February 16, 2022

Which countries charge the most for the internet in Africa?

Africa has the fastest growing telecommunications market and yet internet prices remain extremely high in some countries. The United Nations defines “affordable” internet as costing less than 2% of the average monthly income. In Africa, on average, connectivity costs around 6% of gross monthly income. When compared to Asia (1,6%) and South America (2,7%), we can get a sense of where Africa ranks internationally in terms of internet affordability.

Out of Africa’s 54 countries, only 14 have affordable internet access. There is a big gap in how affordable the internet is in different parts of the continent. While 45% of Asians have access to the internet, only 29% of Africa’s population does. Countries that have the best connectivity tend to be located near the coast and have dense populations. Advances in technology, coupled with steadily growing demand, have led to a reduction in cost and an increase in accessibility in these regions.

Looking at the price of a gig of broadband data, a report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4Ai) reveals the huge discrepancy among African countries in terms of internet prices. The A4Ai is a global coalition that works towards lowering the cost of the internet in low and middle income countries using policy and regulatory reform.

Which African countries have the highest internet prices?

Despite being connected to three subsea fibre optic cables, Equatorial Guinea was ranked at the top of the list for having the highest price per gigabyte of mobile data. At $35 a gig, Equatorial Guinea’s small population generates relatively low demand. For a population of 1.3-million, it is expensive to develop the necessary infrastructure. There is little return on investment in infrastructure and the lack of competition keeps internet prices high. In Equatorial Guinea, the main telecom provider is 60% state-owned.

Internationally, Ukraine is the world’s cheapest destination for internet connectivity. With an average monthly cost of just $6.40 in Ukraine, it seems phenomenal that residents in Eritrea would pay $2666 for a monthly internet subscription.

Continuing to look at internet prices in Africa, the next most expensive is Libya, where one pays $11.40 for a gig. This is followed closely by The Central African Republic, where one gig of data costs $10.40. Purchasing power is relatively low in The Central African Republic, considering that the cost of a gig amounts to 24.4% of the average monthly income. In Togo and Chad, a gigabyte of data equates to about 15% of the monthly income, costing internet users about $8.40.

In the middle of the range lies Morocco. Price increases from $2 to $5 a gig between 2019 and 2020 prompted the country to initiate it’s Digital 2020 strategy aimed at bridging the digital divide. Having access to modern information and communication technologies is associated with higher income levels and standards of living.

Where in Africa is the internet the cheapest?

Kenya and South Africa have the most advanced mobile infrastructure and lots of internet users. In these countries, a gig of broadband data is cheaper than the global average. Similarly, Sudan has a population of 45-million and 13-million of them are internet users, paying the lowest prices on the African continent. Internet users in Sudan pay just $0.90 per gig. This is followed by Egypt, where users pay $1.30.

Prices are generally lower in East and West Africa, compared to Central and Southern Africa. The presence of fibre optic cable landing stations along the African coastline gives these countries more direct access to the world-wide fibre grid. SEACOM’s subsea cables wrap around the African continent and stretch inland to form an expansive terrestrial network. This brings affordable high quality connectivity to businesses within SEACOM’s world-class fibre network.

In Kenya, internet users paid, on average, $2.25 for a gig of data in 2021. Kenya ranks 118 out of 230 countries for the price of mobile data. Not everyone pays the same for data in Kenya, with price ranges from $0.26 all the way up to $10.93 for a gig. In Uganda, there is also a wide range of data costs. One gig can cost between $0.45 and $22.71. These figures show that there is a big discrepancy in the cost of the internet, even within individual countries.

Why is the internet so expensive in Africa?

The heavy reliance on mobile data and lack of sufficient infrastructure are two of the main causes of expensive internet access in Africa. Small populations have to pay more because there isn’t enough demand to stimulate competition.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one gig costs residents 20,6% of their average monthly income. In 2020, there was a 20% drop in prices as the government’s Digital Development Strategy started to take effect. Prices, however, remain high and are unlikely to drop anytime soon. Small populations mean a small customer base and that doesn’t make the DRC a popular choice for the investment in infrastructure. Installing and maintaining networks in remote, poor, or underpopulated regions doesn’t easily attract investment from telecom operators.

When will the internet be cheaper and faster in Africa?

In many countries, the price effects of new subsea cables haven't yet been felt. Prices remain unaffordably high in many parts of Africa. Some hope that Elon Musk’s Starlink will make the internet more cost-effective. In reality, the service won’t be affordable for most Africans. The initial investment for setup costs about $500. The set up includes a router, satellite dish, tripod and cable. Users then pay a $99 monthly subscription cost. Musk’s ambitions to connect areas that are off-the-fibre-grid, or which do not have good mobile coverage, might be out of reach for most people living in Africa.

The alternative to mobile and satellite internet is fibre. Already the cost of fibre has become more affordable. Users along the East African coast have access to world-class fibre connectivity with high bandwidth speeds. In the DRC, low bandwidth speeds make the user-experience painfully slow. With speeds as low as 64 kilobits, downloading 5GB of data takes around five days and eight hours. In Singapore, the same data would take just over 11 minutes to be downloaded.

It is certainly going to take time for internet speeds and prices to catch up with the rest of the world. The roll-out of fibre brings connectivity closer to more businesses and public enterprises in Africa. Having a high speed, low latency connection is the antidote to the digital divide, with knock-on effects for the economic well-being of the population at large. For more information or to get a quote for our fibre internet solutions, email us at marketing@seacom.com or leave us a message.

SEACOM owns Africa’s largest network of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, including fibre optic networks and subsea cables. We offer a wide range of industry-leading scalable ICT solutions for large companies that operate throughout the region.

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