Connectivity, now with more 00mph

It is a well-known fact that in Nigeria, wireless telecommunication is
developing much faster than the alternative wired medium. While in
terms of performance, this may not put Nigeria on par with countries
with more widespread and fully developed wired infrastructure, it does
provide something that might have well been a tall dream only a few
years ago.

Internet access is one of such things. I remember clearly how in 2002,
when I worked at an internet cafe, we had a 56kbps dial-up link that
we shared among the six computers that needed connectivity, and we had
to disconnect as soon as all paying clients were adequately attended
to since this service was billed per minute. We charged our clients
₦25 per minute!

One year later, that cafe upgraded to a 128kbps dedicated connection
via VSAT, and I was finally able to download my first Linux
distribution: Redhat 9.0 :d. I eventually went off to University, the
years rolled by, and now, in 2008, I have experienced download speeds
in excess of 2mbps by using just a laptop and a phone.

Wireless internet access via CDMA+available data technology or
GSM+data technology of choice is getting increasingly common and more
and more people are turning to the various service providers to meet
their Internet access needs. From all the providers, the most
appealing (this is my highly subjective opinion) in terms of
connectivity options (service plans and necessary hardware) seems to
be Visafone (www.visafone.com.ng ). They have a wide range of modems
and even advertise support for Linux and Mac OS. I used Starcomms
(www.starcomms.com ) in the past, and well, I have to admit that I am
not a fan of CDMA. Reasons range from the rather small choice of
handsets, and the fact that I have to ditch my current GSM phone. Yes,
Visafone is CDMA too.

One question that has become common recently is: "I want Internet
access. What is the best way to go?"

There are a lot of options to choose from nowadays. For most people
Starcomms is the simplest way to go, since the chances are big that
you already have a Starcomms "landline substitute" phone in your
house. This is a perfect option if you do not care much for speed (it
is CDMA. Best speeds I got were in the order of 88kbps). Also, to the
best of my knowledge, Starcomms does not have any bandwidth limits, so
this is an excellent choice for heavy downloaders with a ton of
patience.

All the other CDMA providers are an excellent choice if you fall into
the category described above. Additionally, if your computing platform
of choice is not Microsoft Windows based, you may prefer Visafone,
since they support the other two dominant operating systems. For the
most part, my friends confirm that Visafone's EVDO plans are
acceptably fast (EVDO is faster than CDMA 1x).

My personal favourite, 3G and above (3.5G) is the way to go if you're
in an area that has coverage and you're not a big downloader, or you
just prefer faster Internet. This provides far better connectivity
speeds than all the previously mentioned options, but has quite a lot
of down-sides. For one, it is more expensive (currently, Glo charges
₦7000 for a 2GB plan, while MTN charges ₦10000 for a 3GB plan
monthly). Secondly, extremely few locations in Nigeria have 3G
coverage.

Its one major advantage is that, it may be the easiest way for you to
hook up to the internet because if you are using anything other than a
bottom-of-the-line GSM handset, it most likely is already a modem, and
all you need is the right driver software for you computer. No, your
phone doesn't have to be super expensive to be a modem. A ₦15000 phone
of today is most likely a modem.

One thing I have come to realise is this: if you decide to go the GSM
route (2.5G, 3G, 3.5G), you get a lot more coverage. There is 2.5G
nearly all over Nigeria from both Glo and MTN (browsing speeds on 2.5G
are around 48kbps). There is 3G (3.5G) in select places. You also get
the option of choosing whether to buy that rather expensive modem from
the service provider, or to just upgrade your phone (which is the
better choice in my opinion).

Finally, Contrary to rather popular opinion, phones are not
necessarily slower than modems in terms of connection speeds (3G).
This confusion arises from the fact that not all phones support the
full range of available 3G (or greater) speeds. You need to check your
phone's specifications, especially if you decide to upgrade your phone
instead of purchasing a modem. Specifically, to fully benefit from 3G
coverage, you need a phone that advertises connectivity speeds of
3.5mbps or more, or that has support for HSDPA. GSM Arena
(www.gsmarena.com ) seems to be a good source of such information.
_____________________________
Random quote: The work [of software development] is becoming far
easier (i.e. the tools we're using work at a higher level, more
removed from machine, peripheral and operating system imperatives)
than it was twenty years ago, and because of this, knowledge of the
internals of a system may become less accessible. We may be able to
dig deeper holes, but unless we know how to build taller ladders, we
had best hope that it does not rain much. — Paul Licker

Leave a Reply