Internet Connection In Africa

I had this post on my mind for several weeks, but after Silvia comment and she thought about good internet connection in Africa I decided to write it sooner than planned.

Do you know what a traveler biggest fear? The stealing of his laptop? Getting injured? Losing his credit card? Well, I do believe the biggest fear is not having a proper or internet at all. Because if this thing happens, he cannot communicate with his friends, family or share his thoughts via a travel blog.

It was one of my biggest fear too, to be honest. I rely on the internet due to my work, doing Google Adwords Campaigns for different clients. Without the internet I would have been impossible to work and have money to travel. A good thing about my country, Romania, is the internet connection. It’s in the top 5 in the world!

But let’s go back to Africa. I had the privilege to try and test the internet in 7 different countries: Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania/Zanzibar, South Africa and Kenya.

Egypt

I stayed only one day in Cairo and had internet from the hostel I was  accommodated. Telecom Egypt is the largest internet provider in Egypt and the hostels had internet from them. The connection was decent and the uploading of the picture did not take as long as thought. Facebook and Twitter are available in Egypt and don’t have to worry about it.

Speed: 7/10. Upload 6/10. Download 6.5. Overall: 6.

Ethiopia

This was the first true internet test. Before arriving in Ethiopia I have searched a lot about the possible solutions and found only some strange and difficult one. The first surprise was in the guesthouse I had booked. No Internet available.

ETH-MTN

ETH-MTN has an average 3G download speed of 0.7 MB/s, which is worse than the global average of 1.8 MB/s via opensignal.com. I had the opportunity to buy 2,5GB of internet data and the price was around 55$ and the internet stick was included in the price. At that moment, in Addis Ababa, it seemed a huge price to be paid. Later I was to find out that this would have been the only place to find such a thing.

Even if the voice data is widespread in Ethiopia, the internet is a new thing. There are 3 major zones, to put it that way, regarding the speed of internet.

Zone 1: The capital. You  can find decent internet, mainly at hostels, guesthouses or the internet cafes across the city.

Zone 2: North part of Ethiopia: Cities like Gonder, Lalibela or Bahir Dar are above the capital in terms of the internet speed. The worse was Lalibela, where at a local internet cafe I tried 10 minutes to open my email or to send a message via Facebook. In the end, I managed but one hour of stress one enough. Usually a page need like 35 seconds to load.

Gonder was one of the best in terms of speed. There are 2 good internet cafes; one is close to a barber shop and the Genetics Guest House and the second one on the other side of Habesha Coffee. The second one has new PC’S. The price for one hour is around 1$ but with decent connection it enough.

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Bahir Dar – I had internet at the Ghion Hotel. First, it was free, but it was not so good as the one in Gonder. The problem here was that at the restaurant beside the tourists using it, locals were just coming there for a drink and free internet. So, at some hours it was impossible to load even a single page. But when the line wasn’t that full you can have a decent Skype conversation.

Zone 3: South of Ethiopia. To put it this way: we arrived there at the same time with the internet. For example, at Konso, at Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge, they just got internet via stick available. And the signal was poor. In other parts of the South, mostly in Omo Valley, it’s impossible to find.

In Jinka for example, had the worse internet possible. Stayed like 30minutes for a page to be loaded and tried to open my email for another 20 minutes. In the end managed to read and write one, but the cost was high: we all got our emails infested with some kind of link virus.

Overall internet experience in Ethiopia: Speed: 3/10. Upload 5/10. Download 3.5. Overall internet mark: . Having only one internet provider is hard to have a good connection.

Uganda

Stayed in Uganda for 3 months and had the opportunity to try all the networks. Its seems that some networks work well outside Kampala (like Orange) but does not do well in the capital, Orange. Airtel is not so good in Kampala but it’s  OK in the country-side. MTN seems to be OK both in Kampala and the rest of the country.

MTN Uganda

Had my first stick and internet data from MTN. The process of buying even a SIM in Uganda is very complex. And every time you buy one, you have to register  it. Been to the main branch, on Kampala road to buy and try if the stock will be compatible with my Mac Air. The sole woman admired it; there are very rare in Uganda (not anymore after 2 had been stolen). Bought the stick for 60.000USH (30$), went downstairs and waited at a line to register my SIM, then went back upstairs and stayed on again and the queue to try and install the program. It worked decent enough and I decided to buy 5GB of internet for the price of 100.000USH/40$. The more you buy, the cheaper you get. But has to be on several moths. This is the plan.

For 10GB used in a month you will have to pay 125.000UGX/50$ and for 30Gb the price is 300.000USH/120$.

In Fort Portal the MTN it did not work so well and decided to switch to Orange. But the problem with orange was the stick compatible with the MAC. Even with some extra programs installed it did not work. Orange it was working quite well in Fort Portal, for my fellow volunteers. So, had to buy a different SIM & Stick to give it a try.

Speed: 3/10. Upload 5/10. Download 3.5

Airtel Uganda 

The prices are similar to MTN and works the same. The more you buy, the less you pay. For 10GB a month you have to pay around 150.000 UGX which is around 60$. For 17GB a month you will pay 225.00UGX/90$ a month. I usually used like 10GB a month, but I never downloaded something from the internet. The good thing is the bundle reacher system. Just go to any Airtel shop and buy how much GB you need and then text in via SMS.

The information program (how much you spend, hours etc) is less complex than the MTN One. At the beginning the internet speed was better than MTN. But in the end it proves to be same or sometimes worse. The problem was my location too. I was 5km away from Fort Portal, in Ibonde. And even if I should have a 3G signal, I rarely had it. Only broadband. In Kampala they even advertised for 3,75G and with an ultra-speed. To be honest, I never encounter that kind of internet.

In the end had to be satisfied with one local internet cafe, close to the Comfort Zone. After the robbery, beside my Mac, the 2 internet sticks had been taken and did not buy again.

Compared to the 10$ unlimited internet a month I pay back home, 60$ a month will sound like crazy. But you don’t have to many options.

Speed: 4/10. Upload 5/10. Download 3.5. Overall: 4/10.

Overall internet experience in Uganda: peed: 3/10. Upload 5/10. Download 3.5. So, which one is better? Airtel, MTN, Orange or after like Warid, or Ugandatel? It depends a lot on your location. In Kampala you can get good internet from all (even if I tried MTN at one friends computer and it was working very bad). He told me that a few months ago was great. It seems the network expands too fast and the services are the same.

Orange Uganda

Never bought a internet bundle from them; told you the comparability problem with my computer. The other volunteers in the house had internet from Orange and it seemed it worked very well. The speed was almost double as MTN or Airtel. As regards the prices for 17GB we will be paying around 250.000 USH/90$ and for 7GB the big price will be 130.00USH/50$. A bit more expensive than Airtel or MTN but the speed is an important factor. With a decent internet connection you can finish your job in 30min. With a bad connection, 2 hours will be full time.

Speed: 6.5/10. Upload 6/10. Download 5.5. Overall: 6/10.

Rwanda

There is the same internet provider as in Uganda: Rwandatel, MTN plus Tigo. The prices are a bit higher compared to Uganda but the connection is better. For my 3 weeks in Rwanda I decided not to buy a stick and to rely more on the hostel’s internet. They were having internet from MTN but they decided to switch to Airtel because MTN wasn’t so good anymore.

The price for 10GB internet bundle is 25.000RWF/ 37$ and for 20GB is around 43.000RWF/64$. So a bit better than Uganda regarding the price and the speed

Speed: 6.5/10. Upload 6/10. Download 6.5. Overall: 6.5

Tanzania/Zanzibar

I was to stay in Tanzania about one month and excepting the days on Kilimanjaro, where the internet would have been a miracle, in the other days I needed. After the not such good experiences with MTN and Airtel, I decided to go with Vodacom. I knew this brand would be present in South Africa too, so I decided to buy, again, another internet stick. They had an awesome offer: unlimited internet for one month at the price of 30.000 ties/ 18$. After 5GB of data used, the speed would decrease.  5GB  for example, is only 15$. It was the first time when I encounter in Africa an unlimited offer.

I mostly used it while in Zanzibar. To be honest the speed & upload was decent and expect some moments to work pretty decent. It was by far one of the best internet in Africa. Probably in Dar Es Salaam the connection and the speed would be better. And in Stone City too; I was staying in Paje, on the beach so the coverage wasn’t that big.

Speed: 6/10. Upload 7/10. Download 6.5. Overall: 7

South Africa

In South Africa the process  of buying one SIM it even more complicated. Beside the normal, passport photo copies, they required my address form the hotel, but since I was living at a friend did not have one. And my friend had to sign a paper for me.

MTN was my first choice – the prices were lower than Vodacom– but they did not have a stick available and had to go to Vodacom. And the price for a 5GB data is about 80$. In the end, I think I paid around 150$ for my 10GB data for the month I spend in South Africa. Damn expensive. The connection was very good. The prices can depend a lot on which offer you get while traveling to South Africa. But next time, probably will use more the free internet from the malls.

Speed: 7/10. Upload 8/10. Download 7.5. Overall: 8.

Tips & Tricks

  • Try to find a hostel with an internet connection.
  • If you are staying more than a 2 weeks, the best solution for you is to a modem/stick.
  • Bring a internet stick from home. Usually its compatible with the local SIM and don’t have to buy each time a new one.
  • The good thing about East Africa is the presence of the same Internet & Data providers; so if you buy and MTN stick and SIM, it would be valid in the other countries too.
  • There are different companies that offer All-Around-The-World Internet; but I am not sure if can be cheaper and a good long investment.
  • Always test the compatibility  of the stick and SIM with your computer!
  • Use the free internet while going into a mall or a coffee shop.

 

by Vlaicu Sorin

Traveler, trying to be a photography, hostel lover , backpacker, beer hunter. In search for the perfect place.