On Tuesday, we reported a study conducted by Cable that stated Zimbabwe as having the most expensive mobile data in the world. At $75 per gigabyte ($75/gig), the study found Zimbabwe as the most expensive place to access the internet.
However, when we perused the report’s methodology, we discovered that it grossly misrepresented the true cost of mobile data in Zimbabwe. To a greater extent, the methodology used in the study was detached from the reality of what’s really going on in Zimbabwe at the time Cable conducted its research.
To begin with, the report doesn’t consider the data bundles such as daily bundles, weekly data bundles that are so popular in Zimbabwe and many other countries. A section of the methodology used by Cable read:
There were many instances during data gathering where outlying packages, usually those with very small amounts of data, would create cost-of-gigabyte numbers many times those of the average due to their nature (one-day data packages, for example). Once data gathering was completed, these extreme outliers were removed as they grossly skewed the average and were unrepresentative of the means by which 1GB of data is consumed by end users
As you can see, the study deliberately left out these sort of data plans (daily bundles, weekly bundles etc.) on the pretext that when users use them, they were forced to use their internet data in an unusual way since these data plans had expiration time which caused people to use it in an abnormal way. For instance, when one ‘tops up’ a daily data bundle, they hurriedly use their data because they fear the data may expire without them fully utilizing it. So according to Cable, this is not a normal way of consuming data or using the internet.
Therefore, instead of considering the likes of daily bundles or weekly bundles, it stands to reason that Cable used the out-of-bundle data plan to determine the cost of data in Zimbabwe (and other countries). Out-of-bundle browsing is when you use actual airtime to access the internet. They could also have included the monthly bundles that users can buy.
Now the problem is, realistically people in Zimbabwe are not using airtime to access the internet (Out-of-bundle browsing). Nobody in their right minds does that. Rather, bundles (daily, weekly or monthly) are the most ideal as they provide users with the most affordable way of accessing the internet. Accessing a gig worth of internet using bundles (considering all types of these bundles) is way less than the crazy $75 Cable came up with. Even if people hurriedly use their data when they use a data bundle like the daily bundle, the reality is that using those bundles is the cheapest way for them to access the internet and that’s what they use.
Considering monthly data bundles
Cable’s report stats were for the average cost of mobile data per month. Accordingly, even if we use the prices of monthly bundles Zimbabwe’s Mobile Network Operators (MNO) charge users to access a gig worth of data, the $75 is still very high. Because for instance, Netone charges $20 for 1.5 gigs a month and Econet also charges the same for its monthly gig. Which means that 1 gig for a month costs around maybe $13 bucks.
It looks like Cable averaged the above monthly bundles together with out of bundle browsing. They say that they added together 37 packages to come up with an average. The most expensive package in Zimbabwe for a Gig of data in a month according to Cable costs $138.46. This is confusing because out of bundle browsing costs $0.15 per MB on Econet which is the most expensive. This would translate to $150 or $153.60 per Gig (yes there are 1024 MB in a gig, not 1000). So the reported highest is not even highest.
The use of data bundles to access the internet is not exclusive to Zimbabwe only but many many countries do that-Zambia and South Africa MNO’s have these data plans too. Yet internet users in these countries can also access the internet using out-of-bundle data plans but instead, they generally choose to stick to data bundles.
Let’s suppose that the report got it right with their $75/gig, there is an issue of currency valuation that arises. At the time Cable conducted its research (30/10/2018 according to the report), bond notes were still officially valued at 1:1 with the US Dollar. And according to Cable’s study, they used that 1:1 valuation to determine the cost of a gig of mobile data in Zimbabwe.
However, in reality at that time the value of bond notes had already decreased relative to US Dollars hence Cable’s $75/gig didn’t give Zimbabwe a fair assessment with other countries. Had Cable used the prevailing informal value of the bond notes at the time, the price of a gig would have been around $30, significantly lower than $75/gig.
Zimbabwe may have expensive mobile data but we hardly think that its average price lands them to the top of that embarrassing list. As it happens, in 2017 we discovered that Zimbabwe’s mobile data is cheaper than South Africa’s mobile data. However, all in all, mobile data comparison is extremely hard because service providers package their data and allow people to access the internet in very different ways.
The biggest problem with this stud is that it is Euro centric. They decided to define what to include and what not to include based on their experiences in Europe. Disregarding daily data bundles as an outlier does not make sense for Zimbabwe and other African countries.
Daily bundles are the standard and not the outlier. It would have been better had the report been done according to how people access the internet not arbitrarily according to some definition decided by the researchers.