3G is a game changer.
As I mentioned in my last post, new technologies are being introduced primarily by the mobile service providers. And for as much as I’m developing bits and pieces of software, my research is to introduce these technologies to the healthcare service providers (HSPs), to educate them on their use, and to study how they are assimilated.
Brief aside: For you students out there, what makes this a vaguely experimental context is that I’ve manipulated the context by forcing the introduction of computers, Internet, and Internet-enabled mobile phones, so I can ask very specific questions. It’s only vaguely experimental because there’s all sorts of exogenous variables that I can’t control and, well I only have 8 subjects that are ultimately wildly different from one another. All the statistical data I presented in my last post was from a survey of 59 health facilities, so that’s slightly different… but also to be discussed.
Okay, now this is long overdue, since MTN changed their GPRS settings at least 6 months ago. But this week and next I’m setting up my 8 facilities with mobile Internet, so yesterday I went to Warid, MTN, Orange, and Zain and purchased Internet plans from each of them. (UTL has CDMA and DSL broadband services, so they don’t offer GPRS services by monthly subscription, although they do have 3G equipment installed on their masts in Mbarara. We don’t know what their deal is.) Here’s a run down of all the prices:
The prices listed are in Uganda Shillings (conversion varies from day to day, I think it is actually about 1950 UGX to USD, but I generally use 2000 as my conversion rate for this blog, for round numbers, and so I don’t have to get out a calculator.) For Orange and MTN, they offer discounted rates if you subscribe for multiple months. You can view Orange’s price list and coverage area online, and MTN’s price list as well. Warid calls their plan Smartlink. A primary thing to note is that not only is Orange half the price of the others, but Orange has 3G coverage in many of the major towns throughout Uganda, including Mbarara. Practically speaking, this means I can watch live streaming video on the BBC News website using my Orange modem, and use skype again. Yikes. My one modem is faster than the entire Mbarara University VSAT connection. At the same time… I took the modem to Kaberebere yesterday, about half an hour away to a health facility, where only EDGE coverage was available, and I was only getting 4Kbps instead of 100Kbps, and when I took it to Kanoni, it didn’t work at all, so it really depends on where you are.
I spent yesterday morning purchasing mostly just the SIM cards from each of the providers – which I get away with because I’ve previously purchased modems from them and they all know me. Usually you’ll have to argue with them if you try to purchase a monthly subscription without a modem, and prove that you have a phone that’s capable of handling it. They just don’t want to deal with third party modems. Don’t tell them that you have one if you do.
For each one, if you know what you are doing the APN is listed above, and the username and password is blank. IP address and DNS settings are automatic, and there are no proxy settings.
With Warid, there’s a trick – there’s a current promotion, in which for all the airtime you load, you get bonus airtime, which can be used for calling, but not for things like Pakalast or Internet. So I loaded my personal phone with the airtime for the Internet and then transferred the airtime to the Internet SIM.
You don’t have to go to a Warid office to activate Internet on your Warid line. Just send an SMS with the words data 85 to 158. Warid will deduct 85,000 from your account, and you will get 30 days of Internet. Make sure you have 85,000 UGX already loaded on your phone. By my experience I usually just go to the customer care office because no one but them actually sells that much Warid airtime… You can also send the words data 5 to 158, and you will get one day of Internet instead for 5,000 UGX. I was told also that you can check your SIM card: if you have a 32k SIM card rather than a 64k SIM card, you may have some difficulties with Internet, and you should get your card replaced. I have, however, never had a problem with using a 32k SIM card on a pay-per-kb basis.
For MTN, if you already have a line, and you don’t have Internet, you can call customer care on 123 and tell them you want Internet to be enabled on your phone. If you already have 90,000UGX on your phone, then you can ask them to deduct that from your balance and then they can subscribe you. Or you can just enable Internet and start using it at the pay-per-kb rate.
For Zain, once you first connect to the access point, you will need to activate a plan before using the Internet. If you go to the store, then they will do this for you. Now, first, I will mention that yesterday and today, Zain has been very very flaky – the coverage has been okay (totally down in Ruharo) but the AP has been down more often than up. However, once you are able to connect you need to use a web browser to connect to http://www.zain.com. You will then be redirected to a page that will invite you to choose between three Zain plans, Zain Access, Zain 1GB and Zain True Unlimited. Zain Access is the pay-per-kb plan, Zain 1GB is the monthly plan for 90,000UGX per month, and True Unlimited is another monthly plan with no bandwidth cap, at a price I don’t remember. Click on the link corresponding to the plan you want and it will display the name of the plan, its validity, and the price. Then click on the subscribe link. From there it should take you back to the Zain page and you should be ready to go and use any mobile web application on your phone. Note – if you select Zain Access, you won’t be able to switch to Zain 1GB for at least one month on that same SIM card without a LOT of hassle, so make sure you know which plan you want to be on. Or just get two SIM cards.
Orange offers 1GB, 3GB, and 10GB plans, both with and without their modems. If you choose not to purchase their modem (150,000 UGX) then you have to subscribe for a minimum of 3 months. I tried to purchase one instance of this plan yesterday and was told that they were sold out of modem-less Internet SIMs and would have to return the following week, so clearly modem sales are a priority. And iPhone sales. At 3G speeds, 1GB gets used up really really quickly. 3GB is probably reasonable 10GB is pretty expensive…
If you are using your mobile phone, most networks will try to configure your phone over the air (OTA). I haven’t had a lot of success with the OTA configurations on my Nokia, and none with the Palm phones. But whatever.
If you purchase a modem from one of these providers, you’ll find that the modems from MTN, Warid, and probably Zain (they have a new modem now that I haven’t tried) all include OSX-compatable software. I don’t use it. The Orange modem doesn’t come with software, but is made by the same manufacturer, a Taiwanese company called Huawei. Basically, I go into my Network Preferences, select the “HUAWEI Mobile” device, and add a new configuration. From there I click the “Advanced” Button, and the Modem window displays. For Vendor, select “Generic”, for Model, select “GPRS (GSM/3G)”, and enter the APN as above. All other settings under advanced can be left as default. If you have any proxy settings, you might want to uncheck them. Click Ok to save your advanced settings, and then enter *99# as the telephone number. Click Apply. Then Click Connect.
On a Mac you can also share your Internet connection with other WiFi-enabled people in the room. Once you are connected, click “Show All”, then double-click on “Sharing”. If you click on the words “Internet Sharing” you will see options for “Share your connection from:” and “To computers using.” Select the appropriate options (i.e. Huawei Mobile and AirPort respectively) and click on the checkbox next to Internet sharing. If you are successful it should 1) turn on your airport if it is not already on 2) ask you to start Internet sharing 3) turn your little wifi icon into an up arrow.
Of course, now having one of each network (except UTL) and being able to test them side by side in multiple locations I’m learning their differences. I’ve extolled Warid and Zain before as having better performance, probably because their network isn’t glutted by lots and lots of users. However – now the situation is different. Warid has a lot more users, and it seems that I can barely get the modem to connect. Zain is just having technical difficulties right now – I’m not sure if that is temporal or endemic. After my previous post, I discovered that both Warid and Zain are much better in Kampala. But from my perspective – it doesn’t matter – it’s much more important to ICTD to know how all of these networks are performing in the villages and towns outside of Kampala, for rural health centers where our potential users are, where the so-called bottom billion are receiving health care (or not receiving health care, as the case may be).
I’ve been putting up coverage maps for the past year, claiming that wherever there is mobile coverage there is GPRS coverage. This is only partially true. I just went to Kanoni on Monday and found that I couldn’t get any of my phones to connect to the Internet successfully – there was extremely weak phone signal, and no GPRS coverage. I even got the Orange software to connect. To no avail. (it connected on windows, but not on OSX, or on my phones) We suspect, it might work on Zain, but I didn’t happen to have a Zain card on me… and I’m worried, given the quality of the Zain network here right now.
So there’s theory and reality. Orange makes a claim “All areas covered by the Orange network have EDGE available with speeds of up to 236kbps.” And yet in Kanoni we had 2-3 bars of reception, with no Internet at all. I travelled to Ibanda with the doctor finally, and we uploaded his attachment at a whopping 1-2kbps. Yes, we were connected using EDGE, but it was a slow and painful (dare I say dull?) EDGE.
And yet it is the best we have. The best I’ve seen Warid connect with out here is GPRS. MTN connects in general using EDGE, but always more slowly than Orange, unless we’re out of an Orange coverage area (e.g. in Ruharo). MTN’s fallback in rural areas is GPRS, Orange’s fallback in rural areas is EDGE. Much of Isingiro, a district bordering Tanzania, the location of the Uganda UNDP Millenium Village Project, has very little Orange/Warid/MTN coverage, and is only accessible by Zain. In those locations, Zain is the only recourse – and 3G is available (or so it is rumored).
In my office, Orange is faster (and cheaper) than our VSAT connection, and doesn’t go out when there are power cuts. We used it to download all of the Windows updates for the six deployed laptops in my research study, with little effect on the connection performance. Useful. And I can skype again, not that I have the time these days… =)
I am deploying these modems according to which network works the best for the various providers in their facilities. Each of them will get a subscription for one month, after which they are free to continue subscribing on their own, or to return the modem to me. After the second month, they will have to arrange to purchase the modem from me or from the appropriate mobile phone company. They also are equipped with Internet enabled mobile phones, and are keeping logs of their usage and spending. Hopefully by the end of two months they can make an informed decision as to whether they would prefer to use Internet on their phones (cheaper but limited) on subscribe to Internet on laptops (expensive but more flexible).
I know it is a little weird to be working in development but to still be telling people in Africa to spend money. But I’m also perfectly fine with any decision, whether they choose to forego the phones and laptops altogether, or to spend lots and lots of money for everything. I just want to learn their preferences, and why they make these choices, and how what they learn changes their choices and how they communicate.