Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Snapshot: Mobile Data Costs in East Africa

IMG_0073I get asked a lot about mobile data costs in East Africa, so thought I would put it in writing for everyone to find easier.

Mobile data access charges have fallen drastically in the last several years in East Africa, in large part to the SEACOM undersea cable arriving and increased competition between operators. Data connectivity is the new battleground, fighting not just amongst mobile competitors, but also with traditional ISPs.

In the mobile data connectivity space, each country sells either data capped bundles (or time capped bundles in the case of Uganda) that can be loaded onto a SIM card. There are out of bundle charges, priced per Megabyte or Kilobyte, but these rates are exorbitant, so anyone who connects regularly uses a bundle of some sort.

More creative offerings come out each month by the mobile operators, making it more confusing and harder to compare against competing services, but also offering some incredibly low pricing for entry-level users, or consumers who don’t need high speeds.

No doubt, a downward trend of mobile data charges will spur the growth of mobile web usage and publisher forwards.

In Kenya, from charging internet usage at 10 shillings a minute just a few years ago, now cyber cafes charge 1 shilling a minute for browsing. The use of mobile data has been made easier by increasingly cheaper rates. For example in Kenya, Safaricom are offering a limited 10MB worth of mobile internet usage at 8 shillings per day. Zain Kenya offers unlimited internet usage for 3,000 shillings per month. Orange Kenya on the other hand are having a 7-day unlimited offer for their 3G network at 1000 shillings.

In Uganda costs for mobile data connectivity have been driven down by the SEACOM cable landing in 2009, and led by costs cutting by Orange. Orange was first to the market with cheap, affordable 3G service and has played a major role in driving market prices down. They were the first to institute 5,000Ush/day & 25,000Ush/week packages for Internet – finally making it accessible to the common man. MTN, the larger network in Uganda,

Tanzania boasts some of the most unreliable data networks with the least penetration within East Africa. Zain and Vodacom both offer 3g, while Tigo offers GPRS. Zantel and Sasatel are CDMA networks, with EVDO connectivity. All networks, no matter what the speed of the connection, charge a flat rate of 40,000Tsh for 1gb of data. Data prices have gone down, but not noticeably.

While not possible to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the rates between the three countries, here is a pricing comparison chart for 3g data on 1Gb bundles and 1Mb pay as you go costs for the leading operator in each country:

1Gb of 3g data
2500 Ksh 40,000 Tsh 49,000 Ush
USD equivalent 1Gb of 3g data
$30.90 $26.56 $21.63
1Mb of 3g data
(Pay as you go)
8 Ksh 120 Tsh 900 Ush
USD equivalent 1Mb of 3g data
(Pay as you go)
$0.10 $0.08 $0.40

As is true in this hyper competitive market, these numbers will change (hell, I’m probably already off on something). The overriding trend is that the costs are going down for consumers, even if slower than we’d all like to see.

[Picture courtesy of Stefan Magdalinski]


  1. erm, isn’t Safaricom Kenya 8ksh for 10Mb, not 1Mb? That’s what the ad in the photo says…

    • Actually, that’s only if you’re using Opera specific, the rate for pay-as-you go for 1mb 3g in Kenya is 8Ksh on Safaricom.

  2. In Uganda another company called ‘In’ is offering Mobile internet and looking at the prices looks to be much cheaper than even Orange.

    In Orange
    500Mb = 15000UGx 500Mb =25000UGx
    1Gb = 25000UGx 1Gb =45000UGx
    3Gb = 49000UGx 3Gb = 85000UGx

    I would like to admit that i have not used it yet, but looking at these prices, looks like after my Orange data is done, i will be trying out the ‘In’ and also check out the speeds.

    I still say, we need the Unlimited bundles, all the above is limited.

  3. The comment above, has been distorted .. the prices on the left are meant to be for ‘in’ while the prices on the right for ‘Orange’


  4. Orange Kenya doesn’t offer 3G, but offers 3G+ which I am sure is a marketing gimmick and is not the same as 3G. The speeds are slower but tolerable

  5. Hash,
    You are correct, it is not easy to do apples to apples comparison, especially if you confuse bits per second with total number of Bytes. I assume that 1 Gb above means 1 GigaByte (8 bits per byte).
    I think the best way to do it is to compare bit per second prices converted in to single currency (Euro or USD) and compare cost per Byte (or MegaByte) converted in to single currency as I think you have done.

  6. Much thanks for that. Do you know how Kenyan mobile operators connect with the SEACOM connection? Do they have to make a licensing deal with the Kenya Government? Is it still the case that. although there are on the surface many ISP providers, they all have to go through the governments Jumbo Net?

  7. You say “Tanzania boasts some of the more expensive and unreliable data networks” yet in your data chart comparison its always cheaper than safaricom if not the cheapest.

    USD equivalent 1Gb of 3g data
    (bundle) safaricom Vodacom MTN
    $30.90 $26.56 $21.63

    USD equivalent 1Mb of 3g data
    (Pay as you go) $0.10 $0.08 $0.40

    • Yohana, you’re right, I forgot to edit that part out. I meant to leave the “unreliable” part in, and remove the cost section. I’ll fix that now…

  8. Related question, how widespread “facebook zero” usage is?

  9. Your numbers for Tanzania were off. I was able to get a 2GB bundle from zantel over the summer for 10,000 tsh; good speeds and it was valid for a week. that makes 8GB monthly for 40,000, a bit improvement over what you have written.

    Zain also offers a 3gb weekly package for 15,000, ie the same pricing.

    • @Nishant, the numbers change rapidly, as do the packages, so I’m not surprised that you’re seeing better choices by now. Thanks for updating on the price.

  10. @Richard von Kaufmann; The mobile operators connect to SEACOM (or TEAMS or EASSy) via fibre. They either do it in Mombasa at the landing station if they have the infrastructure there, or its hauled to Nairobi via 3rd party fibre, then the interconnect is done at various places around town.

    Yes, they are all licensed, (which cost millions of USD) but the days of JamboNet are over. Anyone can have a gateway to the world now. Of course, if you are SEACOM/TEAMS/EASSy, you have to pay to lland in Kenya, which is just crazy IMHO.

    The bottom line is that all the prices we are talking about in this thread are per-bit pricing, which is antithetical to the Internet Model that has caused such phenomenal growth in the last 20 years. It’s the telco model, where the focus is on “billable events”.

  11. Silvestre Boit

    April 11, 2011 at 5:03 am

    What is the best ISP to connect me to internet in remote areas of Kenya and what about the cost per month.

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