The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Leap Forward

Author - Suzie Grant

The latest huge step forward in Ethiopia is the commencement of a new wireless internet service. It seems this has been in operation for a couple of months but it's so new it's difficult to find out all the information you need! It works in Addis and, I understand, in other bigger cities around the country. Here in Tigray it works in Mekele, Aksum and Adigrat, and I think several other bigger towns. There are plans for it to reach 90% of the country in the not too distant future!

It's a joint venture with the Chinese - like so many other projects here in Ethiopia. There are different versions of wireless device from a rather cumbersome phone to a choice of 2 neat little USB attachments from China. I have a ZTE CDMA 1X (the last one in Mekele which was very difficult to find as it was sold by a furniture shop!) which has a speed of up to 153.6 Kbps and costs about 1700 Birr (now less than £100). To this I added a Sim card from Telecom for 161 Birr which gives me internet access and is topped up by a scratch card. The cost per minute is 0.10 cents and when it works it is fast! Not quite as fast as broadband in UK but streets ahead of what I've experienced here before. I even managed to get BBC Radio 4 as well as a YouTube video clip (just). At the moment it seems not to be working (for the last 24 hours) but hopefully it will be back soon.

The more powerful (and expensive) device from Huawei has a speed of 300 Kbps. There is also a system for making wireless phone calls but it seems to be no cheaper than ordinary mobile calls and I think is not fully operational yet. You can update your Sim card to allow this service for a fee of around 100 Birr.

There is a lot of discussion as to whether this service works with Windows Vista or Internet Explorer or with certain virus protection software programmes but mine works just fine with Windows Vista Basic and McAfee and Internet Explorer. It just takes someone to configure a few things for you if you are a technophobe like myself. Luckily computer wizards are thick on the ground here so that part is easy!

Of course it's not all smooth sailing as there are frequent nationwide power cuts as the country waits for rain to fill the reservoirs and feed the hydro-electric plants. There are also telecom cuts though whether these are related to the electricity I am not sure!

First Published in News File Summer 2009

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