The Price of a Gig(abyte)
With the rising cost of gasoline driving up the proverbial price of a mile, much has been made of the difference in price. Across countries, across state lines, even between gas stations within eyesight of each other, the variance in gas prices has everyone talking. At the very least, it’s a common point of concern as this near-essential part of many budgets becomes more and more expensive. A similar discussion of an equally important line item on family budgets prompted an examination of the average price of 1Gigabyte (GB) of cellular data across the world in 2021.
At first glance, the display on Virtual Capitalist attracts your attention with vibrant colors and an easily communicated message — the countries with the most expensive mobile data are represented by large images of their flags. However, the visual appeal quickly turns to clutter if one look anywhere below the $5/GB line, where even individual flags become hard to distinguish. To the artist’s credit, the second most-pressing question (which countries have the least expensive data) is answered, albeit in a tagged on list at the bottom. The 5 indicated countries are highlighted on the main visual, but finding any specific country among the remaining 210 becomes a chore. Furthermore, the difference in price was indicated in 2 ways: Y-axis position and icon size. The latter is entirely redundant, and is a large contributor to the clutter.
Sadly, the simple, visually-appealing communication of the initial point also hindered the reader from gathering enough information to dig deeper. There is a wealth of additional questions that could be posed from this data, depending on how one wanted to frame the article. What is the cost of a food staple for comparison, like a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, or a gallon of gas? How much is the average salary per capita, compared to the cost of 1GB of data? The price of cellular data may be outrageous, while daily necessities like food and shelter remain easily attainable.
Beyond the initial impact of the visual, the drastic difference in prices made me wonder what other data was hidden below the surface. Digging into the source data, I discovered there were also recorded data points for the lowest and highest price per GB in US Dollars and the currency of the reporting country. The two additional data points provided much-needed context for the average cost, but also raised more questions. Why is there so little difference between the highest and lowest costs in some countries, while others vary wildly? With the number of plans measured per country also varying, were they gathered from every plan across every carrier? The most popular? A certain number per carrier? Another limitation of the original data set was the exclusion 12 countries for various reasons, though 9 of the 12 had no cellular providers (this lends credibility to the number of plans listed for the rest being all plans for all providers).
I settled for simplifying the visual, shifting to a simple bar graph that could be set to the original average price per GB of cellular data, or show the lowest cost, or the highest. On a whim, I included the option to display all 3 metrics in a stacked bar graph. Though the comparison there is as precise, I thought it would be an interesting method. Most importantly, I separated the reporting countries into groups based on their continental region. Nice as it might be to know the lowest, average or highest cost of 1GB of data across the world, I think it more likely that viewers would want to compare these metrics with their geographic neighbors. However, in keeping with the spirit of the original image I also included an option to show all reporting regions, if only to give the viewer a scale of the difference.