“Time is money,” they say. Depending on where in the world you are, data can be expensive, too.
But when judging the value of a country’s mobile data plans, you need to take all three variables into account. What use is cheap data if you spend minute after minute waiting for it to load?
It’s a question many of us asked as the world slowed down for the COVID-19 pandemic. If you thought your mobile connection had symptoms of coronavirus, you were right: the whole world got bored and went online at the same moment. Mobile broadband speeds fell to half their regular speed in the area around Wuhan, China in January 2020. Two months later, New York’s broadband connections slowed by a quarter.
However, data is getting faster in general. The average mobile download speed rose from 22.81 Mbps to 27.69 Mbps in the 12 months up to July 2019. And 5G promises to deliver speeds over 1 Gigabit per second.
To figure the state of play, Top Dollar gathered the cost and speed of mobile data in every country. We compared price to Mbps (megabits per second) to find the best value around the world and price-per-1GB to average local income to see where mobile data is most affordable.
● Israel has the best value mobile data in the world: US$0.01 for 10GB data per 1Mbps download speed.
● Namibia has the worst value mobile data in the world: $11.36 for 10GB data per 1Mbps download speed.
● Mobile data is also most affordable in Israel, where 10GB costs the equivalent of 0.02% of the average monthly paycheck.
● Malawi has the least affordable mobile data in the world, with 10GB costing 841.78% of the average monthly paycheck.
Israel and China Among Countries with Fastest, Cheapest Mobile Data
Do you have friends from Israel, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Denmark in your contacts? These countries exemplify the wide range of economies and cultures at the top of the table for ‘best value mobile data compared to download speed.’
Neither Israel nor Denmark have particularly impressive Mbps (41 and 90, respectively). But Israel has the cheapest mobile data in the world, and the average salary in Denmark is over $50,000 – so it won’t trouble you to get a fast plan in either territory. China has the fastest mobile data in the top 10, giving the second-best speed value when price is considered. And this is despite China being number 21 for affordability with an average salary of $8,394.
The disparity among the countries with the worst value is less obvious. Namibia has the worst value in a considerable way due to snail-like downloads of 20Mbps against a cost of $22.37/Gb. The Czech Republic stands out as a middle-income economy with mid-range speeds but very poor value. This is due to a “cartel-like oligopoly between mobile operators” – the lack of competition means that mobile data remains expensive in absolute terms.
Mobile Data is Least Affordable in African Countries
You don’t have to live in a high-income country to have affordable mobile data, but it helps. Nine out of the ten most affordable countries have an average annual income of more than $30,000. Eight of the ten least affordable data plans are in countries where salaries are measured in hundreds rather than thousands of dollars.
There is no great disparity at the very top of the affordability table. Iceland figures by virtue of a $57,829 average income. Italy has the lowest income in the top ten ($27,630), but very reasonable $0.27/GB data makes surfing a breeze. Just outside of the top 10, Russia has the best affordability for a country with a four-figure salary ($8,573). It costs 0.41% of an average Russian paycheck to pay for 10GB of mobile data.
In contrast, it costs more than one month’s pay to get 10Gb in nine of the ten least affordable mobile regions. In fact, in Malawi the average worker would need to save nine paychecks to cover the $250 required for 10Gb.
The United States ranks #67 for value ($0.41 for 10GB data per 1Mbps download speed) but is #20 for affordability. With an average income of $55,435, it costs just 0.72% of the average paycheck to afford 10Gb.
The Cost of Fast Data
Mobile is the future. With 5G landing and the untethering of workers from the office, we’re all going to be downloading a whole lot more through our wireless devices. As we regain our taste for travel, we’ll want to find a good phone deal in each destination to keep up with the news. (Never mind that Project Fear has become Project Reality with the end of free-roaming charges for Brits post-Brexit.)
But remember, despite the best intentions of honorable phone companies, other factors can slow even the fastest connection. Never underestimate the value of a good Wi-Fi connection – exotic data on the go, for free!
METHODOLOGY & SOURCES
Then we calculated the affordability of mobile data (ratio of the cost of 10GB data to a monthly paycheck) and converted this to percent. Next we calculated the mobile data value (ratio of the cost of 10GB data to the average download speed).
We collected the data in May 2021.