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New Research: What are the Models of Mobile Data Services Available in Developing Countries?

Photo credit: lau rey (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We have just published the first report in our research series exploring “The Impacts of Emerging Mobile Data Services in Developing Countries” in the Philippines, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Colombia and Peru.


This first research brief, “Models of Mobile Data Services in Developing Countries“, maps out the types of data plans across these eight countries and lays the groundwork for future assessment of the impact of these data plans.


Check out the first research brief, or a quick overview of some key initial findings, below.


Four broad types of data services exist


Based on a review of 181 plans offered by mobile phone operators in the eight selected countries, we have developed a typology of four types of service plans:


  1. Full Cost Data Bundle: The user pays the advertised price for their data (at the relevant prepaid or postpaid tier), which can be used to access any site. This refers to the standard data packages that carriers offer.
  2. Service-Specific Data Bundle: For most plans in this category, a user can purchase a data bundle that allows them to use specific apps and access certain sites for a certain period of time (e.g., social bundle data packs, which offer data for use on specific social networking sites).
  3. Earned Data: Instead of directly purchasing data , the user receives data in exchange for performing some action. Such actions include , completing surveys, or other marketing services on certain apps. It can also include purchasing specific services or handsets from carriers. Typically, this data can be used to access any site or service.
  4. Zero-rated Data: Services that make a specific set of content, websites, or applications available at no additional cost to the customer. The data used to access the specified site/app does not count toward the customer’s data usage.


Zero-rating is not as widespread as headlines would suggest


Despite the attention that zero-rated services receive, they are not yet widespread. Out of the 181 plans reviewed, 51% were service-specific; 33% were full cost; and 13% were zero-rated plans. Often, service-specific plans have similar restrictions to zero-rated plans, in terms of limiting users to a particular set of sites, or only being valid for a certain time period.


Some further detail:

  • Service-specific plans are available in all the countries we examined and, in most cases, are the most common on offer (with the exceptions of Kenya and Ghana).
  • Only Bangladesh, Kenya and Colombia had carriers offering earned data plans — perhaps the most innovative of all four categories.
  • Zero-rated plans exist in all countries but there is wide range in terms of the frequency in which it is offered — all the major carriers in Kenya (Airtel, Orange, Safaricom) offer at least one zero-rated service; in contrast, only one carrier offered a zero-rated service in Nigeria.


Proportion of each type of data plan by country



Photo credit: Switching from feature phone to smartphone, Flickr user lau rey (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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