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Internet in Africa

Connected in Uganda

When I found out I was travelling to East Africa I said to a friend that I was worried about not having internet access and she quipped, "I think electricity is the bigger issue!" That has certainly been the truth. Although, Kampala, the capital, isn't run on generators, like Dar es Salaam, that infamous term load-shedding does make the rounds in neighbourhoods. Random blackouts can last up to fifteen hours. So be prepared with a back-up plan if you need to get work done.

Airtel, MTN and OrangeTM

If you're on the move-and judging by the number of minibus taxis and passenger boda bodas (motorbikes) racing down Kampala road you're not alone-then you want internet you can access anywhere. Like most people here Mobile Service Providers will keep you connected.

It is very common to see people in this region juggling more than one mobile phone. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the region is very inter-connected. The East African Community (EAC) has been working towards making the movement of people, labour, goods and services between its member states, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi as fluid as possible. Kiswahili, Tanzania's official language is already spoken throughout the region making it easy for people to communicate. Airtel, which operates in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, allows you can switch to One Network when travelling. This means you can get calls, phone and upload credit on your Tanzanian number in Kenyan and Uganda. However, it is cheaper to get a Ugandan number to make calls locally. Nokia and Samsung both advertise mobile phone models with dual SIM cards for this purpose. The second is that it is cheaper to call people on the same network. Cents count here.

The past decade has seen the telecommunications scramble for Africa. In rural areas mobile service providers have capitalised on Coca Cola's successful branding strategy and, literally, painted the town either Airtel Red or MTN yellow. I use my mobile phone as a (2G) modem and buy airtime, which I convert to data bundles. When visiting a new country I usually stop in at my preferred Service Provider's office and get a list of the types of data packages. This has worked like a charm for accessing email and basic web services. Unless you are in a really remote area there is most likely a tower and someone selling airtime vouchers.

Data bundles are not nearly as cheap in Uganda as in Dar es Salaam, which is a pity since in general Uganda is considered cheaper than Tanzania and Kenya. In Uganda 500MB for a month with Airtel will cost you UGX 25,000 (€6) compared with 400MB in Tanzania at only TSh 2,500 (€1). If energy (or the lack thereof) has been a much-debated stumbling block to the regions development, it hasn't hampered mobile penetration. In villages without electricity portable solar panels have made it possible to keep mobile phone batteries charged for a fee. And MTN MobileMoney, which enables users to make cash transfers, is bringing banking services to these areas. Launched in 2009, the service is predicted to grow to 3.5M users by 2012.

Locals recommend buying a USB modem from Orange TM if you're going to be travelling around the country. OrangeTM also offers a slightly better deal than MTN. You pay UGX 99,000 (€24) for the USB modem and get 1GB (worth UGX 45,000) valid for a month for free. If you're planning to stay in Kampala there is a cheaper option with In-Foris. The USB cost UGX 60,000 (€15) and then you purchase vouchers like airtime from kerbside vendors.

Fixed line

In 2009 Seacom, a fibre optic underwater cable connecting east and southern Africa to the internet, brought broadband speeds to Uganda. Unfortunately, connecting villages to the high-speed broadband cable is not going to be easy or affordable. Unlike in the west where telephone cables go to every household, many Ugandans skipped that telecommunications phase and went straight to mobile. A lack of infrastructure is slowing things down.

Fixed-line operators in the market are Uganda Telecom and MTN Uganda. Both offer a range of data services including ISDN, ADSL and local and international leased lines for your home or for your business. If you're looking for a solution for your business, iWay, a member of the Telkom Group, offers a number of connectivity options.


Uganda Telecom has made Wi-Fi Hotspots at public venues around the city (there's a list on their website) for laptops and phones to get internet access. Customers only have to send an SMS, to purchase a surfing plan. It is very cheap at UGX 2,000 for an hour.

A good place to have a cup of coffee, plug in your laptop and get online is Mokka Terrace in the Namakuti shopping centre. Wi-Fi is free for the first hour and forty-five minutes and the staff are used to the business crowd.

Known as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda has much to offer both in terms of natural beauty being home to the Nile River, Gorillas and Lake Victoria, the world's second largest fresh water lake. Devastated by civil war, peace and radical reforms have transformed Uganda into one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent. Rich in potential Uganda is a gem to keep your eye on.


About the Author : Nicole McCreedy



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