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. Beautiful info. Thanks for the follow-up of the questions I asked previously. I’m sold and will get the gf and myself setup soonish.

    Just curious about 2 other points:

    – software on your lappy. You mention “Nokia PC Suite” which I assume came on CD with your phone. But is that necessary? I use EDGE access on a HTC Wizard via T-Mobile (US), and just set up a normal dial-up networking connection thru XP. (Sorry for all the acronyms!) Wouldn’t that also be possible with Safaricom?

    – I heard there is filtering/blocking of websites by Safaricom (probably p0rn, but if there’s some political foolishness going on…) – true/false? Not a show-stopper, as I’ve already suffered thru the horrors known as cybercafe internet surfing, but just wanna know what to expect.

  2. Thank. Very timely article for me as I I have an old laptop but I want to see if it will work with an EDGE card from Safaricom or Celtel before decide if I will junk it.

    Has anyone tried the Celtel service?

  3. Hi & welcome back,

    as for content blocking – I haven’t yet experienced any blocking but I guess that pr0n is blocked as well as the usual suspects (rotten.com & co). BoingBoing works perfectly well though.

    There sure must be another way of establishing a connection to log onto the APN. I hesitated a lot before I eventually installed Nokia PC Suite (horrible software, but the latest version is a bit more stable – yes, comes shipped on a CD with the phone but the latest version is from Nokia.com). I think if EDGE works for you with T-Mobile, the same setup should also work with Safaricom – it doesn’t differ from other GPRS & EDGE networks. Which also includes that it sometimes doesn’t work – it is not 100% reliable (not even 90%), but at least you’re only charged for the actual traffic. Also, I would like to see that PDA/HTC Wizard thing in action here – should work just as well + postpaid customers can also get some Blackberry-styled service here (push email) for their PDAs. Costs around 35k ksh though…

  4. Celtel GPRS i think might be even faster/more reliable than Safaricom’s

    I see black berry’s coming soon too

    Nokia PC suite has other utilities (of course for Nokia’s).

    What I really can’t wait for is the 3.5G streaming service that is now under trial in some parts of westlands / UNEP area

    Movies and the works.. Just imagine watching premier league soccer (the KFF one in the year 2100) while on the move.

  5. Hey, your other post is raked third for the ‘safaricom gprs’ keywords. Its only a matter of time before this post comes up first.

    Man safaricom have to style up their site! In fact, the same applies for many other companies here, lots of eye candy and little of the stuff that matters.

  6. Man, great post JKE. Talk about a really useful and timely article. Keep up the great work. You communication since you got back to Kenya has been stellar!

  7. Thanks for the article. I did not know they offer gprs for prepaid customers. Moving to postpaid soon to save on the monthly fee (470 bob per month on Jambo tariff to 200 bob or so on advantage) I love that you only pay for what you use and that I can blog, chat and e-mail right from my SE P910. Brilliant!

  8. The article is very interesting. I have been using the service for the past for days and it is just amazing! especially the cost issue. Access 350 for celltel and 951 for safaricom were just too costly

  9. So for prepaid usage it is ksh 10/mb for EDGE on Safaricom with possibility of UMTS, no monthly/daily/access fee?

    Since Celtel seems to be asking 20 ksh /MB, is there any reason to use their service?

  10. Great blog post dude!
    Stay tuned as we will soon be selling some USB and PCMCIA EDGE/GPRS combo wireless modems so you can connect your desktop or laptop to the Net – fast!!
    And they’ll be waay cheaper than anything you can buy on the continent.

    Keep up the great posts.

  11. I have already unlocked some 100 pcs and sold them in kenya they work so well i am looking for interested parties we can do both wifi and promoting the blackberry eapecialy 7100 model and 8100 pearl
    cantact me by sms 254722520083

  12. What happened to your older post about GPRS? It seems to have vanished from your site. Maybe I’m hallucinating but I’m sure I got the details of how to get my old K700i working from some comments in a post on your blog…

  13. Haya! Umeni furahisha, believe it or not: you have just perked my spirits up after a rough day today. Thanks for this great guideline in simple English on how to hook up on the internet with Safaricom. What the latest – should we go for Celtel or Safaricom? My friend has persuaded me to move from Af OL to sc. But I’d like to be sure.

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  15. am having a problem using adial up connection using cdma phone wiht my laptop toshiba tecra a8 once you start dialing on the phone the laptop hangs what could be the issue. since if i use my desktp comp it possible to dial usng the same

  16. hi there! i use nokia 3230 with celtel but i want to use the gprs internet to my laptop throught my phone but i dont know how. please can somebody help me on that. and am in Tanzania

  17. hey have you tried the EDGE service? the safcom guys say it ll work automatically if you get to an edge enabled area and you’ve got an enabled phone i dontt see much difference anywhere ive gone. it all seems to remain at around the steady rate (50kbps ) if you get ant advice on the EDGE cpabilities just blog it i would definitely love to enjoy the 128kbps rate .
    ps ; if the EDGE settings have to be setup any diffrerently just inform me im totally tired of the slow rates during downoads

  18. The safaricom website needs more on gprs.edge settings, I am trying to connect a samsung x820 to gprs but it seems not to be working

  19. I just came across this site n I love your technical qizes n replies. I like computing too as well as Networking/Interneting. Maybe next time I’ll post a Quiz or a comment regarding a Quiz. Keep it up all of you, Thumbs Up!

  20. i have a samsung d900…i managed to get it connected to the internet by messing around with the settings but i cant download any large file…for all y’all out there, http://www.getjar.com or wap.getjar.com is a cool site for abundant cool mobile downloads…somebody help!!!!!!!!!!!!how can i download large files without getting an error????

  21. Rocko, try using a download manager which has a “resume download” function.

    I managed to download a 16 mb file via gprs the other day and despite of credit running out, it just worked.

  22. hey kikuyumoja…ok…tried to search for a download manager but in vain…pls send me the link…cheers

  23. Here’s a list of download managers, and if you’re using Firefox & MSWindows, I’d recommend using FlashGet with a plugin for the Firefox browser.

    @Wambui: if there’s no OverTheAir (OTA) service for your Nokia, ask Safaricom in Nbo.

    @others with similar questions: not all phones offer GPRS services. And even if they have, it doesn’t automatically mean that you can actually connect your phone to a computer as the appropriate interface is missing (bluetooth, cable, infra-red).

  24. they are back up now, try it.

    Let me know if u need any help in SAFARICOM OR CELTEL gprs connectivity. Its what i do best

  25. hi im korir and its proven hard for me to connect my handset[siemens mc60]to safaricom gprs.would you mind assisting m
    e.my no is 0721489853.
    thanks for your great stuff

  26. thanks to you I finally got my gprs activated. those morons at SC dont even answer when i call 100. their service basically sucks but its cheap compared to celtel. thanks again!

  27. i always try to follow all the configuration you give to me but have not got my phone back to gprs i.e nokia 2610. the main problem is that when i try access it always request for packet data connection please help.

    steve 0723747962

  28. plz help me get gprs settings in my benq siemens c81 phone
    stanley 0724307983

  29. iv got an SE p910i and i cant hook up GPRS settings!!! and the bloody thing is greyed out of SC’s website! that site soooo sux! help bana!

  30. Nice writeup.But the problem i have is am a motoL7 but everytime i try conneting to my phone it gives an error message and i also cant check my mail by fone coz it’s an error message that i cant be connected coz of software compatibility

  31. Hey, ur site is really helpful especiall for people using nokia. But sony ericsson settings are more sophisticated. They require even an i.p. Please help

  32. GPRS, Edge….Try 3G(UMTS). With appropriate gear you could be surfing even faster than on Edge. The other day i recorded a blistering 200kbs download speed though i admit it was off peak

  33. iave black berry mobile so it’s problem abuot operting here in nairobi so i need more infromation about you location in nairibi

  34. Brilliant

    You have really exploited the service (Safaricom GPRS) Let me add a few points :

    GPRS (Global Packet Radio Service) will ONLY charge you for the bytes you use…i.e. if you log on say to http://www.safaricom.com and stay on that page the whole day, it wont cost you nothing but as you browse pages…images and text are loaded to the browser and that act of download reflection your bill. So here is a small catch :-
    The bigger your screen .. the more bytes required to download and fill up your browser page hence the more you are charged. In short, you will notice you are charged less when you brown on your hand set that on your laptop or that great 19” tft screen!!
    here are afew tips on getting the best from gprs
    1. Never browse graphical sites that have alot of pictures (Sorry porn lovers but this consumes alot of credit)

    2. Adjust your cache settings and try not to clear them too often…when you browse, instead of downloading images, your browser will pick them up from the cache

    3.POP mails using outlook as opposed of accessing them on the webmail interface (e.g. gmail has an option to pop emails with outlook express as opposed to yahoo who CHARGE for poping mails)

    4. Newer phones that have ”symbian OS” support XHTML browsers such as opera mini which is like the real browser but browsing cost is minimal…say abt 30/- for one hour of browsing. In fact your battery goes down faster than airtime. Here am talking abt the new Nokias N and E series and any nokia that comes with a data cable

    Samsung fones generally have connectivity issues and thats a known fact. Nokia are easy to use and you can manually download wap settings from the net. (nokia site) the N and E series comes with pre set nokia GPRS settings which don’t work. you have to call customer service for them to forcefully push the settings to your handset

    5. When browsing using your computer, disable background services such as automatic uptades and software updates. they will consume airtime too

    Celtel have a more reliable and faster GPRS connection but this is ata fee…they charge 20/- as opposed to 10/- (safaricom) per megabite
    here are the settings you need to put on your handset connection settings

    Dial In Number = *99***# (*99#)
    Username : Web
    Password : Web

    AT+CGDCONT=1,”IP”, “web.safaricom.com” (AT+CGDCONT=1,”IP”, “ke.celtel.com”)
    at+CGDCONT=1,”ip”, “safaricom”

    where the numbers in brackets are for celtel

    I have tested the 3G edge gprs but i sincerely dont see a difference with speeds. This is how safaricom works; they give priority to voice over data, meaning when there is a network congestion data sped dwindle, in short you are better off browsing and on faster speed on Sunday at midnight than trying to send a crucial mail on friday at 5pm!!!!

    There are other services you can harness from ur fone. EG access kenya and KDN float alot of wireless LANS (WLAN) all over Nairobi CBD. Witha nokia N series or The E65, you can actually browse via WLAN or even connect to your office network and for FREE at java houses

    Anyone who wants data services, network or internet connectivity please contact me on bnganga@gmail.com. Am an I.T consultant specializing with communications and give office connection solutions.

  35. Thx for the update Bernard! And guys, pls remember I posted this over a year ago and since then the Safcom website hasnt really improved…sigh.

    What about 3G and 3.5G networks in Kenya these days? What kind of phones does one require for that? Will my Nokia N95-1 for on that?

  36. can someone tell me where i can really find the software for benq siemens e61

  37. i’ve been trying to install mig33 and miniopera on a nokia 2610. i currently can surf with safaricom’s gprs. but i wanted to add a second gprs setting on it , where i can use my chatting applications. it didnt work. sending a blank SMS to 477 doesnt give me any reply. is there another way of adding the chatting facilities on this phone? or any help to my probs? help!

  38. I got the new nckia n95 but wit no gprs settings would u mind helping me out

  39. thanks 4 all the info bt how come when i use my motorola l6i and then go to internet connection with my pc it refuses het when i surf with the phone it is perfectly ok?