SA has some of Africa’s most expensive data, a new report says – but it is better for the richer

Business Insider SA
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  • South Africa ranks at 148 out of 228 countries on mobile data prices in a new report.
  • SA is cheaper than Canada and the United States – but more expensive than most of Africa.
  • The cost per megabyte is highest for the poor, who can’t afford bulk data packages.
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South Africa has amongst the most expensive mobile data in Africa, says a new report, though it is still better of than the US and Canada.

According to a report by, a UK price comparison website, South Africa ranks 148 out of 228 countries on the price of mobile bandwidth. The average price of 1GB in SA is R88 or $4.30. That puts us in the same region as Japan (137th) and Germany (140th).

That still makes mobile data in South Africa cheaper than the United States (188th), Canada (209th), New Zealand (180th), Switzerland (191th) and Portugal (166th).

However, SA is a good deal more expensive than large parts of Africa, including Nigeria (58th), Kenya (41st), Tanzania (23d) and Rwanda (64th). I

The cheapest mobile data in Africa can be found in Somalia, which is ranked 7th in the world. Somalia has virtually no broadband infrastructure, which means mobile data is pretty much the only way to access the internet.

The cheapest mobile data in the world can be found in India ($0.09), followed by Israel ($0.11), Kyrgyzstan ($0.21), Italy ($0.43), and Ukraine ($0.46).

The five most expensive countries in terms of the average cost of 1GB of mobile data are São Tomé and Príncipe ($28.26), Bermuda ($28.75), Nauru ($30.47), Falkland Islands ($40.41) and Saint Helena ($52.50).

According to technology analyst Arthur Goldstuck, North Africa is “way ahead” of South Africa in terms of internet penetration. Part of the reason is geographical; the Mediterranean is criss-crossed with undersea telecommunications cables, and many countries in the region took advantage of that to introduce very cheap mobile data. The same applies to Indian Ocean islands such as Mauritius or the Seychelles. These islands also benefitted from having a small geographic area and enlightened government communications policies.

South Africa is actually in an even worse situation than the report suggests, Goldstuck says, because the report averages out mobile data costs, which means it obscures just how expensive data is for the poor.

If you buy mobile data in large bundles, such as 60GB or 80GB, then SA has some of the cheapest data in the world, says Goldstuck. But if you can’t afford to buy in bulk, like the majority of South Africans, then the cost per megabyte becomes absurdly expensive.

“Mobile data prices as incredibly expensive for the poor,” he says. “We’d be much, much further down the list if we only looked at data costs for the poorest.”

Things are getting better, however. In December, the Competition Commission ordered MTN and Vodacom to slash their mobile data prices, which the commission found to be prohibitively expensive. The result meant saw the operators lower their prices by an average of 33%. Vodacom, for instance, lowered the price of 1GB of data from R150 to R100.

“This means that cheaper data is moving further down the value chain, and into the hands of the poor,” says Goldstuck. “This is where the next phase of the price challenge is going to be.”

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