reported by official sources for Egypt, Malawi, and Eritrea have all been revised down considerably, which has the effect of negating many of the gains posted by other nations.

However, 7 of the 10 fastest growing internet populations in the world are in Africa, with the number of users reported in Ethiopia more than tripling versus the numbers reported last year. Fewer than one in three people across Africa has access to the internet today though, and current growth trends suggest it will be well into the 2020s before we see internet penetration levels across the continent pass the 50 per cent mark.

On a more encouraging note, though, mobile social media use in Africa increased by nearly 50 per cent in 2016, although at just 12 per cent penetration across the region, there’s still plenty more room to grow.
The Americas posted some impressive gains in the past 12 months, with 53 million new internet users delivering an 8 per cent year-on-year growth in regional penetration.

Much of this growth came out of Central and South America – perhaps unsurprising given the existing high rates of penetration in North America – but the United States alone contributed 22 million (25 per cent) of the 88 million new social media users across the region in the past year.

The total number of mobile connections across the Americas dropped slightly through the year though, most likely because people have been consolidating multiple subscriptions. This is a phenomenon seen all over the world; increased use of smartphones is enabling greater access to “over-the-top” data services such as VOIP and mobile messaging, most of which are significantly cheaper to use than ‘traditional’ voice calls and SMS, thus removing the need to maintain multiple mobile plans or contracts in order to benefit from intra-network price deals.

Digital growth across Asia-Pacific accelerated versus growth over the previous 12 months, with internet users up 15 per cent year-on-year to pass the 1.9 billion mark. Social media growth rates accelerated by more than 50 per cent versus 2015, with social media use overall up 25 per cent, compared to 14 per cent growth in last year’s report.

More than 1.5 billion people across APAC now use social media on a monthly basis, with 95 per cent of them accessing platforms via mobile devices – the highest ratio in the world.

Europe posted slightly slower digital growth than other parts of the world in 2016, but the region is building off a well-established base, so that’s perhaps unsurprising. Internet users were still up 21 million to a new total of 637 million though, representing 3 per cent year-on-year growth.

Social media use in Europe grew by 5 per cent to pass 400 million total users across the continent, while mobile social media was up 11 per cent versus the 2016 report, with 340 million people across the region using social media via mobile devices each month.

The Middle East claims top spot in this year’s growth rankings though, with all key indicators showing impressive growth. Internet users are up 15 per cent year-on-year, with the regional total rapidly approach the 150 million mark.

Social media use overall grew a staggering 47 per cent in the past 12 months, with mobile social media up 44 per cent. Penetration for both key social indicators remains below 40 per cent though, so there’s still plenty of room for more impressive growth in 2017.

2017 Digital Yearbook from We Are Social Singapore
For the full report with country breakdowns, click here