Mobile Data Prices Chart

Many countries pay less for mobile data, but the U.S. isn't as far behind as it may seem

In terms of raw prices, the U.S. ranks among the highest in the world in the cost of phone data plans. According to research by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) the average phone plan with 500MB of data costs $85 in the U.S., compared to $24.10 in China and $8.80 in the U.K., in terms of U.S. dollar Purchasing-power Parity (PPP).

The Economist has created a great interactive map showing off the price disparity across the globe, which illustrates how far behind the U.S. is in terms of the price of mobile data. Again in terms of the raw price of purchasing mobile phone plans with data, the U.S. is in the company of countries like Botswana, Angola and Morocco, where it can cost anywhere from $80 to $110 to have a phone with just 500MB of monthly mobile data.

The cheapest countries around the world to pick up a phone plan with data are India, Indonesia, Germany, Italy, and the U.K., each costing around $10 (again USD at PPP) for that same plan that costs $85 in the U.S. The cheapest data collected by the ITU was in Austria, where $4.70 gets you a phone plan with 500MB of mobile data.

The fixed prices don't tell the whole story though, of course. Although in nominal terms the average U.S. consumer is paying drastically more for a phone plan that even developing nations, the percentage of a person's income that it costs is still very low. That $85 phone plan is just 2.1 percent of the Gross National Income (GNI) in the U.S., whereas in Botswana it is 9 percent. In Morocco, it's 20 percent.

When looking at countries that have mobile data prices under 2.5 percent of GNI, the U.S. is back in familiar company with Canada, Mexico, most all of Europe and Russia. Though these cheaper European plans may be in the range of 0.5 to 1 percent of GNI and therefore still dramatically cheaper than the U.S., those of us in the states may not have it as bad as we might think.

Mobile Data Prices Chart

Mobile Data Prices Chart

Source: The Economist


Reader comments

U.S. mobile data prices among most expensive in the world


Of course. That's because all the carriers in the us decided that they could make note money when they gave you a "free" phone. That is why I hate most of the carriers here, especially the world's biggest penny pinching, low-lying, money-stealing carriers of all: Verizon

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So? I can make calls with any of the carriers that aren't bad at all. T-Mobile has pretty decent voice quality here. Data does not do much, but phone service is excellent

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We in the US get unlimited voice minutes and many times unlimited text messages as well. Nobody has to pay extra to place a call from a land line to a cell phone and most prepaid providers give you unlimited international voice + text for a small fee.

Overall we get more for our money and use a smaller portion of our income to pay for it.

But why would most people need more than a few hundred MB? Most people are always on Wifi, at home, at work, in school, on the train, at friends... I don't want to be paying more than 15 if I don't have to.

Sure, sure, that's why, ignore our hand over fist profits and massive payouts to executives, blame the evil government and land.

Good, good.

Profit is good. Things cost as much as people are willing to pay. If everybody stopped buying service at current prices, providers would be forced to lower prices to attract subscribers. Instead even welfare recipients have smart phones now. Waiting in line at the phone store is as tortured and miserable a wait as the DMV. Wireless services are regarded as necessary as food, water, tv, and internet.

Does an athlete deserve millions of dollars a year for being good at a game? Should people whose only skill is pretending to be someone else in a plausible manner really earn $15 million for a few months of standing around pretending? Maybe if they were paid as say soldiers, or police officers were paid, it wouldn't cost $50 for two to see a film, share a popcorn, and get a couple of soft drinks. It does though. And you fight back by not buying in to the system. So let's all cancel our contracts, pay the $20-a-month fee or whatever it is to break contract, and go back to landlines only, or landlines and pagers for life-saving doctors. Yeah, not going to happen. We're going to pay more because we're willing to.

OK how do you compare to Russia?? 2x the size of US (or more) and still cheaper ... Ohh not to mention that average monthly salary in russia is what you get minimum in US within a week...

Right. Also look at places like India, China, Australia, Brazil and others. Very large areas that are drastically cheaper than the US.

What do the coverage maps look like though. I looked briefly at Brazil on sensorly.... Did not look good If you were not by a major city.

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The "big country" argument is non-sensical.

Coverage in the US in not equivalent everywhere. In densely populated areas there is much better coverage than sparsely populated areas. This is not just true of a smaller carrier like T-Mobile. It's true for verizon and ATT too (although verizon and ATT certainly have a bigger footprint than T-Mobile).

I go camping around the Smoky's, do you know what? There is no coverage from any carrier. I go camping in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, there is no coverage from any carrier. I drive across Montana (not on the interstate), again nothing. That's not to mention the deserts of the southwest. How about Alaska? Every carrier decides to put it's towers where it makes the most sense... where the customers are and in proportion to the amount of revenue it gets from that area. There are huge, and massive parts of the US that have no service whatsoever.

Nobody complains for one simple reason, nobody lives there. And very few people ever find themselves there. If they do find themselves there, it's because they seek the isolation of those areas (and don't expect cell coverage).

The wireless industry in the US costs so much for one simple reason. It's the same reason why our healthcare is the most expensive in the world (but we get far from the best results for our money). It's the same reason we spend more on primary through high school education than anywhere else in the world (but get far from the best performance).

To put it bluntly (and to avoid political flame wars)... it's really PAYS off to be buddy-buddy with the folks in government who will make the laws and regulations that help out their friends/contributors (republican or democrat).

Except I'm pretty sure that Russia doesn't bother with coverage for most of that area. Their population is actually fairly compact despite their ridiculous size.

I seriously don't understand. We use the most data and buy the most devices, but they must charge us the most.

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The thing you don't understand is that you have to read the whole article, not just the headlines.

When you are willing to work for Botswana wages you will have reason enough to complain about US prices.

We are paying 2.1% of the Average US income, for what would cost 20% of a Botswanaian average income.

Simple minded Direct Dollar comparisons simply don't work. That was the whole point of Andrew's article, but you stopped reading after you got to the end of the title.

I am curious to the bandwidth and coverage in these cheaper priced countries, in comparison to the US coverage and 4g speeds.

That's what I was going to say.  I would think that very few places have the speeds available here in the US.  I know that Europe has had high-speed HSPA+ for a little while now.  Other areas probably offer similar speeds and also have LTE (Japan).

OK here we go.
Here in UK, 99% of the places I get on average 15-20Mbit on HSDPA+ My contract is 12.90 pounds (no handset) that includes 200min/5000txt/ Truly Unlimited Data. If I pay xtra 2.10 I get 2000min.

Now to be clear.

I am a smart shopper. Got nexus 4 off contract + that plan, and paid half the price than normal person would on 2yrs plan.
In UK a part from iphone and galaxy galaxy headsets, devices are not subsidised like in USA and even if they are its about 30-50 quid. Price plan (depending on network) is about 36 -46 pounds month with minimum 3GB Data (a part from rubbish O2 offering, staggering 1GB data).

Another thing is that getting a phone on one network doesn't stop you from moving to another, that device will work on any UK network.

Biggest problem is 4G. It will make the market fragmented just as it does in USA. Will stop the freedom unless you want to stay on HSDPA (which I dont mind )

Great comparative UK/US evaluation, "firewire". Only factor not addressed, landmass and population/coverage distribution.

The UK seems to have the best value versus income. Now the question is, why is that? Perhaps Andrew has information about the significant disparity. After all, the British carriers are also corporations. Could it be spectrum costs relative to population? What are the reasons?

Also why is 4G, (LTE - I suppose) going to fragment the UK market? I thought the opposite could be the effect in the US.

There's massive competition here - since every carrier has more or less coverage of the whole country (with some areas better for one or the other but most areas having more than one choice) if they raise prices half their customers just walk.

Add MVNOs to the mix and deals are everywhere..

Despite attempts to lock customers into long contracts (some as insane as 2 years!) all that did was push people onto pay as you go and sim only contracts (which normally have no minimum term), which now make up the majority.

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LTE is a premium product, typically costing much, much more than HSDPA. It's not available to MVNOs so only the major players have it, and it's concentrated on major cities.

That's only a transition period though - Three are planning to launch their LTE at no extra cost, which will force the others to follow fairly quickly. So the weird market distortion we're seeing at the moment will go away I expect.

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Not entirely true. LTE may be a premium product, but only because it's new and providers make that known by keeping it from MVNOs. LTE is cheaper to deploy and maintain than HSPA networks are/were. Cost per MB (for AT&T) is also higher for all 3G derivatives than it is for LTE.

My goodness, that's a great plan. Can I ask please where you got that and if it's still possible to pick up deals like that? I live out of the country now but need to get my kids back home phones and connection and that approach could be very sensible (I'm thinking Nexus 4 - even 2nd hand - or 5 maybe).


My goodness, that's a great plan. Can I ask please where you got that and if it's still possible to pick up deals like that? I live out of the country now but need to get my kids back home phones and connection and that approach could be very sensible (I'm thinking Nexus 4 - even 2nd hand - or 5 maybe).


That looks like three's unlimited data plan, same as I have. I think virgin do a similar deal.

The one plan is only a couple of quid more and has much more allowance for calks/texts plus tethering.

Compared to some of their older deals though.. I used to pay £5 a month for sim zero plus 3gb data which was ideal.. But they stopped that deal and I was stupid and managed to lose it.

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This doesn't incorporate a number of factors that cause the price difference. The carrier subsidy for phones in exchange for a contract Is a big reason for increased monthly prices. I would like to see a map comparing prices with other countries that provide subsidies and see how the US ranks there. Consider a ~$500 subsidy for a 2 year contract. That is effectively split to ($500/24mo) just under $21/mo. The US also has a much larger LTE network than most countries. Upgrading towers for the whole US is a much larger investment than for all of Austria.

The cellular network game is changing in the US though. Lots of MVNOs are charging far less than traditional carriers. Once they gain traction, larger carriers will learn to cut their costs by copying the MVNO strategies like routing their calls through VOIP to compress the amount of data sent and received.

That would only make sense if they where not comparing pre paid service. You don't get a carrier subsidy for phones on pre paid plans as far as I know.

One problem with that theory is that once my phone is paid for or if I bring my own the carrier doesn't charge me less per month.

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I think that is the main reason why US is so expensive compared to the UK (for example).

If you want a premium phone and a high/unlimited data plan (and maybe 4G) then those contracts will be priced in the same range as a contract in the US (though the downpayment would be less)

The big difference is in the pre-paid and sim-only deals. The carriers offer OK deals for those who just want a basic free phone, but they offer some really fantastic deals for those who buy their phone separately (like firewire's example).

I can't believe that the US carriers keep charging you the same even after your contract is done, that's pretty bad. In the UK, they will charging you the same till you call them up to complain, then they will do you a revised deal!

In the UK, all of the carriers are fairly well matched and while some are bigger than others there is real competition between them so the customer has a better chance of getting a good deal.

The mobile phone operators in the US seem very similar to the energy corps in the U.K.. Very little real competition and not much innovation, which has lead to a stagnant market that has the whiff of a cartel about it.

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That's more like cable providers here. We seem to have a good number of phone providers but none of them are very good.

The 2nd map makes it more than clear why the prices are higher. It's not like you can charge the same prices in poor counties, they wouldn't have any users.

The second map also points out that compared to our earnings, we pay far less than a great deal of the world, and are about on par with Europe.

(The obtuse term the Economist used: Percent of GNI per person simply means Percent of Average Income).

Canada was #1 for a long time even with the ridiculous (and only country in the world to have) 3 year contracts, guess US carriers started to get greedy. Maybe it's a good thing Verizon didn't come up to Canada. :P

The US is very sprawled, more towers, more distribution of network, more costly to run. At least that's what the carriers want us to believe. Over time, the cost to operate should be more efficient but the carriers will never pass that on to the consumer.

They do pass on savings to the consumer. But the end users of the network aren't the carriers real customers. The shareholders are.

Prices are market driven folks, the carriers charge what we are willing to pay. Everyone blasts Verizon yet they have the most subscribers. Why is that? It's because they offer a superior product. Many folks, myself included, are willing to fork over the cash needed to be on a carrier with excellent coverage.
I would "like" to pay less, but I am not juvenile enough to expect to.

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They own everything, we have no choice, they offer a terrible product, they just have great coverage.

You're certainly stupid enough to perpetuate the problem, which is the real reason prices are so high.

Their product is terrible? Mind substantiating that claim?
Their product is the best, at least in my neck of the woods it is and that is why I pay them for the great service. I have other, less expensive choices, but they come with inferior service.
I can afford the best and I am glad to have it.

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But their CS, plans (such as data allotments), prices, phone selection, and speeds are worse than those of most other carriers.

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Yup. And I'm not a Verizon customer. I have no reason to pay anywhere near that much when a thirty buck tmo prepaid plan meets all my needs and more. But different people have different needs than me and make different choices. And that's okay.

(Except for people who choose iPhones. Screw those jerks, amirite?)

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Or they've convinced everyone they have a superior product. Besides that, you have to define the product that is superior. Do they have superior phones? Not really, plenty of the phones they have are available on other carriers. Do they offer superior flexibility? Not really, you can't bring just any phone to Verizon. Superior price? Not hardly. Superior plans? I wouldn't say so personally.

Superior network coverage I'll give them (I am a customer of theirs for the record), but I think that is changing, with other networks improving their coverage. A superior network alone does not mean they offer a superior product, unless the network is all you care about. I've gotten absolutely no coverage in plenty of areas even with Verizon, just for the record.

That "superior network coverage" that you do give them is their product.

Once other carriers are as good as Verizon, they will either raise their prices or Verizon will lose enough customers to lower theirs.

Until then, "improving" isn't "as good as" no matter how close.

And I have Sprint. It's not as good as but it's enough...for me.

They might price me right back into a flip phone. Now that the novelty of a smartphone has worn off I am often considering switching back. I can't quite get myself to do it though. Maybe next year...

Wow, in Israel I pay 10$ for a 500MB plan on HSPA+ and we have LTE coming soon (as soon as the military clears those bands).
And also, we don't have contracts. Customers can change the provider every day if they like to get cheaper plans without any kind of exit penalty.

What use does Palestinians have with those bands anyway, stone-age terrorists don't need wireless spectrum.

Seeing that how you are against israel in this thread, you are racist and a Nazi supporter too.

Seeing as there is no Palestine I don't see how the Israelis could be stealing their own bands.

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USA is a rich country, people can afford to pay the highest prices in the world. Poor countries like India and Indonesia can't pay such high prices.

I live in Norway, a high cost country. Just 5 million people, very widespread and difficult terrain. Still I only pay 30$ for 6GB (HSDPA+ or 4G) and 64kbs free after quota plus unlimited calls, sms, mms.

Why does the US have so high prices for broadband, when the companies pays so little taxes?

From my point of view, I'd say the competition between the US telecom companies does not work.

These statistics are worse than irrelevant because they don't set realistic expectations given the dynamics of various markets. If you lament not paying Euro or third world prices, then move half way around the world and see what other social/economic dynamics are at play before making judgment.

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I'd take health care and 15 bucks a month minimum wage any day with my cheaper identical phones and plans, thank you very much.

My question too. I don't know of any plan out there that bad. In the $85/month range, for a single plan, you should easily be getting several GB/month and unlimited everything else.

That being said, this fall I've been traveling for work and picked up SIMs in the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. Of those, all are significantly cheaper than the US, with the exception of Switzerland.

Not so new news. ... U.S. is also much more spread out with a higher cost for providing mobile service. Shouldn't be such a surprise.

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Total nonsense, always has been, Bell used to use this old crapola before it got busted up during the anti-trust suit, wasn't true then and isn't true now.

The data was compiled by the ITU, and only represented and analyzed by The Economist. And sure there are plans in the US that are cheaper than $85 (and plans in Europe more than $15), but that's not the point here. This is looking at nationwide averages.

I still find it really hard to believe that the average is $85 for prepaid with only 500 MB. I did a lot of research on prepaid plans (switched phones a few times in a couple of months last year) and can't think of any prepaid plan that was more than $60+/- for around 1-2 GB of data. Even Verizon, which is considered the highest priced carrier in the US, only charges $60 for prepaid unlimited calls, texts and 2GB of data. Plus, every prepaid plan I have had has included all the taxes and fees.

$85 makes no sense to me.

That's not at all surprising, a couple friends I have in the UK were appalled when I compared starting on Verizon(second most expensive) to their Vodafone, which I might add spans a massive area so all that garbage about "wahh wahh there's so much land!" is out the window, and the difference was astronomical.

People are dumb and pay it, and idiots tell them they deserve to pay that because that's what they're paying, the only way to change this rabidly anti-consumer behavior is with price controls but good luck.

The only silver lining is T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile along with others in their sector coming in and changing things, to really change things would mean charging the same for phones as they do tablets with identical specs, the only difference being an inch in screen size yet the price difference is often 500 dollars.

Those two things combined would really put pressure on these crooks, but I only see movement towards one of the two.

Last I looked the USA was 7th in purchasing power parity per capita in the world and far away the higest among larger populated countries. The market dictates the prices here. To compare raw prices to other countries without looking at per captia PPP is not not really valid. Unless you just feel better complaining.


Andrew should have switched the orders of the maps, then the reading impaired would at least see the whole point of the article, even if most of them stopped reading after the headline.

Well, in capitalism, especially in the US, companies are out to get the most $$$ for everything and they know we're willing to pay for it. How many people do you know are totally lost without their cell phone? In other countries, people can take or leave their cell phone and not think twice about it. Here, we're idiots. We pay. We'll bitch about the high prices, but we keep paying them.

Thank You T-Mobile.
It's so very nice to have your Excellent Quality of service where "I" live.. AND now know that I am paying *3rd World Prices* @ $30.00 a month for my plan as well as Loving my $89.99 T-Mobile Prism II..
I'm truly, truly blessed to have only paid $450.00 for a great phone and 1 year of service with your company.

T-Mobile.. Forever.

Of course this country 's cellular infrastructure is a large multiplication of most of the other markets.. If not all.. Not saying I wouldn't want lower prices but I can use my data the same in CA, IL and NY and it's all the same.. Good luck doing that once u leave the European mini countries

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This is one of the biggest differences. I remember when much of the US market as divided by region. This was really before data (voice only.. But the analogy is accurate). I live in the Carolinas and could choose to have an expensive national plan, a less expensive Carolinas plan with roaming charges out of the area (much like Europe), or the dirt cheap local area plan. Eventually the only choice became national plans. This simplified billing but caused rates to increase.

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Read some comments, seem like people don't care breaking news.... Even people in Capitol too. VERIZON! KEEP SUCKING THEIR BLOOD.

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Can't beleive Korea isn't part of the survey. They are testing LTE-A or 5G network at the moment. Probably the most advanced data network there is.

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Study conducted by the No Shit department at Oh Word? University. Additional funding provided by the Bearshit-Woods Foundation.

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Down here in New Zealand I can get both pre and post paid 500meg, 100 minutes and unlimited sms for US$15. The US carriers these days seem to think that while they can hold the carrot of a cheap fone with a 24 month contract the gullible will always pay..

Paul, as an American, I must admit you are absolutely correct. The average American is obviously incapable of differentiating value.

Actually, the US population is just grossly debt-obese and lost its concept of saving money decades ago. It's all about the here and now and instant gratification, damn the consequences, catches, and/or caveats.

That's why "we" in the USA plunk down $200 instead of $700 for the latest and in 6 months are bored when the new shiny screen comes along, to the point of getting downright angry when our carrier takes our annual upgrade option away (notice how they're coming back?).

Very flawed survey, US is post paid driven not prepaid. Does not consider quality. Does but compare speed. Does not consider roaming (Eu v still has roaming charges right?). Also does not factor in comparable equipment. Also does not factor in usage.

Thanks to the E.U. roaming charges are on the way out, which means there will be even more competition between each nations phone networks.

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Or each mobile provider will lose their cash cows, aka roaming charges, have to increase rates to make up the difference, and have buyouts / mergers until a small number of supercompanies dominate.

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Very flawed survey, US is post paid driven not prepaid. Does not consider quality. Does but compare speed. Does not consider roaming (Eu v still has roaming charges right?). Also does not factor in comparable equipment. Also does not factor in usage.

If we're gonna talk averages, the average US cell phone customer isn't on prepaid.

Look at the average prepaid customer and they're going to be on a cheap Boost, Virgin, T-Mobile plan...not Verizon. That brings down the numbers some to be more in line. Those folks don't get roaming though like post-paid folks do, and the safety net (real or imagined) of being able to roam is partly what keeps people on post paid.

Look at a map. The US is as big as Europe but it doesn't have millions of people paying for every tower; everyone subscribing pays for all the towers even if some of those towers only have a hundred locals on it daily. Subscribers pay for the ability to connect to it should their Prius ever break down in the middle of nowhere. Cost of infrastructure DOES play a role just as much as CEO and stockholder dividends do.

Gullible Americans who are essentially incapable of rapidly differentiating value. Over the long run with austere economic conditions and a dysfunctional form of government, Americans are resourceful and will find the better values. In the land of plenty, there is less to waste.

I had Verizon for 3 years until a few months ago, there coverage is good for a signal but there data speeds were very slow compared to T-Mobile and ATT probably oversaturated network. had T-Mobile for a few weeks, speed was very fast but coverage not as good. now i'm with ATT, very good coverage (better than Verizon in my experience) and very fast data. A few friends have sprint and there data is very slow, slower than Verizon. here in the Houston and metro area ATT is best.

For anyone interested, where it shows no data for Thailand, I have a monthly paid SIM and get unlimited data (well, actually 3Gb then throttled) for around 30 dollars US per month. Speed is actually pretty good in most places in and around Bangkok. I consider that good value for money and certainly cheaper than the UK.


I'm glad that we can finally compete with Botswana, Angola and Morocco...

And this "Many countries pay less for mobile data, but the U.S. isn't as far behind as it may seem" is totally bass-ackwards.

I'm calling greyed out Japan, to indicate they have no mobile data. Now I know you guys don't really believe Japan has no mobile data, so your map has lost some major credit in my eyes. I mean really?? With great carriers like Docomo and NTT, no mobile data in Japan??? C'mon!!

I think it means that there was no data from the area not that they don't have mobile data.

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The price you pay for always wanting the latest and greatest. When you decide it aint worth the price the deals are there. Asus Fonetab 170 pounds paid outright. Virgin 30 day sim unlimited voice, unlimited text, unlimited data 15 pounds per month

Um, what? I've had data service from T-mobile, ATT, and Sprint and each time I had more than 2 GB of data and paid less than $65. Right now I use the T-mobile $30 prepaid with 5 GB of data for $30. Is Verizon really expensive enough to bring the average up that high?

Here the survey might not have covered India,coz am using 1 gb 3g data plan is available for Rs 123(little more than 2 $) and 1 gb of 2g+3g data will be available in aircel network with Rs 67.
1 $ is about Rs 61.

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In indonesia... $6 = 2GB 3G 1GB 2G

On the most expensive carrier

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If most people knew about the prepaid carriers the Big three (Sprint, ATT, Verison) would be in trouble. Mid range phones at reasonable prices ($200-250). Even Metro PCS (owned by Tmobile) sells the same phones as Tmobile for significantly less.

Average $40-60/month in Canada? Not for smart-phones... I have a "good" plan, and I haven't paid less than $80/month in years.

And i thought we here in India are paying from our nose for data charges on mobile phones. The reason i think so is because when i put in the local carrier TATA DOCOMO sim in my new MOTO G phone and allowed my phone to use data my phone balance of 230 Indian Rupees fell to 0.03 Indian Rupees in less than 1 hour !!!! All what all i did? My phone auto sent one MMS which i had set in my phone's outbox while taking pictures and playing with the new phone back then, went to check my gmail in the phone Chrome app, checked my location on map and used GPS briefly and thats it !! it all lead to download of round 22 MB of data and my 200 INR balance was gone which is good enough for more than month of voice calls !!! I think there should be some carriers say they charge 10 paise / 10 KB which translate into 100 paise or 1 Rs for 100 KB and Mountain 10 Rs for ant 1 MB !!!!!!! it's daytime robbery !!! how can they charge such exorbitant amount for just 20 MB of data !!! I have yet to explore there data plans where they have the fixed prepaid data plans for some fixed amount covered over a fixed number of days which i guess will be lesser than the price which is paid by the user from main top up balance for using the data service. But bottom line is they are charging 20 times higher than they should that is what i believe and I feel they are over profiting.

No news to me I am from Germany and I feel sorry for the American people they're getting ripped off with almost everything and don't even know it , just a few who were fortunate enough to live outside the US for a while know the difference and I hear them all complaining , the US needs to step up and regulate the prices on everything so money greedy company's can't take advantage any more