22/08/2017 16:30 SAST | Updated 22/08/2017 16:31 SAST

In Case You’re Wondering, Here's Why Data Is So Expensive in South Africa

Blame limited spectrum and expensive infrastructure.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters

Mobile data in South Africa remains one of the most expensive when benchmarked against other countries.

Research ICT Africa found that South Africa ranks number 16 across 47 African countries, in a study that examined the average cost of one gigabyte of data.

Data prices for South Africa were also found by phone packaging company, Tariffic, to be 134 percent more expensive compared to other BRICS nations.

MTN South Africa reportedly charges R160 for one gigabyte of data (1GB), Vodacom and Cell C charge R149 and Telkom charges R99 for 1GB.

Compared to the rest of the world, India charges R11 for 1GB, Nigeria charges R22, Ghana R71, Russia R24 and Vodacom in Tanzania charges R98 for 1GB but R149 in South Africa.

But why is this?

  • The limited availability of spectrum

There is a limited range of radio frequencies that allows the fast broadband transmission of data in South Africa. Small service providers are restricted from entering the market. "If we can look into allocating more spectrum and introducing more competition, then the costs may come down," said Paseka Maleka, spokesperson for the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. Migrating from analogue to digital will help free the spectrum.

  • Expensive infrastructure

Mobile networks have to put certain infrastructure in place to provide mobile services to all parts of South Africa, but the running costs are expensive. Tech expert Nick Inspires explains that even though mobile operators install cell towers in urban and rural areas, they do not make as much return on investment in rural as opposed to urban areas. "So in order to compensate for the disparity, the bill is passed to everyone equally and the price seems high because few are paying." He believes if more people were using the service extensively in these areas, prices would go down.

But, it seems the prices will eventually go down. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa and The Competition Commission are both running inquiries, that will hopefully result in the lowering of data costs in the country.

Read: Dear South Africans Pulling Their Hair Out About The Cost Of Data, We Got You -- ICASA

Civil action, under the hashtag #DataMustFall, and petitions to lower data costs are also likely adding necessary pressure on the powers that be.