If you read tech publications that focus on Africa, the idea that mobile data is expensive will not be new. Nine times out of ten, the high cost we pay for mobile data is often said to be the reason why adoption of technology is low.
Yet, it can sometimes be difficult to translate this well-accepted idea of expensive mobile internet. How much do people across different African continents pay for data? It’s a question I often ask in my column, Digital Nomads.
One of the countries where I found that people pay very little for mobile data is Somalia.
A Nigerian journalist who lived and worked in Somaliland said “$15 is unlimited. Many of the working class are comfortable with this. That’s ₦6,000 or thereabouts.”
My response to hearing such cheap costs at the time was; “it’s one of the best deals I’ve heard of and I’ve spoken to people in Kenya, Uganda and Mauritius.”
Now, there is data to support that Somalia indeed has the cheapest mobile costs in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Global mobile data comparison 2020
A new survey by Cable.co.uk shows the worldwide mobile data pricing using the cost of 1GB of mobile data in 228 countries as a benchmark.
Somalia is ranked number 7 on the list for countries with the cheapest mobile data plans, behind India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Italy, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The average price of 1GB of mobile data in Somalia is $0.50.
Despite Somalia’s low mobile data costs, it doesn’t fall into the typical example of countries where mobile data is cheap because of excellent infrastructure. What is more likely is that because of disruptions and insecurity, the government has lowered regulatory barriers for telcos.
Apart from Somalia, the only other Sub-Saharan countries near the top ten are Sudan (13th) Reunion (22nd) and Tanzania (23rd).
Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria is ranked 58th with an average price of $1.58 for 1GB of mobile data. Its neighbor, Ghana (rank: 38th, average price of mobile data, $0.94), fares better.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with 4th most expensive mobile costs
While some Sub-Saharan countries are in the top 50 for mobile data costs, the region has a lot of catching up to do. Only the Northern America, Oceania and Carribean regions have more expensive mobile data. Five of the ten most expensive countries to buy mobile data in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa.
The country with the most expensive mobile data is St.Helena with an average price of $52.50 for 1GB of data. One reason why data is so expensive in St. Helena is because it is an island.
Cable.co.uk explains that island countries often have high data costs:
“Conversely to the most expensive, none of these countries are islands. Islands are less likely to have an extensive fibre infrastructure, and since mobile networks normally rely on connection to a fibre backbone, other more expensive solutions such as satellite uplink have had to be instituted – a cost passed on to the consumer.”
But some other African countries that make up the rest of the bottom ten have no such excuses. Malawi is ranked 224 while Nigeria’s neighbors, Chad and Benin Republic are ranked 222 and 223 respectively.
Unlike Sub-Saharan Africa, Northern African countries are great for mobile data users. All but two of the seven North African countries are in the cheapest half of the table. Algeria is the cheapest in North Africa at an average cost of $0.65 while Libya, the most expensive in the region has an average cost of $4.73 for 1GB.