2021 Digital Quality of Life Index
Global research on the quality of a digital wellbeing in 110 countries (90% of the global population). This study indexes the countries by looking at five fundamental pillars that define the digital quality of life.
An interactive comparison tool, country reports, and full research material is only available on desktop browsers.
DQL index and 5 pillars ranking
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Global key insights of DQL 2021
Europe continues to lead in digital quality of life.
6 out of 10 countries with the highest DQL are in Europe. Furthermore, only 18 countries out of the top 50 are located outside of Europe.
- Republic of Korea
- United States
- United Kingdom
Broadband is globally less affordable this year.
Comparing countries included in the last year's index, people have to work 11% more (25 min) to afford broadband internet in 2021. However, people have to work 29% less (28 min) to afford mobile internet this year.
Leaders in each pillar
Investing into electronic infrastructure (0.93 correlation) and electronic government (0.92 correlation) contributes to people’s digital wellbeing the most.
In contrast, internet affordability revealed itself as the least important factor in the entire DQL (0.55 correlation).
Money doesn’t always buy digital happiness:
GDP per capita does not necessarily determine a country’s e-infrastructure quality.
- GDP per capita’s influence on e-security has dropped from last year.
- Internet use drives e-government’s development more than a country’s GDP per capita.
21 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Croatia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Malaysia, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay out of 110 exceed the expected digital quality of life by outperforming others in providing higher levels of e-security and e-infrastructure.
Although GDP per capita has a strong correlation with the DQL, there are countries that have better digital quality of life with lower GDP per capita than expected.
E-security, e-infrastructure and e-government have a more significant correlation with the DQL than GDP per capita. This proves the potential to level up the digital wellbeing with lower resources and more focused strategic planning.
No one is perfect
All of the highest ranking countries have space for improvement.
Internet affordability key insights
Time of work required to afford the cheapest mobile internet + Time of work required to afford the cheapest broadband internet
Most and least affordable internet
- Sri Lanka
Broadband is significantly less affordable than mobile internet
- The cheapest broadband internet costs around 6 hours of work per month.
- The cheapest mobile internet costs around 10 minutes of work per month.
The world’s poorest countries pay the most for bad quality internet
Almost 50% of the countries examined in the DQL have lower internet affordability and internet quality than the global average. The average GDP per capita in these countries is only about a third of the global GDP per capita average (17825 USD).
People in some countries require a week’s worth of work to afford the internet
In the country with the least affordable mobile internet (Mali), one has to work 13 times longer (total of 2 h 12 min) than the global average (total of 10 min) to afford it. But in the country with the least affordable broadband internet (Nigeria), one has to work 6 times more (total of 35 h 33 min) than the global average (total of 5h 45 min) to afford it.
Internet quality key insights
Sum of mobile and broadband speeds, their stability, and growth indices.
Best and worst quality internet
- South Korea
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
Mobile internet is generally less stable than broadband.
78 out of 110 countries enjoy stable broadband internet. However, only 50 countries can say the same about their mobile data.
The highest drop of 22% in mobile speed occurred in Armenia on September 27, 2020. This happened due to Azerbaijan and Armenia’s six-week war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The mobile speeds in Armenia have not yet recovered.
There is a wide internet speed gap between countries at the top and the bottom of the internet quality pillar.
For instance, Bangladesh’s mobile internet speed (11 Mbps) is only 8% that of the United Arab Emirates (145 Mbps). There is an even bigger inequality in bandwidth speeds: the world’s slowest internet (5 Mbps in Algeria) performs at only 2% compared to the fastest one (230 Mbps in Singapore).
Singapore has the fastest broadband internet and very high stability for the second year in a row.
However, the country comes only 17th in mobile speed. South Korea, on the other hand, ranks 2nd in mobile and 6th in broadband internet speeds. It is also a country with the highest growth rates in the internet quality pillar and will likely surpass Singapore next year or in the near future.
Electronic infrastructure key insights
Active internet users (per 100 inhabitants) + Network Readiness Index
Most and least developed e-infrastructure
- United States
GDP per capita is less important for the development of e-infrastructure
Eighteen countries examined in DQL with a lower than the average GDP per capita have higher than average e-infrastructure.
- Seven countries are from Europe (Croatia, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia).
- Six from Asia (Turkey, Oman, Jordan, Malaysia, Thailand, Kazakhstan)
- Five from South & Central America (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica).
Economic wealth determines e-infrastructure growth only up to a certain point
Once the GDP per capita exceeds 40k USD, e-infrastructure improvement stagnates. This may occur due to technological limitations and other factors having a higher impact on e-infrastructure development.
E-infrastructure is characterized by high inequality
For instance, in the 12 highest-ranking countries in e-infrastructure, more than 95% of people use the internet (internet penetration). On the other hand, only one third of people use the internet in the 12 lowest ranking countries.
Electronic security key insights
Cybersecurity index + Status of personal data protection laws
Highest and lowest e-security
- Czech Republic
For the second year in a row, the EU ranks at the top of e-security
The top 10 countries ranking highest in e-security are all from the European Union. Globally, they lead in implementing cybersecurity policies and protecting the personal data of their citizens.
Countries that have better e-infrastructure look after it more
Countries with better developed e-infrastructure bolster their cybersecurity more (correlation 0.73) than countries with poorer e-infrastructure.
Among other pillars, e-security shows the largest inequality
Overall, the disparity of data is the largest in this DQL pillar out of all five. E-security gaps are extremely wide between countries, especially in the bottom 25%. For example, the e-security gap between Cambodia (110th) and Bolivia (84th) is wider than the one between Bolivia (84th) and Greece (1st).
Electronic government key insights
Online services index + AI readiness index
Most and least developed e-government
- United States
- Republic of Korea
- United Kingdom
Artificial intelligence (AI) readiness and cybersecurity go hand-in-hand
18 out of the top 20 countries with the highest readiness to adopt AI technology are prepared to counter cyber threats the most. The two exceptions here are China and the United Arab Emirates:
- China, while showcasing high AI readiness, falls short in cybersecurity due to both poor cybercrime prevention and cybersecurity policy development.
- The United Arab Emirates provides no data protection for its citizens, which increases the risk of having their personal privacy violated without any consequences. The country also falls short in managing digital threats, according to the National Cyber Security Network.
The US and the UK both have exceptional quality online services
Both countries also have very high AI readiness in their public service delivery.
Internet use drives e-government development more than the wealth of a country
23 out of 58 countries with a higher than average e-government rate have lower than average GDP per capita. Yet, the nationwide internet use in these countries is over 75%.
Methodology & data sources
The 2021 edition of the Digital Quality of Life Index is a second, improved iteration of Surfshark’s previous research. This year, the DQL Index is statistically more complex, analytically vigorous, and includes 14 different factors that directly influence the digital quality of life in any given country. With few exceptions, the DQL Index editions (2020 and 2021) are not comparable.
The DQL Index 2021 analyzes 110 countries (as compared to 85 in 2020) around the world in terms of five core pillars: internet affordability, internet quality, e-infrastructure, e-security, and e-government. Underpinning these pillars are 14 indicators that are interrelated and work together to provide a measure of overall digital quality of life.
*We have found an error in Broadband internet stability data for Slovenia. After adjustments Slovenia ranks:
DQL index rank - 34th
Europe rank - 23rd
DQL rank dropped down - 11
Internet quality index – 39th/0.56
Broadband internet stability - 76th/0.89
Worst criteria rankings:
Broadband internet stability 76th
in DQL global ranking
Best and oposite in pillar ranking
Best criteria rankings
Worst criteria rankings
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