Internet connectivity & Landlocked Countries: Counting on Marine Cables

26 02 2012

Saturday morning, I am all in my working mood, I plug my 3G modem into my computer and booom – internet is NOT working!! Usually when my internet fails I trying to fix it. I try to fix my own internet because I don’t like wasting my time calling customer support – who often doesn’t even know how to help! After over 14hours of trying my service provider sends me a text message:

Over 36 hours of limited internet connectivity and I must say that these have been some of the longest hours of my life. You know one of those days when you badly need to read your email but you can’t because the internet is down – Why is the internet down? You basically do not know. And just when you are about to go to the internet café you learn that the internet is down because apparently the marine cables which are supposed to be delivering a link of fast internet connectivity to your country are broken. The Marine cables are undersea optic fibre cables which were installed to deliver a link of fast internet connectivity to different corners of the world.

3G Vs Broadband Vs Dialup

At times like this I am very pissed at MTN (my internet service provider) and at the same time thinking, life was so much easier when we used to have broadband or that little dial-up connection. It is for that reason why I keep Orange as my other internet service provider on standby – this time Orange didn’t do any better. Back in the days dial-up and broadband internet was much slower than the 3G but much more reliable in terms of uptime.

The completion of the installation of the marine cables is the best thing that has happened to the internet speeds in Uganda as this was very much anticipated. Hoping that the fibre optic cables would bring fast internet to Uganda – I couldnt wait! Yes, to a certain extent the long wait was worth it; with 3G+ internet speeds in Uganda have greatly improved. But people like me are already seeing the cost that the failure of these marine cables will impose on our work/ businesses and economy at large.

Uganda like many other landlocked countries in East Africa are currently investing huge amounts of money to ensure that 3G internet connectivity is widely distributed but I must remind you all that we need to have backup plans for times like this when the marine cables are broken or malfunctioning. Many districts in Uganda don’t have access to broadband which means that when 3G is down, they are (almost) completely unplugged.

Recommendations to service providers about Customer Care

Oh and I probably forgot to remind MTN – I know that your services suck so much but can please send the SMS much earlier next time so I don’t waste a lot of my time “trying to chase the wind”? Thank You!

And to Orange Uganda – my other service provider, what happened to those timely SMS notifications? I used to be so proud of you but I now I am thinking that you have been in Uganda too long that you are already forgetting that Customer Care is key!

And again, broadband and dialup internet connections should still be considered as very strong substitutes to our “beloved” 3G!

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SMS vs. Mobile Internet: Scaling the mobilephone

15 11 2010

Would you trade your cell phone’s  Short Message Service (SMS) functionality for the Mobile Internet (GPRS/EDGE/3G+) functionality?

Even though I prefer mobile internet to SMS, I am not sure whether I would trade my SMS functionality for the mobile internet functionality – even though I can still keep both!

Of course some people would frankly say “YES”, because of the well known SMS limitations:–

  • Each message is limited to 160 Character,
  • SMS is more expensive as opposed to data (if you think about it, literally),
  • SMS is getting outdated (a concept that I don’t agree with!).
  • Some people don’t know how the SMS functionality on their phones works

The other obvious reasons as to why one would choose mobile internet over SMS in a country like Uganda (and/ Africa) today:

  • Phone calls are becoming cheaper and cheaper with the current competition among telecoms
  • The growth of mobile internet in Africa and Uganda to be more specific

That being said, what are the advantaged of SMS over Mobile Internet?

As Mobile Internet continues to rollout in Uganda, SMS remains a useful extension of online services. SMS marketing and advertizing is becoming a major trend in Uganda because it is cheap when sent out in bulk. “Often I receive advertizing SMS messages from different short codes (not to mention my carrier) either advertising products, events or even services.”

Most importantly other people/organisations are using SMS more innovatively to disseminate relevant information to the wider communities. For example, over the past 2 years I have provided technical support on Women of Uganda Network’s SMS campaigns aimed at raising awareness of Violence Against Women. Text To change – “uses state of the art mobile phone technology to collect and disseminate health information”. The Kuyu Project is developing “StorySpaces”  – an application which aims at using the tools that the end users are most familiar with, which in this case is the mobile phone, and turning it into a tool for participating in global conversations. Its such innovations that

Every other year gives me assurance on the relevance of SMS as a tool for extending online services and breaking the barrier of the “digital divide”.

And there is no doubt SMS is technically cheaper than data in the long run because once an SMS is stored in your inbox, you can read the message as many times as you want with NO extra charges. But lets look at data (mobile internet for example) – even though the cost is shared between the sender and the receiver, that is, the sender pays for uploading the data and the receiver pays for downloading the data; the receiver will be charged every time he/she revisits the same data. This makes data quite expensive.

SMS cannot work as a substitute to the (mobile) internet in any case and often the cost of SMS to me can never go unrealized (because its post paid) as opposed to the postpaid mobile internet charges.

Question remains, how badly is the mobile internet revolution in Africa likely to affect the SMS based applications, usage and innovations?





DISCONNECTED: The Digital Divide in Apac District Exposed!

24 08 2010

When the local Television channels will not broadcast without a DSTV connection, no Broadband, and no radio – except for one Community Radio! What would do you do?

Exposing the Digital Divide - Local TV NOT working, No Broadband, Just one Community Radio and Mobile Phones!

This week I am in Apac District – Northern Uganda facilitating a Website training at Kubere Information Centre (KIC) a project of Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

Apac town is one of the disconnected towns in Uganda. People here; need DSTV (Dish Television) to watch local TV channels. There are no telephone lines – which means you cannot access broadband internet. They only have one community Radio (Radio Apac – 92.9) – this means that the rest of the local and international radio stations wont broadcast here.

During the lunch break, we went to one of the local restaurants, the TV set is playing in DVD Move – we are watching a Nigerian movie (they are very famous here). Do you have a TV set at your house? – I asked one of my friends.  “No”, she replied. “I don’t need it, TV is only good when you can watch local TV channels. TV works very well in Lira (a neighboring district) but here, it won’t broadcast!”

Another friend I talked to said, “when I want to watch the news, I will just go to any of the local bars where they have DSTV.”

Life is very cheap and expensive here at the same time! Personally, I cannot imagine life without TV – I want to be able to watch the news on local Television when I can, I want to be able t listen to radio – both local and international (like BBC).

Information and communication technology continues to become popular in many corners of the world, even in the developing countries. Now, the Digital Divide is wider and more visible than ever!

This is not my first time in Apac but this time I have learned something new and rather very inconveniencing. But life here continues. Through out the day, I see people walking in and out of this information to read the daily newspaper, agriculture information material and to access the internet.

Its times like this that I get to appreciate the power of a mobile phone. My cellphone is working very well, and thats why I can use my Mobile Internet Dongle to access the internet via GPRS. The internet is pretty slow and unstable but at least thats the reason I am still connected  with my friends in Kampala and all around the world.

And Radio Apac ( the community radio) is really doing wonders here. Its the only working/ broadcasting FM radio station in this town. Everybody tunes into it. Last night, I tuned in to Radio Apac using my radio-enables mobile-phone. They use a mix of English and Luo (the native language here), playing some decent music and actually download a couple of podcast from Voice of America radio (VOA) and play them back for the listeners here in Apac!

Our stake holders should do better than this. The government should invest more funds in development of community radios, information centres (Telecentres) and infrastructure to facilitate communication not just in “big cities” – but also down to the grassroots.





Javie Ssozi screens the 10 Tactics for Turning Information into Action!

9 07 2010

On 09th/ July/ 2010, I had the pleasure to screen the movie “10 Tactics of Turning Information into Action” at the Man Up Young Leaders Summit at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

“10 tactics provides original and artful ways for rights advocates to capture attention and communicate a cause. It includes a 50-minute film documenting inspiring info-activism stories from around the world and a set of cards; with tools tips and advice, for you to work through as you plan your own info-activism. Volunteers have now created subtitles for the 10 tactics film in more than 20 languages, while the support materials are available in three languages. Read more here about language options or to create your own translation.”

This phenomenal group of over 100 youth (delegates and activists)  from all around the world is very energetic and commited to End Violence Against Women all around the world.

At the same summit I also led a workshop on use of Mobile Advocacy. In many countries where people have limited access to the internet and computers mobile and sms has proved to be very handy in sharing information down to the grassroot…





Inside Uganda: mHealth or eHealth?

30 06 2010

As technology continues to roll out in Uganda, Ugandans are becoming more and more innovative in use and application of the available technologies for development.

Over the past few months I have attended the Mobile Monday Kampala (MoMoKla) meetings and followed the MoMoKla activities. I must say that is has been fun being involved in such a lively platform of mobile application developers, users, doctors and health consumers.

Mobile Health Uganda group which was formed recently is trying to lobby for cheap mobile applications to facilitate access to health information. The group is looking at how best a mobile phone can be utilized to enhance access to health information and use of mobile phones to improve on health facilities through cell phone based surveys and other applications.

The mobile phone is a very handy device, affordable and very user friendly. This justifies why the mobile phone remains a very popular and yet important device in both rural and urban areas in many corners of the developing world.

here are some of the useful link:

David Gelvin mobile_monday_presentation

Laiton OPENXDATA_DEMO MobileModay

mHealth MoMo Presentation sean blaschke

MoMoKla-TTC

Nayantara CHW Reporting_MobileMonday_V2

Bravo to the phenomenal Mobile Monday Kampala group for your effort.

I am looking forward to more and more innovations. 🙂





Its Fast, Its FREE: Its 0.facebook.com!

21 05 2010

Good bye m.facebook.com. WELCOME 0.facebook.com – its free, its fast!

On Tuesday, May 18th, 2010, Facebook launched a new way of accessing Facebook anytime, anywhere: 0.facebook.com is a new mobile site. On this Mobile Site, you will not be able to view pictures [but who cares about photos on phone?]. However, you will be able to access all the key features of facebook. 0.facebook.com has been fully optimized for your phone for speed. For now it is available to 50 mobile operators in 45 countries. MTN Uganda is one of 50 mobile operators. I am so proud of MTN right now because, many youth will now get a chance to access mobile facebook with out having to worry about using up their airtime on data.

Mobile internet remains very slow in many countries including Uganda. This makes surfing sites like facebook on phone quite boring because of the slow connection. However, because there are not many choices, many facebook users still prefer to use their cell phones to update their facebook statuses.

Soon as I heard about the New *FREE Mobile Facebook, I couldnt believe, so I rushed to my phone, patched in 0.facebook.com – wow! Amazing. I was so out of words.

Thank you MTN Uganda – Thank you Facebook.





internet Vs mobile phone: rural farmers to judge!

18 04 2010

Talking about social media and ICT. Today I am helping my friend Cissy to create a Facebook page for her organization. She works with Ntulume Village Women’s Development Association (NVIWODA). In a humble setting lies the story of the Ntulume Village Women’s Development Association (NVIWODA). In June 1987 a group of women residing in Ntulume Village founded, Ntulume Village Women Development Association. NVIWODA operates in ten districts of Uganda, the organization equips women with skills, networks and shares knowledge and information with twenty seven women community based groups.

Apparently NVIWODA does not have an independent website, however they are hosted on a subdomain www.nviwoda.internnection.com – powered by Kabissa and also profiled on the women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) website – http://www.wougnet.org/Profiles/nviwoda.html

NVIWODA is one of the 99 or so women organizations profiled on the WOUGNET website.

As we chat she sparks a question, “So, how has the internet benefited the rural farmers in marketing their produce?”

Nice question – I think to myself. But the internet has not benefited the rural farmers that much when it comes to marketing their produce. The rural farmers have more or less benefited from the internet indirectly. As a matter of fact, access in rural areas remains a big challenge.

But this doesn’t mean that rural farmers have not used ICTs to commodity prices. The mobile phone has proved to be a

Women farmers testing use of Mobile Phones to access commodity prices..

very handy tool due to its flexibility in functionality and yet doesn’t require special skills to operate.

I telling her a living example on how Kubere Information Centre –  a project formed by Women of Uganda Network under the Information Sharing and Networking program has helped many rural farmers over the years on how to use ICTs to access agricultural information. Kubere Information Centre works with rural farmers from Lira, Oyam and Apac. These farmers are also trained on how to use the mobile phone to access commodity prices.

She was so excited to hear this; that the mobile phone can be used to access commodity prices. “I would love to share this knowledge with the rural farmers we work with.” I demonstrated to her how to access the commodity prices on her phone which is on the MTN service/ network. We request for the market prices for matooke – the sms charge is UGX220 (approximately USD 0.10). In just a few seconds she has the commodity prices for matooke in various districts around Uganda – “Interesting now I know how to use my phone better! I will be using my phone to send market prices to my colleagues in rural areas.”

Apparently she is working on an idea which involves the use of a notice board. On this notice board the farmers write their market prices prior to the communal markets in their rural areas. She says once implemented this idea would help reduce on exploitation of rural farmers. She says that this idea will first be implemented in Kabarole and then to other districts. She will also use her cell phone to access the commodity prices which she will then pass on to rural farmers to write on their notice boards prior to the market day.

“Many farmers in rural areas sell off their produce not for profit but to get necessities like kerosene to fuel lamps in homes.”

Become a Fan of NVIWODA on Facebook!!