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THE PRICE OF SPEED

Which African country has the best-value mobile internet?

A finger points at a mobile phone application.
Reuters/Njeri Mwangi
Users of mobile internet in Africa countries are getting comparatively low value for money.
  • Carlos Mureithi
By Carlos Mureithi

East Africa correspondent

Published Last updated on

The high prices that people in Africa pay for the internet are rarely matched by the connection speeds. This is according to a report by Speedcheck, a website that allows users to test the speed of internet connections, on the relationship between the price of mobile data and the speeds at which carriers deliver the data.

Tunisia, the study’s highest-ranking African country, has download speeds that are almost twice as fast as those of Israel, the study’s highest ranking country. The average price per gigabyte in Tunisia though is 65 times that of a gigabyte in Israel. This means even though there are instances where internet speeds in the continent might be faster than those elsewhere, customers are still paying exorbitant rates for their connections.

Speedcheck analyzed the mobile broadband speeds experienced by the users of its service in 89 countries in five continents and compared this to the cost of data in each of the countries. The result is a speed-price index (SPI). The higher the index, the more value for money for mobile internet users.

The Speedcheck report, which covers nine African countries, adjusts these data prices with the purchasing power index for each country for better comparison.

Mobile internet costs remain high in Africa

Tunisia and all the other eight African countries included in the study lie in the bottom half of global ranking.  Tunisia with an SPI of 2.2 is at position 48 on the list while Israel leads the global ranking with an SPI of 82.3. The global average SPI is 6.6.

Internet users in Africa pay the highest prices for mobile data globally – and surprisingly, the lowest too. At an average of $6.44 for a gigabyte, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest price for mobile data, according to Cable.co.uk, a British broadband comparison website.

At the other end of the spectrum, at an average of $1.53 per gigabyte, northern Africa has the lowest-priced mobile data, the website says. While prices for mobile internet are dropping globally, this is not happening fast enough in Africa, therefore excluding millions from connectivity.

According to the study, users of mobile internet in Africa countries are getting comparatively low value for money. High data prices in Africa are a determining factor, as looking at speed alone, Tunisia, Morocco and South Africa have faster speeds than Israel, which is ranked first in the SPI.

Around 51% of Africa’s mobile phone connections are on 3G, according to GSMA, an organization that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. A few African countries have launched 5G, a technology standard for broadband cellular networks that offers faster data speeds, and many others are in trial stages for this technology.

Increasing data speeds or reducing prices would improve the SPI rankings of African countries drastically, Fred Lipfert, CEO of Speedcheck, tells Quartz. But major infrastructure investments would be needed to increase speeds, he adds, and this wouldn’t go hand in hand with decreasing prices. As such, any improvements in SPI rankings would only be seen in the long term, he says.  African companies though are increasingly taking advantage of renewed international investor interest to put money into infrastructure development.

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