Why the world’s cheapest and most expensive broadband are both in Africa

Ganiu Oloruntade

At a time when the demand for internet access is on the rise globally, Africa is home to the cheapest broadband, according to the Global Broadband Pricing League Table 2023 index published by UK-based internet affordability analysis firm Cable.

The study, which analyzed 3,703 fixed-line broadband deals in 219 countries across 13 regions between 2 January and 1 March 2023, found that Sudan offers the world’s cheapest broadband, with an average cost of $2.30 per month, thanks in part to a collapse in the value of the Sudanese Pound (SDG) against the US dollar.

Dan Howdle, a consumer telecoms analyst at Cable, noted that considering that the study’s remit is entirely fixed-line broadband, it does not reflect that most Sudanese who have access to the internet do so via their phones. For context, Sudan ranked 112th on the Speedtest Global Index by Ookla, a global network intelligence and connectivity research firm.

“The country’s poor fixed-line infrastructure has helped the development of mobile broadband services. Sudatel, Cameroon’s Camtel, and Chad-based SudaChad Telecom’s planned investment, the WE-Africa-NA terrestrial fibre link, will connect from Port-Sudan then on to Kribi in Cameroon, passing through Chad. The new build aims to respond to rising data demand in all three countries, particularly as usage has been accelerated since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic with digital and data services gaining traction,” budde.com, an independent producer of telecoms research and statistics, said.

Ironically, according to the study, Burundi, another African nation, is the most expensive place in the world to get fixed-line broadband, with an average package price of $383.79 per month. For one, Burundi is lagging in expanding broadband internet connections, with around 9% of all residents having access to the internet.

Image source: Cable

For the uninitiated, broadband is defined as various high-capacity transmission technologies that transmit data, voice, and video across long distances and at high speeds.

According to Investopedia, “the two defining characteristics of broadband are that it is high-speed and that it is available at all times. Both of these characteristics serve to distinguish broadband from older dial-up connections. Not only was dial-up Internet connection slower, but it was only available when specifically requested by the user.”

Read also: Egypt, South Africa drop as other African countries rise in 2022 internet speed ranking

What is the cost of broadband in Africa?

The study measured 44 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, most of which sit in the bottom half of the league table, with the average cost per month in the region pegged at $75.50. Going against the trend were Sudan ($2.30, 1st place, cheapest in the world), the Republic of Congo ($16.82, 28th) and Eswatini ($19.50, 40th).

At the other end of the table, the most expensive was Burundi ($383.79, 219th, the most expensive country in the world), followed by Zimbabwe ($210.00, 217th) and Democratic Republic of Congo ($193.46, 215th).

Chart: Technext | Data: Cable.

Six countries in Northern Africa all feature in the cheapest half of the table, with three countries in the top 40. The average price in the region is $22.57, with the cheapest in Egypt ($9.67, 9th). Trailing behind is Tunisia ($14.53, 21st) and Libya ($18.68, 36th). The most expensive in the region is Senegal ($39.56, 91st), followed by Morocco ($32.47, 71st) and Algeria ($20.51, 42nd).

Read also: Nigeria’s broadband penetration hits 48% contrary to FG’s previous claim of 100%

Africa must address broadband issues

About 200 million people live in areas without mobile broadband coverage in Nigeria and other Sub-Saharan African countries, according to ‘The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2022’ report [pdf] by GSMA. While European countries are making progress on building 5G networks to power their economies, Africa appears to be lagging in the race. By 2025, 5G will account for just 4% of total connections in Sub-Saharan Africa.

report says that for Africa to reach quality internet access by 2030, the continent will have to cough up an investment of $100 billion, with at least 250,000 kilometres of new fibre to meet this target. What this tells us is the need for African governments and telecommunications companies to collaborate to address broadband issues — especially poor digital infrastructure — on the continent.

Image Source: SciDev.Net

If anything, achieving universal, affordable, and high-quality broadband access is important to help Africa’s local tech ecosystem, which has grown impressively in recent years. According to data from different funding trackers, African startups raised more funding in 2022 than in 2021.

Noel K. Tshiani, the founder of Congo Business Network, wrote: “Access to broadband internet is a competitive advantage for startups and for the private sector too. Fintech, medtech, edtech, and logistics startups are having difficulties finding and serving consumers in the market as the speed and cost of internet continue to be a major nuisance to business growth.”

Meanwhile, experts say the launch of Starlink, the satellite-based internet service owned by billionaire Elon Musk, fills Africa’s connectivity gaps. Starlink is currently licensed to operate in Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania — with more countries to come. But despite the many bright spots of Starlink in terms of its offerings, affordability remains a major issue. 

Read also: SpaceX’s Starlink extends reach across Africa after receiving license in Rwanda

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