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Unlocking Meaningful Connectivity

At the beginning of the United Nations’ ‘Decade of Action’, in June 2020, the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap established an ambitious but much-needed goal: achieving universal and meaningful connectivity by 2030. The UN distinguishes between the two complementary concepts - “universal connectivity” means connectivity for all, while “meaningful connectivity” is a level of connectivity that allows users to have a safe, satisfying, enriching and productive online experience at an affordable cost. 

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) refer to Meaningful Connectivity when users can access the Internet on a daily basis, using an appropriate device with enough data and a fast enough connection.
While the definition of the Meaningful Connectivity concept varies within the connectivity space, it is almost always intended as “human-centred/centric” and “people-centred” connectivity. Clearly the “meaning” of connectivity lies with the people that are the protagonists of the digital society and economy.

The latest figures from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) show that there is still plenty of work to do to bridge the digital divide. In 2022, an estimated 5.3 billion people were using the Internet, roughly 66% of the world’s population. In the United Nations list of designated least-developed countries (LDCs), the figure is even lower: only 36% of the population in LDCs used the Internet in 2022. The digital divide is multifaceted, prevalent across and within countries, between cities and rural areas, between those who enjoy a fibre connection and those who struggle with a spotty 3G connection. There are both supply and demand-side factors to consider when assessing this digital divide as well - connectivity access and connectivity usage persist as unique but related challenges for policymakers, regulatory bodies and industry to address.

In June 2020, a sub-working group (SWG) led by ITU was convened and tasked with developing a baseline and formulating targets for digital connectivity. The baseline aims at understanding the level of connectivity of countries as of today and targeting where those countries should be by 2030. Thus, multi-stakeholder discussions have increased around a four-step process: 

  • Defining the concept of “universal and meaningful connectivity” and developing an analytical framework. The analytical framework defines the scope and sets the boundaries of the definition exercise, therefore it aims at identifying what aspects of connectivity should be taken into consideration.
  • Establishing best practice for measuring universal and meaningful connectivity;
  • Establishing and computing a baseline assessment to describe a country’s current state of connectivity in terms of usage and quality; 
  • Setting actionable targets for the 2030 deadline.

At the same time as the UN connectivity roadmap was being developed, Opensignal also put meaningful connectivity at the heart of its strategic goals. Since 2021, we have partnered with the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) in their efforts to validate the state of meaningful connectivity in four developing countries. 

As the independent global standard for measuring network experience from an end-to-end, user-centric perspective, Opensignal is in a unique position to put over a decade of best practice data science and methodological research into helping stakeholders measure meaningful connectivity, provide trustworthy, credible and statistically-relevant inputs for baseline assessments, and support multi-stakeholder dialogue on setting 2030 targets to achieve universal and meaningful connectivity.

Our engagement at the international level has been essential for sharing this knowledge and supporting stakeholders such as the ITU, the OECD and other multilateral institutions. Most recently, we participated in a two-week cross-cutting workshop series on Meaningful Connectivity, hosted in Geneva by ITU-D Study Group 1 whose mandate is to create an "​enabling environment for meaningful connectivity". More precisely, we were invited to participate as a speaker in the workshop “Beyond Universality: the meaningful connectivity imperative" facilitated by the ITU’s ICT Data and Analytics Division. The workshop laid its basis on the acknowledgement that, in addition to the dual policy challenge of achieving universal and meaningful connectivity, countries face a more immediate measurement challenge when it comes to several aspects of meaningful connectivity.

The purpose of the workshop was to highlight the importance of adequately and appropriately measuring the enablers of universal and meaningful connectivity and showcase promising approaches. As such, Opensignal shared its longstanding experience in developing an end-to-end, globally standardized methodology for measuring and monitoring the state of real-world connectivity from an end-user perspective. 

Measuring Meaningful Connectivity

Independent and truly representative crowdsourced data is an invaluable source of information on the current state of connectivity and user experience. However, not all crowdsourced data is equal. In order to gain a 360 view of an end-user’s true experience we need to be able to assess whether this experience actually delivers an appropriate level of consistent, high-quality connectivity to be deemed “meaningful”. Thus, we need to include measures of the traditional Quality of Service (QoS) -  such as coverage and speed - as well as other metrics drawn from a representative sample and measure the experiences and services users are accessing. This could include looking beyond predictive coverage models and assessing real-world availability (the percentage of time users actually have a connection to a specific technology), or monitoring the performance of video streaming, mobile gaming, and mobile voice app experience. Indeed, sometimes it is not the average speed that matters to users, but rather how often they can get a speed that is good enough. By supplementing legacy QoS metrics with metrics that capture the end-user experience across a range of services, a richer and more nuanced dataset emerges and becomes hugely relevant in assessing how and whether a provider is consistently delivering levels of high-quality connectivity that actually enable meaningful participation in our digital society and economy.

Measuring the quality of experience allows us to more accurately assess the traffic that real users are experiencing on their mobile networks. That means that traffic is measured from the device the user is on, passing through the core and the RAN network, via the exchange layer until it reaches a Content Delivery Network (CDN) where the applications and global internet content are hosted. This approach is considered to capture the authentic “end-to-end” perspective that an end-user would actually experience. In the context of meaningful connectivity, this end-to-end view is essential. On the other hand, traditional measurements directed to a dedicated server within a provider's core or RAN, whilst useful to measure the performance of the radio access network, do not accurately represent the end-users' perspective of the connectivity they are experiencing. Relying on such numbers will inherently not match what real-world users actually experience as the full chain of connectivity is not represented.

We have seven years of work ahead of us to reach the universal and meaningful connectivity goal - such an extensive project needs to be grounded in independent, user-centered methodologies that are not adjusted per market in order to optimize provider claims. Cross-country comparisons and world benchmarking are only possible where both QoS and QoE crowdsourced data are collected and measured in a statistically relevant and representative fashion. Only then can we unlock the full potential of impactful international goals and develop policies and regulatory approaches that truly advance consistently high-quality and accessible connectivity for all.


Ilaria is a Government and External Affairs Policy Manager. She has a legal background and sound experience in the telecom industry, regulatory and multistakeholder environments.