African mobile users pay nearly three times the global average for voice calls and internet

“Why so expensive?”
“Why so expensive?”
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
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The recurring theme of mobile internet prices is that while they are dropping globally, they are not dropping fast enough in Africa.

The resulting reality is internet users across the continent pay the highest prices for mobile data relative to average monthly income. A similar theme exists for voice packages too as an International Telecommunication Union report shows Africans also pay the highest prices for mobile voice calls.

Over the past decade alone, the global affordability gap between mobile voice package prices in developed and developing countries has shrunk to 2.9 percentage points from 9, as the global average prices for mobile voice calls has nearly halved. Yet, African users pay nearly 200% more than the global average of mobile voice package prices, the report shows.

In dollar terms, users on the continent pay an average of $9 for mobile voice packages—lower than users in Europe and the Americas. But expressing those prices as a share of gross national income per capita paints a clearer picture on the regional differences in price.

ITU’s report analyzes prices in 184 and African countries made up 67% of the bottom quarter for countries paying the highest mobile voice package prices as a share of GNI per capita. Indeed, only ten African countries—Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Morocco, South Africa, Libya, Tunisia, Botswana, Mauritius, Sudan, Egypt and Seychelles—ranked in the top half. In Niger, the lowest ranked country, voice call prices as a share of GNI per capita stood at nearly 50%.

The impact of mobile phone penetration across the continent over the past two decades has translated to rapid development in communications and development, and boosting local businesses. Most notably, mobile penetration has seen Africa become the global hub of mobile money innovation over the past decade.

The question, though, is how much more progress has been hamstrung not just by pricey voice calls but also by out-of-reach mobile data packages. As previous research has highlighted, there’s a wide gap in mobile data prices  too. ITU’s report shows while the global average price of 1.5 gigabyte mobile data packages dropped to $13.2 in 2019 from $20.4 in 2013, African countries are still paying three times more than users in other regions relative to average income.

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