Geographies in Depth

Africa's mobile internet speed remains far below the global average. The economic impact is huge

Two women walking and looking at a mobile phone.

Outages are contributing to Africa’s low internet speeds. Image: Stefan Heunis/AFP

Faustine Ngila
East Africa correspondent, Quartz
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  • Even the fastest mobile internet speed in Africa is not close to the global average, according to the 2022 Speedtest Global Index.
  • Internet outages are contributing to Africa’s low speeds, with tens of thousands of incidents in the second quarter of 2022.
  • Internet censorship also affects almost half of the countries in Africa, with total shutdowns and social media restrictions causing the continent to lose billions of dollars in the past four years.

Not even the country with Africa’s top mobile internet speed is close to the global average. This is according to the 2022 Speedtest Global Index published by US-based internet speed analysis firm Ookla. South Africa, the continent’s internet speed leader—with an average mobile internet download speed of 68.9 megabits per second (mbps) is way below the global average mobile download speed of 77.7 mbps.

South Africa takes position 46 globally, and in Africa it is followed by Togo, Mauritius, Morocco, Botswana at download speeds.

The world’s top mobile internet speeds are in the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Qatar, Bulgaria, and Norway which have speeds of 258 mbps, 242.3 mbps, 241.7 mbps, 216.6 mbps, and 191.3 mbps respectively.

Internet speed in Africa and 5G

Ookla also compared mobile internet performance in the second quarter of
2022 on modern chipsets across 21 mobile network operators, with results showing that median download speeds were as low as 2.89 mbps in Guinea and as high as 65.95 mbps in South Africa.

A chart showing mobile internet speeds in Africa, Q2 2022
MTN and Vodacom South Africa have download speeds over 45Mb/s Image: Quartz

“We can clearly see the impact that 5G has on overall performance as South African operators came first thanks to having 5G networks in place. MTN South Africa was well ahead of the rest of operators, despite facing challenges with load shedding, with median download speed of 65.95 mbps, followed by Vodacom South Africa with a median download speed of 48.70 mbps. If we take 5G out of the equation, Safaricom Kenya was the fastest operator among the analyzed operators,” Sylwia Kechiche, principal industry analyst, enterprise at Ookla says in the report.

While more than 13 nations are testing 5G networks, over 40 nations are yet to lay down groundwork for the creation of 5G spectrums. This could keep them locked out of the emerging global digital economy, which demands reliable and fast internet.

Airtel Uganda has Africa’s highest upload median mobile speed at 14.84 mbps while Guinea’s MTN Guinea has the lowest—1.55 mbps, meaning the continent is lagging behind in the social media video revolution.

Internet outages and shutdowns are slowing down internet speed

Internet outages are contributing to Africa’s low speed, with the survey revealing that during the second quarter of 2022, users reported 46,810 incidents for Vodacom and 34,882 for MTN which is present in 17 African countries.

“There were two top issues reported: no signal and no mobile internet: lack of signal accounted for the majority (46%) of Vodacom’s reported outages, followed by inability to access mobile internet (36%),” the study says. But that was reversed for MTN where majority of the hitches were related to mobile internet (43%), followed by no signal (40%). “Noteworthy is the fact that there were reports of total blackouts: 7% for Vodacom and 5% for MTN.”

Close to half of the countries in Africa are notorious for internet censorship, with blackouts, total shutdowns, social media restrictions and throttling causing the continent to lose billions of dollars in the past four years.

The survey further notes that mobile internet performance is dependent on the reliability of the underlying infrastructure “such as access to fiber backhaul and reliable power supply, spectrum availability as well as end-user devices.”

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