London — Sub-Saharan Africa desperately needs mobile data pricing that matches the pockets of the mass market that should be using it. The latest annual release from research company Cable looks at worldwide mobile data prices. Russell Southwood looks at what it tells us about current Sub-Saharan African prices.
Every year research company Cable releases an annual comparison of broadband prices. Until this year, these comparisons have been for fixed broadband. This year's looks at mobile data prices and examined 6,313 plans in late 2018. The resulting Excel spreadsheet provides an average price for a country and most and least expensive.
The data provides a largely baffling listing of Sub-Saharan countries where there is no easily discernible relationship between GDP per capita (a crude measure of wealth) and the average price being charged for a GB of data. For example, Congo-B (US$5.63 per GB), Sierra Leone (U$5.79) and Mali (US$9.22 per GB) all fall in the second most expensive category (US$5+ to below US$10 per GB). South Africa at US$7.19 per GB is the most completely out of whack: how does a country like this continue to price against only the "haves" and not the "have-nots"?
Neither do the average price rankings seem to have a direct and clear relationship to the level of competition in a country except at the top end. Out of the most expensive countries ((US$11.02 to US$75.20 per GB), 7 out of ten have monopoly issues: Nambia, Togo, eSwatini, Benin, Djibouti and Equatorial Guinea.
We are about to publish a very detailed report on Africa's Top 11 Digital Markets (see paragraph at the end of this story) and in terms of mobile data pricing we reach somewhat different conclusions. However, eight out the 11 countries that have the largest online activity fall in the bottom half of the price spectrum (below US$5 per GB): Ghana (US$1.56), Cameroon (US$1.71), Nigeria (US$2.22), Kenya (US$2.73); Ethiopa (US$2.91), Senegal (US$3.28), Cote d'Ivoire (US$4.10) and Uganda (US$4.69).
The outliers are Tanzania (US$5.93), which we think has cheaper data prices, South Africa (see above - nuff said) and Angola (US$7.95).
In the most recent annual reports for MNOs reporting publicly, they have defined active mobile data subscribers as people using 5MB a month or 100 MB a month. If large numbers of Africans in Sub-Saharan Africa are going to start living the digital life then pricing 1GB seems a better place to start.
So below is a table showing the roll call of shame for those selling the most expensive data in Sub-Saharan Africa:
Top 10 Countries Most Expesive
Equatorial Guinea US$65.83
And below is the top 10 countries selling the cheapest average price for a GB who deserve a round of applause:
Top 10 Countries Cheapest
Now try and imagine a world in which the average price per GB is below US$2 for the majority of countries and the average use per user is at least 1 GB a month. At that point you can start to see Africa's digital life involving millions of people.
Another big obstacle that has to be overcome before that dream becomes a reality is the gender gap. According to the Mobile Gender Gap Report for 2019 from the GSMA, the gender gap in mobile ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa for 2018 was 15%. The gender gap refers to how much less likely a woman is to own a mobile than a man. The worst thing is that this gender gap has not shifted since 2017.
Why does this matter for a discussion of mobile data use? With the exception of Algeria and South Africa, women were significantly less likely to use mobile data than men:
The red represents women, the blue men and the gender gap percentage is in the circle on the right of the chart.
This gender gap represents a market going begging and it's hard to see where the marketing strategies are to get them. In Sub-Saharan Africa, as elsewhere globally, women hold up more than half the world and the digital life opportunities have to be available for everyone.
To download the pricing analysis click here
Click here to down the Mobile Gender Gap Report for 2019