Snapshot: how affordable is mobile/cellular service in the Caribbean in 2017?

Our annual update of mobile/cellular affordability across the Caribbean, and to what extent has it changed since 2017.

Earlier this month, we published our 2017 Snapshot of the likely monthly spend for mobile/cellular service based on pre-defined baskets of services, and compared those results with figures reported from 2015. In this post, we now examine how affordable mobile/cellular services is in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean for the average consumer, and again, compare the results with those from two years ago.


In our 2017 update of mobile/cellular spend, we used three distinct baskets of mobile/cellular services, as shown in Table 1, to conduct that assessment, which is based on the Revised OECD Telecommunications Price Comparison Methodology (2006).

Table 1: Service baskets used in 2017 mobile/cellular spend calculations (Source: OECD)

The key results of our review of mobile/cellular spend, based on the rates advertised for prepaid service across the region for the full basket of services, as at September 2017, are as follows:

  • to make around 30 calls per month, LV users spend approximately USD 48 per month
  • to make around 65 calls per month, MV users spend approximately USD 50 per month
  • to make around 140 calls per month, HV users spend approximately USD 63 per month.
  • the lowest monthly spends were experienced in Jamaica, where the amounts ranged from USD 1.94 to USD 10.86 per month
  • the highest monthly spend for all baskets was recorded in the Cayman Islands, where amounts ranged from USD 18.89 to USD 105.63 per month.

This assessment of the affordability of mobile/cellular service offerings was determined by comparing monthly spends against estimated monthly income, based primarily on the latest estimated per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) available from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for 2017. For countries that do not appear to have a relationship with the IMF (British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, the countries of the Netherland Antilles, and Turks and Caicos Islands), per capita GDP data for 2015 from the United Nations was used. The resulting ratios, which have been expressed as percentages, indicate the proportion of a person’s income that would be spent on mobile services. The higher those percentages are, the less affordable these services might be to the average consumer.

How affordable is mobile/cellular service in 2017?

The affordability of mobile/cellular service continues to vary considerably across the region, and as shown in Figure 1 below, and became more dramatic as one moved from the LV basket to the HV basket of services. With regard to the LV basket, the smallest proportion of a person’s monthly income would most likely be spent in Sint Maarten at 0.37%, whilst the same basket of services would likely consume approximately 3.64% of a person’s monthly income in Belize.


Figure 1: Portion of monthly income spent on mobile/cellular service as of September 2017 for select baskets of services (Source: ICT Pulse)

For a MV and LV basket, Sint Maarten again recorded the lowest proportion of monthly spend, of 0.90% and 1.72% of the average resident’s monthly income, respectively.

On the other hand, Belize recorded the highest proportion of monthly spend for both the MV and HV baskets. A MV basket of service could account for approximately 8.24%, whilst for a HV basket of service that percentage would jump to approximately 16.25% of a resident’s monthly income.

Across the group of countries assessed, the average share of a typical monthly income spent on:

  • a LV basket of service, is approximately 1.36%
  • a MV basket of service, is approximately 3.19%
  • a HV basket of service, is approximately 6.62%

Are we spending more for mobile/cellular service in 2017 than in 2015?

Over the past two years, there have been some changes mobile/cellular rates charged for voice calls, in particular, which would affect monthly spend, and correspondingly, the affordability of the service, as shown in Figure 2. An increase in the share of monthly income spent on mobile/cellular service between June 2015 and September 2017 ranged from a decrease of 0.4 percentage points in Suriname for a LV basket of services, to over 11 percentage points in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for a HV basket of services. Similarly, a decrease in the share of monthly income ranged from 1.26 percentage points Sint Maarten for a LV basket of services, to over 11 percentage points in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for a HV basket of services.

Figure 2: Percentage change in the portion of monthly income spent on mobile/cellular services between June 2015 and September 2017 in select Caribbean countries (Source ICT Pulse)

However, on average across the Caribbean region, and for each basket of services, only a small net increase in the portion of monthly income spent on mobile/cellular services was recorded between June 2015 and September 2017. This increase was approximately: 0.04% for a LV basket of service; 0.01% for a MV basket of service; and 0.22% for a HV basket of service.


Image credit:  Sam Walker (Pexels)



  • For mobile/cellular services only ( ie excluding fixed line broadband – fibre or copper; landline telephone; etc ) , these figures appear quite high for households. What could attribute to this?

    • Kamutula,
      There might be several reasons why mobile/cellular services is still expensive in the Caribbean – especially if subscribers are not purchasing one of the calling plans on offer. Reasons might include:

      (i) the providers are trying to make the rates outside their calling plans less attractive
      (ii) the providers must recover the deployment and operating costs of their network
      (iii) due to the same population size, but difficult terrain of many Caribbean countries, operating costs are high and there are too few people to spread/share that cost
      (iv) due to the pervasiveness of mobile/cellular service, especially the calling segment, which might be considered a premium service, the providers can seek to secure a reasonable return on their investment, based on how attached we are to our cellphones and having continuous access to that service.

      However, please note that most Caribbean mobile/cellular service providers offer attractive prepaid calling plans, that include, for example, cheaper calling rates, and/or free on-network calls at night. For the purpose of comparison, it would be difficult to use the rates offered under plans, as the packages vary by provider and even by country. Hence, we focussed our review on the calling rates payable outside of the established plans.

  • Thanks, well explained.

    Although a demanding undertaking, I think a clarification of the data/population in the various segments of user groups under the common “plans”, would be very helpful in providing visibility to these numbers. And consequently to this snapshot series on Cellular Affordability.

    I would presume that there are more users in the “plans” basket than there are in the pay-as-you-use. If this is true, then the larger sample size would be more informative in this regard.

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