How to…..use GPRS in Kenya

Ok, let’s do some viral marketing for GPRS in Kenya…

The other day, I already blogged on GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) in Kenya and complained about Safaricom’s strange GPRS settings which were previously sent to my mobile phone. Of course I am way too complicated from time to time, hence the service never worked – for me – as I had put way too many settings. The whole installation process is quite simple though, hence this little “how to…” round-up on GPRS with Safaricom in Kenya as I also see lots of traffic on my blog on the Safaricom + GPRS issue.

First, let’s look at the current situation and conditions that made me look for an alternative way of accessing the internet: I am currently working at a GoK institution and helping these guys on some technical issues among scientific work (~ working on my final thesis in the water sector). Today we tried to upload an annual report to the HQ in Nairobi which was about 4 MB in size. Knowing that their Winnet webmail service (local ISP) only allows attachments of max. 2 MB, we spilt the file into two pieces and zipped both.

Now, going online from the rural side isn’t that easy – the traditional modem speed depends on the quality of the line (=> attenuation) and with our modern V.90 modem we only got speeds of 16,2 kBit/s – which is nothing of course. A frustrating speed and connection, as you’re charged about 7 Ksh. / minute – and being online doesn’t mean that you’re actually downloading or uploading anything. It just says you’re connected.

In Nairobi, there are many interesting and working alternatives. The cheapest and best alternative of course is the wireless lan at Nairobi’s Java Houses (+ really good food!) and, if you are lucky enough, an AccessKenya.com line via WLAN in your office. Then there are these upcoming CDMA (~UMTS) local networks which currently only work in Nbo and Telekom’s DSL line, although the latter ones raised their prices in August this year and also DSL isn’t as speedy as it used to be. Someone at the Telekom office in Westlands told me that their prices might change again in near future, but until then….you’ll still need a fixed telephone line, and I understand that those are still hard to come by in Kenya due to differenct technical, historical and vandalism reasons.

Which leaves us with the GSM mobile phones that many in Kenya have these days. The best part about these phones – I think – is the prepaid system: a perfect way for the service providers to receive money in advance and no one needs to worry about unpaid receipts. It will only be a matter of time until other sectors jump on the same wagon (Kenya power, water sector, etc).

Now, in order to go online with your phone, all you need is a wap browser which enables you to surf special (wap-enabled) websites. WAP is a rather old service which never really succeeded except for Japan (i-mode) where lots of services are based on this technology (but they are using a different frequency range and technology anyways so let’s ignore them).

In order to actually SURF the internet like my blog or google, yahoo, the BBC news, etc – you’ll need a GSM mobile phone with a (X)HTML enabled browser. Many modern telephones already have this. You can actually access your email by using the browser (“internet”) in your phone. A very convenient way of going online from whereever you are in Kenya with network coverage. GPRS isn’t really needed for this service, but it helps limiting the costs (as you are charged by MB downloaded) + increasing the speed (?).

And then of course there is GPRS for use with computers. This is the sexy part of it. As far as I am informed, there are three different ways of connecting phones to a computer:

a) via InfraRed
b) via Data Cables
c) via Bluetooth

If you are an owner/user of a notebook/laptop computer and also have Bluetooth and a phone that has this Bluetooth functionality, use this! It’s the most convenient way of putting it – also because there can be a distance of up to 10m (sometimes also more) between the computer and the phone. So if the network coverage is bad, just put your phone next to the window (where the receiption is better) and access it via Bluetooth from your computer.

InfraRed is very slow although it works (direct line of sight needed to hook it up with the computer) and then of course there are data cables.
You see, there are some GPRS enabled phones – but without any means to connect a data cable (unless you remove the battery, like on the older Nokia 6510, 8210 series, etc.). And data cables are sometimes hard to come by. Not every shop in Nbo (and of course not even Wachira Electronics here in Embu) sell those cables, even not those posh Nokia Shops @ Sarit Centre & Village Market. Or? Update: the data cable @ Nokia Sarit Centre costs Ksh 5500/=! A fake chinese copy goes for around 1200 /=….
Anyways. if you’re about to buy a new phone, make sure it comes with a data cable. Such a cable is also needed for downloading data content from the phone (pictuers, videos, etc.). I remember that e.g. Sony Ericsson phones already come with such a cable. I personally have all three connection types – the cable (from Ebay Germany @ EUR 4,-), an infrared port on my notebook and Bluetooth on both sides. Bluetooth USB dongles sell for about 10,- EUR in Europe – sijui about their prices here Update: Ksh. 1600/= in downtown, presumably less @ Mitsumi in Parklands. But then, the very popular Nokia 6020 phone here in Kenya does not have Bluetooth, so a cable is the best choice (called “CA-42” (serial) or “DKU-5” (serial-to-USB) for this particular Nokia 6020 – the one for 6230(i) is called “DKU-2” (100% pure USB)).
Another alternative are these data cards (pc cards/pcmcia) that offer GPRS/EDGE technology and are used on laptop computers.
Ok, enough about the technical background, let’s start with the actual service:

In order to use GPRS with Safaricom, all you have to do (as a prepaid customer!!!) is to send an empty short message (SMS) to 4777. That’s it!
They will then shortly afterwards send you a confirmation sms and the settings for your GPRS capable (!) phone which you will be asked to save and activate using the following PIN: “1234“. Simple as that.

If the settings can’t be received for whatever reason, but your phone is able to do GPRS, then try the following settings for Safaricom:

APN: safaricom
username: saf
password: data

(hope i didn’t forget anything here..) UPDATE: kindly check the comments for more details, thx!

PLEASE NOTE:

  • GPRS does not always work but it is more reliable and much faster than the traditional modem dial-up. And forget about Safaricom’s 951 dial-up as well as Celtel’s 350 dial-up. Those dial-up services are limited to 9,6 kbit/s, which is even worse than the modem thing via fixed lines. GPRS is instant access and once you click the button on your computer (e.g. Nokia PC Suite “connect to the internet”), you are online within 3 seconds and the connection is stable enough. Stable also means that sometimes it might be fast, and then the next moment it may become very slow. This is NORMAL with GPRS as bundled time slots are not always available.
  • Costs, and that’s the best part about it, are ~ 10 Ksh (???) per MB ==> you are billed by the amount of data you have been loading (up & down!), and not the amount of time you have been online. THIS is why I am so fascinated by it. You only pay for the things you really wanted (except of course for junk mail in your mailbox, but that’s another story). A fair deal, I think.
  • Connection speed is about 53,6 kBit/s MAXIUM depending on the network (quality) and the amount of users sharing the network at the same time.
  • Safaricom’s mobile office website isn’t really THAT comprehensive as it doesn’t reveal many details on the service itself except for the usual marketing blabla. Someone @ the Daily Nation recently compiled an article on GPRS and all he/she did was copying the phrases from Safaricom’s online FAQ. These gals & guys @ SC really need to polish their website a bit.
  • The more users are online and sharing one base station, the slower is the connection. Hence, telling others about this great service has the downside that it might eventually lower the speed. But in the meantime, let’s enjoy this service as a hassle-free, easy and convenient way to access the internet. And remember, I am typing these lines from my room here in Embu. GPRS + Inernet on your laptop might of course also work from within a National Park if there’s enought network coverage. Now that’s cool, ama?
  • Skype works! And chatting via your prefered IM like YahooIM, MSN, ICQ, etc. doesn’t consume much bandwidth = low costs. Chat for 3hrs and only pay 30 – 50 bob. Now compare that with an internet/cyber café!

@Safaricom: how about some air time for this free-promo? My number is +254723436609 – Asante sana! :-)

p.s.: remember, I’ll work for bandwidth :-)

Ati? Safaricom? What’s this and this? Cooooooooooooooooooooooool. Really. M-Pesa? Like Hawala? Now THAT’s even more important than stable inet access. M-Banking is the next big thing.
@Mzeecedric: pole, I know it’s a long text although access is so simple. I just wanted to write down a few things that had been up in my mind. I so often meet ppl who spend a lot of money on fancy phones (~ going crazy for that video function for whatever dumb reason although they can’t even download the content from their phones) and then all they actually need is to access some things online and/or do online banking.

96 comments » Write a comment

  1. @NashM: sijui if the Nokia 2610 supports more than one setting
    @nickie: try nokia.com or go to a service center of your local provider where they’ll give you the settings. u could even try those from above and manually entering them under systems>settings> etc. “add new”..
    @Chris: your PC may have some proxy settings or a fixed IP address set for the inet access so that it doesnt accept your Motorola connection. Try to disable all IP addresses and/or set them to DHCP.

  2. hi!Luv ur site.Its really helpful.However i cant find safaricom email settings for samsung e250.Could u pls tell me.especially the dns numbers?

  3. Hi could anyone help me of how to access the internet using my motorola l6i modem. Sure, the gprs in the phone read that is ACTIVE but how do i set through my computer to access the internet through it? ….. setting my computer so i can access through phone modem via my computer!! liz somebody help me. I can be reached through cell phone no. 0720707277

  4. u huv very informative articles but they would be perfect if u had graphics for the slow ones like me. Nway, u helped quite a bit!

  5. Hi

    I’m visiting Kenya from South Africa. My roaming is working fine for voice calls but none of my data services on my phone and on my Vodacom/Vodafone 3G card are working. I’ve tried all the GPRS phone settings, and even bought a safaricom SIM. I’ve sent a blank sms to 4777 but no reply. Am I missing something? I’m using the Nokia N95.

    Any advice on my 3G card?

    Great blog!

  6. Sam, I think in your case it would be best to go to a Safaricom customer centre in the CBD or Westlands and ask for the settings.

    Afaik, the N95 automatically reads these settings from the SIM card , so it should just be plug&play with it.

  7. for N95 nokia with safaricom sim, you have to activite you sim to gprs service by calling costomer care(#100).they will send gprs setting to your phone. your will turn off your phone for few seconds.It is very hard getting safaricom costomer care so you have to keep on trying.

  8. hi dennis kiogora.That confg should be easy.But what do you have,cable or bluetooth.L6i mottorola comes with usb cable and mottorola phone tool cd.First install your cd to your pc then plug your phone to your pc using your usb cable.the phone drivers will be installed including moderm.After that your phone will appear in the desktop.right click connect then create new connection,select kenya as country then it will automatically select safaricom,change it to others.APN should be safaricom,USER NAME saf, PASSWORD data.If it will need dialing No. use *99# or*99***1#.the rest of the setting click next untill finish witout changing anything.Now you should be good kiogora

  9. Fonex DNS stand for Domain Name Server.E250 samsung is allitle bit tricky when it come to internate settings,but if you fill the IP,USER NAME,PASSWORD,APN right you will be on the right track.this link will help to learn about DNShttp://www.howstuffworks.com/dns.htm.But of settings for safaricom user should be:IP 172.022.002.038, USERNAME saf, PASSWORD data, APN safaricom.

  10. people with pamoja tariff on celtel its kshs.10per mb…safaricom its kshs.12.50 per mb not kshs. 10 as stated here…and safaricom gprs is a headache if you are in nairobis eastlands as far is i knw even the 3g signal is available late in the night at 11

  11. with celtel you get an unlimited access and safaricom has disconnections during the day…ive tried contacting safaricom since june 2007 but they cant be of any help. as everytime they tell me to visit their offices and upto now its still back to square 1.

  12. With celtel internet you get upto 20kbps max and with celtel wap it gave me and outstanding 130kbps at night and 49kbps during the day over the edge network…with safaricom even the 3g gave me a poor 200kbps at 12 midnight…

  13. The safaricom gprs made me to change in between 10 phones btw 2007 and 2008 january…just because i was in entire need to use their ‘cheap gprs’ at that time but not anymore…now i have this huge i560 samsung and nokia n82 and still its a saf gprs…

  14. And after iphone, symbian have the best browsers and still the safaricom gprs is a hard nut to crack. all the way in these hugely populated areas of pipeline, umoja, donholm, buruburu, makadara, kariobangi, dandora, and the rest…

  15. i just hope celtel gets their 3g up and working soon because with safaricom i have had enough with their ‘congestion’ thing being their only explanation…thanks for a great site…in my slang i should shorten ur name to KIUK! cool…hey! thanx again.

  16. Please help in connecting my phone to GPRS services.I received some messages saying that my phone has been connected to GPRS.But afterward I tried to apply it but unfortunitly it never worked.It reads ‘GPRS connections not available’Please help.

  17. Can someone tell me the cost of Celtel GPRS? I want to go with unlimited access, I hope it is possible only for post paid customers.

    I was told by an agent the following:
    USB Modem 6,000 Ksh
    Deposit 2,000 Ksh
    Monthly Fee 3,000 Ksh

    Is this correct pricing?

  18. Hi all. To get safcom settings send msg “gprs” to 445 and for celtel send msg “all” to 232. Both will send gprs, wap and mms settings to your phone. But you still have to have your line data enabled. You can call customer care and ask them to enable your line or line up at their centres. Safaricom have reduced their charges to 8 bob per mb while celtel is 16 bob per mb. I’m on safcom and actually browsing this site using my phone and miniopera. The connection which is quite fast actually works most of the time. The only problem is that i can’t use the yahoo go application. I think safcom have blocked it probably coz they want guys to sign up for google mail. I asked them why and I haven’t received a reply.

  19. just stumble on ur site but how can i get it to work in nigeria using, glo,mtn,and celtel network.

  20. can anyone help, icant afford to pay for browsing now so i would be flad if i get how to brows free using gprs or any other options
    hope i get some help
    thanks

  21. yvonne celtel charges gprs at 10 per mb not 16 but if u on pamoja tarrif…safcom was 12.50 now its 8.00 per mb thats true..,yep yahoo isnt working with safaricom…but data bundles idea is bull! why not hav it unlimited like celtel? 3000per month..,

  22. With 3000 u get unlimited internet use per month on celtel.,but safcom u get 1gb of data..,wen u reach ur max 1gb.,its over pay now at an extra 8bob per mb.,or buy another bundle..,thats crap!

  23. The speeds are at near par with 3g umts that safcom had b4…at around 120kbps download speeds minimum…may be because celtel has fewer customers…

  24. The speeds are at near par with 3g umts that safcom had b4…at around 120kbps download speeds minimum…may be because celtel has fewer customers….

  25. I have tried safaricom & Telkom and i find Telkom the best..save for the credit you have to keep loading if they introduce a flat rate all will move to Telkom.

    Be careful when buying the safaricom offer i got a raw deal recently they told me for 3k i get a modem, they did not tell me about the speed, it was so slow i had to dump it the same day! when i went back they told me to buy the one for 12k which has speed ..total bullshit

    we need a third operator

  26. I have read y’all criticisms in detail, Now i respond :)

    I do alot of GPRS setups on both safaricom / celtel huawei modems as well as 3g/EDGE enabled phones, HSD ,etc and all those fancy technological inclined terms that make you believe you are harnessing the most from GPRS. I will break it down for you

    Look at it this way. Lets take safaricom and celtel to be plumbing companies and Internet data flow as ”water” and ofcourse you be the end user.

    Now this plumber come with all sorts of offers of how the water will get to your taps (modems). They tell you stuff like elastic pipes to allow more water, inclined pipes to allow faster water throughput, internally smooth walled pipes to curb any resistance to your tap …etc, you get my drift. They will even go as far as telling you our pipes are THREE times bigger than out competitor and they are plastic meaning they can bend to any corner you want water to burst out from and true if you look at the pipes they are ductile, large, in fancy branded colors. Nice pipes, Good on them.

    NOW!!!, they have sold you the pipes and sure they fit right and working great, what they haven’t told you is just how much water is going to come through this state-of-the-art the pipes, (data throughput) …. Remember this is a ”piping company” not the actual ”water company” …so the pipe suppliers still have to go back to the water company (who is the only source of water) and buy whatever liters of water they can buy and push through their pipes.

    Enough of water world, back to the data world. You will notice when you connect to safaricom 3G GPRS, you get something like ”you are now connected at a cool 7.2Mbps” yet the ordinary EDGE which celtel adopts gives you a 436Kbps Connection. So you think, bravo safaricom, aluta (data) continua. This speeds is the speeds between safaricom hse or park place in the case of celtel (Zain Group) where (i believe)the servers are hosted and YOU. a.k.a your machine. But ask your self, where are this GSM’s tapping the internet from to push it at 7.2mbps / 436kbps to your computer?

    Two, lets not forget, safaricom is tapping from the same well (internet pool) to supply its 8Million subscribers while Celtel is tapping from the same pool to provide to its 2 Million subscribers. This explains why the two tend to have the same speeds. Actually, celtel was much superior in data services until it went public with their 3k unlimited bundle and everyone rushed for the service thus slow internet connectivity now.

    GSM partner with PDNO’s and ISPs to buy band with and push it to you (the end user). This bandwith is traced back to jambonet the final gateway of all of Kenyas data (upload mostly). So this brings me back to the final post i read where one compares telkoms speeds to be faster than GSMs’. This is tried tested and true. Reason? they are the ‘Water company’ and ‘plumbing/pipes’ company. meaning they dip the pipe directly into the water pool and extend the same pipe directly to you, thus less water loss, unlike GSMs’ who have to suck the water into their refinery 1st then serve you.

    So for as long as we dont know (publicly) how much water is being sourced (bandwith) at the back of the kitchen or how big the containing tanks are, Connectivity between the two GSMs is stil at PAR despit what your two lil’ computers on your bottom right of the task manager display :)

    Bernard Ng’ang’a
    ICT Communications Consultant
    Ace Concepts
    bernard@aceconcepts.co.ke

  27. hey mr. plumber., i hav a celtel edge modem.,i get at minimum 120 kbps.,that suits me n my downloads…but what safcom are charging its crap!!! that bundle can end up in minutes coz of the hsdpa..,and u have to buy another bundle? ah! ah!

  28. one thing u dont knw mr. benard…on every 1bob spent by safcom.,they gain back 0.78cents as compared to celtels return of 0.25cents on every shilling spent!!! CELTEL DONT CHANGE TO ZAIN…COZ CELTEL IS A GREAT NAME…

  29. I got a celtel huawei modem today and it is very slow in Kilimani area.

    Any suggestion / help please?

  30. Ahamed is it a gprs or edge modem? i expect that with a gprs modem..,but get a modem booster like tweaknow…that should help.,

  31. @Yvonne (11. July, 2008 at 08:12), Thanks you gave me the most helpful hint. Actually safaricom shifted from 4777 to 445 lately for GPRS/MMS and WAP.

  32. Hi,thanks to kikuyumoja 4 this highly informative site.Im using a sony ericsson p990i and a nokia 3230 on safcom and zain respectively,but,my wife’s samsung e250 just wont access neither.Deewinc said he could do sumpin’. Hey, how about it Dee?

  33. Dear Readers,
    pls note that there also is a new Wiki on mobile data in Africa where we are trying to compile costs, technical HOW-TOs and other useful data on the telecommunications sector. The wiki may be found at:

    http://africansignals.com

    If you know how to set up your phone or USB modem in order to get online and would like to share this knowledge (like I’ve done with this initial post in Oct. 2006), please feel free to have a look at http://africansignals.com and contribute there. Thank you!

  34. i have found that the software on the dongle thing that safaricom sell sucks big and that the latest nokia pc suite is much better if like me you have a n95 or similar phone then just plug it in with the safaricom card and away you go you dont have to do anything other then just register your phone with you laptop.

    i had to fix my laptop using torrents as im on holiday here in kenya visiting family from the UK and using the satellite internet is giving me a headache

  35. I have 24 blackberry 8700c phones that I got from the states. Any idea how much they will sell in Kenya. They are used phones but working well.
    Is it true that Safaricom has unlimited internet usage for ksh 2000 per month?
    Is it easy to setup unlocked blackberrys in Kenya especially the 8700 model?
    Please let me know. Thanks

  36. ITS TIME THAT YOU GOT PAID FOR USING THE INTERNET..MAKE AS MUCH AS $5.00 in 30 minutes in a new online community like FACEBOOK! WHY FACEBOOK& waste your money? get paid here! EMAIL ME @ deewinc@yahoo.com

  37. Hi,
    Is it true that China made phones(Techno for that matter)do not accept Safaricoms GPRS settings.
    thanx

  38. @ moss chesro. I don’t think China made phones accept any settings. My mum owns two of them, different models, I tried setting up internet on both of them but neither accepted settings from Safaricom or Zain. You have to do it manually.

  39. Hey, KikuyuMoja….you talked about PCMCIA cards…where can one purchase one? I have looked and looked and LOOKED around but all I can get is those protruding Mobile company modems!

    I’m looking for a laptop card which I can feed in the a safaricom line and slip it into my laptop and carry it with me all the time everywhere especially with the new safaricom unlimited net for 7 days offer…

    hala at my email…

  40. Thank you for sharing this. I’m currently using my MacBook connected to my BlackBerry via bluetooth using the settings you shared here. I tried many settings unsuccessfully until I Googled it on my phone and thats when I stumbled upon your webpage.
    A few days ago I bought a Zain USB dongle, but didn’t like anything about it. Using my BlackBerry has significantly improved the download speeds, and I also don’t have to put up with a hideous USB stick hanging out the side of my laptop just to use the internet.
    Thanks again and God bless!

  41. please send me safaricom gprs settings for samsung sgh-e380 through my email (samuel_muchina@yahoo.com) i put them manually