Billions of people around the world rely on their mobile phones every day.
Even in a saturated market, mobile networks have continued to expand their reach. In the last five years alone, almost one billion additional people have gained access to mobile data services.
Despite the growing prevalence of these networks worldwide, the cost of gaining access can vary greatly from country to country—particularly when it comes to the price of mobile data.
The chart uses figures from cable.co.uk to showcase the average cost of one gigabyte (GB) of mobile data in 155 different countries and jurisdictions. Despite the vast global reach of the mobile economy, it’s clear it still has a long way to go to reach true accessibility.
Discrepancies in Mobile Data Costs
Researchers have identified several key elements that help explain the cost variation for mobile data between countries:
- Existing infrastructure (or lack thereof): This might seem counter-intuitive, but most mobile networks rely on a fixed-line connection. As a result, countries with existing infrastructure are able to offer mobile plans with more data, at a cheaper price. This is the case for India and Italy. Countries with minimal or no infrastructure rely on more costly connection alternatives like satellites, and the cost typically gets passed down to the consumer.
- Reliance on mobile data: When mobile data is the primary source of internet in a particular region, adoption can become nearly universal. This high demand typically leads to an increase in competing providers, which in turn lowers the cost. Kyrgyzstan is a good example of this.
- Low data consumption: Countries with poor infrastructure tend to use less data. With mobile plans that offer smaller data limits, the overall average cost per GB tends to skew higher. Countries like Malawi and Benin are examples of this phenomenon.
- Average income of consumer: Relatively wealthy nations tend to charge more for mobile services since the population can generally afford to pay more, and the cost of operating a network is higher. This is apparent in countries like Canada or Germany.
The Cheapest Countries for 1 GB of Data
Even among the cheapest countries for mobile data, the cost variation is significant. Here’s a look at the top five cheapest countries for 1 GB of data:
Overall Rank Country Average price of 1GB (USD)
1 India 9¢2
2 Israel 11¢3
3 Kyrgyzstan 21¢4
4 Italy 43¢5
5 Ukraine 46¢
India ranks the cheapest at $0.09 per GB, a 65% decrease in price compared to the country’s average cost in 2019.
Why is data so cheap in India?
A significant factor is the country’s intense market competition, driven by Reliance Jio—a telecom company owned by Reliance Industries, one of the largest conglomerates in India. Reliance Jio launched in 2016, offering customers free trial periods and plans for less than a $1 a month. This forced other providers to drop their pricing, driving down the overall cost of data in the region.
Because these prices are likely unsustainable for the long term, India’s cheaper-than-usual prices may soon come to an end.
Another country worth highlighting is Kyrgyzstan, which ranks as the third cheapest at $0.21 per GB, ahead of Italy and Ukraine. This ranking is surprising, given the country’s minimal fixed-line infrastructure and large rural population. Researchers suspect the low cost is a result of Kyrgyzstan’s heavy reliance on mobile data as the population’s primary source of internet.
The Most Expensive Countries for 1 GB of Data
On the other end of the spectrum, here are the top five most expensive countries for one gigabyte of mobile data:
Overall Rank Country Average price of 1GB (USD)
155 Malawi $27.41154
154 Benin $27.22153
153 Chad $23.33152
152 Yemen $15.98151
151 Botswana $13.87
A striking trend worth noting is that four out of five of the most expensive countries for mobile data are in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
A significant factor behind the high cost of data in SSA is its lack of infrastructure. With overburdened networks, the data bundles offered in the region are generally smaller. This drives up the average cost per GB when compared to countries with unlimited packages.
Another element that contributes to SSA’s high costs is its lack of market competition. In countries with multiple competing networks, such as Nigeria, the cost of data skews lower.
The Technology Gap
Will we reach a point of equal accessibility across the globe, or will the technology gap between countries continue to widen?
With 5G networks on the rise, just seven countries are expected to make up the majority of 5G related investments. Time will tell what this means for adoption worldwide, and how quickly Africa's governments, internet service providers, and other stakeholder's would collaborate to create solutions to the high cost of mobile data on the continent, so as to boost her inclusion in the global (digital) development.