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SA sits on bottom half of cheapest mobile data list

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 26 Sept 2023
Sub-Saharan Africa has just six countries among the top 50 cheapest in the world, says Cable.co.uk.
Sub-Saharan Africa has just six countries among the top 50 cheapest in the world, says Cable.co.uk.

The average cost of a gigabyte (GB) of mobile data in South Africa is $1.81 (R34.69), with the country ranking number 149 out of 237 countries in terms of the cheapest mobile data.

This is according to a report by Cable.co.uk, which analysed data from 5 603 mobile data plans in 237 countries between 5 July and 6 September 2023.

The report reveals Israel is the country with the cheapest 1GB of mobile data, at an average price of $0.02.

Cable.co.za says it analysed 46 mobile data plans in South Africa and found the cheapest price of 1GB of data in the country is $0.10 (R2.88), while the most expensive is $9.90 (R186).

The most expensive place in the world to buy mobile data is Zimbabwe, where the average cost of 1GB is $43.75 – over 2 000 times the cost of mobile data in Israel.

Italy is second-cheapest, with 1GB costing $0.085 on average. It’s followed by Fiji ($0.088) in third place.

Trending downward

“Our yearly mobile data pricing tracking study is as much a measure of the quantity of data offered as it is the price of data more broadly,” comments Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at Cable.co.uk.

“After all, those countries with the most improved (cheaper) pricing across the five years our tracker now covers tend to be those offering tens or even hundreds of times more data in 2023 as was available for similar money in 2019.

“It’s encouraging to see the price of data coming down across the globe as whole, with the vast majority of countries offering 1GB of mobile data for less than $2.00.”

Cable notes that countries with long-established, ubiquitous 4G or new 5G infrastructure tend to fall towards the cheaper end of the table.

It explains this is due to the fact that their mobile data plans tend to offer considerably more data than the global median, caps usually in the hundreds of gigabytes, or even completely unlimited. The cost per gigabyte in these countries will tend therefore to be very low, says the firm.

It adds that countries with little to no fixed-line broadband availability, therefore, rely heavily on mobile data provision.

“In these cases, mobile data is the primary means the population has of getting online, and adoption is often near-ubiquitous. With a saturated market and many competing providers, often accompanied by a low average wage, data pricing in such countries can be exceptionally cheap when compared globally,” it says.

According to the firm, countries where, although mobile data is widely available and widely used, the basic and/or overburdened infrastructure dictates a limited-use culture.

In countries such as these, SIMs tend to be relatively cheap but predominantly available loaded with very small data amounts, it says.

“In such countries, amounts of 2-5MB and with single-day expiries are not uncommon. When multiplying such small quantities to figure out the cost of a gigabyte, then, such countries tended to find themselves at the most expensive end of the table.”

Cable points out that wealthy nations tend to have good mobile infrastructure, decently-sized data caps and relatively healthy markets.

“Since populations can afford to pay more, and network infrastructure costs that much more to own and run, and provided they haven’t reached the ‘excellent infrastructure’ category where data limits are beyond normal usage or entirely unlimited, data pricing tends towards the global average.”

Regional breakdown

Regionally, Sub-Saharan Africa has just six countries among the top 50 cheapest in the world – Malawi, in 29th place globally, is cheapest in the region at $0.38.

The region also has five out of the 10 most expensive countries in the world, with Zimbabwe being the most expensive in the region and in the world ($43.75), followed by Saint Helena ($40.13), South Sudan ($23.70), the Central African Republic ($10.90) and Zambia ($8.01) all at the bottom of the table.

The average price of 1GB of mobile data in all four North American countries exceeds the global average of $2.59, making it the most expensive region overall, says Cable.

Bermuda is the cheapest country in the region with an average cost of $3.42, and the most expensive is the US ($6.00), the firm reveals.

The cheapest mobile data in Western Europe is in Italy – in second place globally – where the average price of 1GB is just $0.09.

San Marino ($0.10) is the second-cheapest in Western Europe, followed by France ($0.20) and Monaco ($0.42). The UK ($0.62) is the 8th cheapest in Western Europe, and 58th cheapest in the world.

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