Today, almost half of the world’s population has remained offline, even in the pandemic period when the need to access health information and basic education content is so dire. The most affected are women and people on low incomes and those living in the rural areas, a new study indicates. 

The report by World Wide Web Foundation has found that nearly 2.5 billion people live in countries where the cost of the cheapest smartphone is a quarter or more of their average monthly wage. 

The report surveyed the cost of devices in 70 countries with a combined population of over 5 billion people. 

In Africa, devices were least affordable at 62.8 percent of average monthly income compared with 11.7 percent in the Americas and 16.2 percent in Asia Pacific (excluding India).

According to MasterCard Foundation, mobile phones have long been considered vehicles of inclusion and development in sub Saharan Africa, as they connect individuals to peers, information, markets and services, bridging the urban-rural and rich-poor divides. 

There are striking differences among countries with the average person in Sierra Leone for instance having to save 6 months’ salary to afford the cheapest smartphone. On the other hand, someone living in Botswana part with just 4 percent of average monthly wage. 

Device Affordability Table
SOURCE: World Wide Web Foundation

The report outlines instruments that governments, device manufacturers and policy makers can exploit to reduce the cost of devices and help bring more people into the connected bracket:

  • Reduce taxes on low cost devices to bring down the price and encourage manufacturers and retailers to pass on the devices at affordable prices.
  • Use universal service and access funds (USAFs) to subsidise devices for the least able to buy handsets.
  • Support projects that help people spread the cost of devices, giving people access to credit and other financial tools so they do not need to pay the full cost of the device up front. 

Mobile devices are about income as well as price of handsets. Although the price of a handset may be low in a country like Mozambique (US$18) compared to Argentina ($122) the average monthly wage in Argentina is approximately 30 times higher than Mozambique (US$1,031 vs $37) making the higher per capita income in Argentina inspire higher prices.


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