Dear Safaricom…

I’ve been successfully using your GPRS service on my (branded Vodafone!) Nokia 6230i in the past three months, and also took the opportunity to blog about this fine service (here and here) so that other users benefit from this technical progress which really makes a difference for wireless internet access in Kenya.

I am located in a rural area and it just adds lots of convenience to access my emails and surfing the net via my mobile and/or my computer. I wouldn’t want to miss it anymore, and I think wireless telco solutions are the future in Kenya in terms of reliability and accessibility. Thx!

However, there are still some open questions regarding your service which have come in as comments on my blog – and I would like to kindly ask you, or whoever is authorized to give an official statement on GPRS support on Safaricom.

Here are our questions:

  1. How much does it actually cost per Megabyte + V.A.T.? And how much is a megaybte? 1000 kb or 1.024 kb?
  2. How do you enable your customers to use GPRS? Is it just an activation for the SIM card / line?
  3. Are customers required to buy special GPRS phones which are supported by the network, or are the GPRS settings universal and only a few phones may receive automatic settings sent out by your service?
  4. How long does it take to activate customers on GPRS? I know there have been some users in the past months who are still waiting for their GPRS settings and/or line activation.
  5. How come the customer care line (100) is almost never available? Or is it just bad luck that I never got through so far?
  6. When will you update your (mobile office) website on GPRS usage? When I google for “safaricom gprs kenya settings” (and similar keywords), I first of all get to my own blog. Hmm. You know I am just a user who wants to share his joy with others. The blogging approach though might add to the Google ranking.
    In other words: update your website more often, and potential customers/users will figure it out themselves on how to use GPRS with Safaricom. Just like we did.
    (Please correct me if I am wrong on this one, but my assumption is that most GPRS users in Kenya are still above the kawaida level – geeks, to be precise, who first of all google for their informations needed before they try out the busy #100 helpline.)
  7. What can customers do to speed up the process of getting their GPRS settings? Can we walk in your Westlands office on Waiyaki Way in Nairobi and ask for the settings? I went to Sarit Centre’s Safaricom retailer the other day and asked for details, but the guy there just didn’t even know that GPRS also works for prepaid customers.
    UPDATES:
  8. aegeus asks: “I have been unable to use the GPRS service beyond 10 pm weekdays, is this interruption scheduled or part of the limits of the service?”
  9. and: “And can they provide a discounted price preference like the competitors whose postpaid customers are charged at 8 bob per 1mb, down from 10 bob if their usage exceeds a certain level?”
  10. AfroM asks: “…those of us in US have been having issues with their SMS services, our counterparts in Kenya receive the messages we send them but we do not receive their replies, yet they get charged for the SMS they sent to us?”
  11. 60/\/\ asks: “Why don’t the GMail app and some other applications like MJabber work.” (yeah, why not?!?!)

Any constructive comments on those questions will be highly appreciated by me and the various readers of this blog. Thx!

@everyone: if you know more or have further questions, pls put them as a comment and I’ll add them to the list…

data cabools, part 2

06-11g013

I wrote about data cables for mobile phones the other day – and came across this shop on Moi Avenue Tom Mboya Street, opposite the old fire brigade, where they sell a variety of cables for different phones and manufacturers. So in case you’ll still need a data cable to connect your (GPRS capable) phone to a computer: cables are available now! And I mention this because most mobile phone suppliers in Nairobi don’t have these cables (heck, they don’t even know what you’re talking about), so it’s nice to know they are actually for sale on Moi Avenue and even displayed in the windows. And yes, I asked for permission to take a picture…

Mobile Phones that are currently sold WITH a cable are (as far as I know) Motorola L6 & L7, Nokia 6280, Nokia 6233, SonyEricsson 8xx/9xx….but most phones still come without such a cable.

data cabools

What’s a data cable?
A data cable is a special cable that connects your mobile phone/PDA with a computer. Sometimes these are included (e.g. Motorola L6 & L7, Nokia 6233, 6280), but most of the time you’ll have to buy them extra.

Why would I need it?

  • a) to up-/download user data on your phone (phonebook, pictures, videos, music, etc.)
  • b) to synchronise it with your PIM (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.)
  • c) to access the internet via GPRS/EDGE

Are there any alternatives?

Yes. Bluetooth (BT) and InfraRed (IR). BT and IR of course require transceivers on both sides – a BT dongle or an iR diode. Both are often included on notebooks, and stand alone interfaces cost around Ksh. 1600 (BT) to 1800 (IR) downtown..
While IR tends to very slow among other disadvantages (line of sight with computer) and BT only being available with better phones & notebooks, it makes sense to invest some mbeca into a good data cable.

As I mentioned earlier, data cables for recent Nokia phones are relatively hard to come by in Kenya. These cables – copies from China (original ones cost around 5500 Ksh!! @ Nokia Shops) – are available, only: not every mobile phone accessory seller knows about them, and/or could inform you about the proper use of such special cables along with the equivalent software that normally comes with most better phones. It took me some time to ask for a reliable source, and I’ve meanwhile found it with J.J’s GSM Technology / Soft Link Mobiles in Uganda Hse, Kenyatta Ave., 4th Floor.

06-11012

I’ve been flashing phones myself some time ago (updating the internal software on GSM phones, unlocking them, etc. – a bit tricky with Nokia phones due to Nokias strange policies), and repairing a phone mostly requires you to have a patient hand, a TORX 5 / 6 scredriver, some methylated spirit + ear-buds for cleaning (Isopropyl alcohol is even better) and some spare parts which are available with retailers.

The folks @ JJ’s/SoftLink really know their job, and also know to attract customers despite their workshop being on 4th floor. I went there on Sato and inquired about the Nokia data cables required to work with my colleague’s Nokia 6020s. We need such cables to connect their phones with the computers => internet via GPRS.

For the first time in Kenya, I had the feeling that my “interlocutor” (what a word, ama?) knew what I was talking about – you know, shop talk on geekstuff. Great! They of course managed to organize the required amout of cables and we tested them one by one. Now, these cables are cheap copies from China. However, sometimes they work – and the CD that came with them even included lots of interesting software (which you’ll normally find @ Yahoo Groups! or other places on the net). I bought one cable that I’ve taken to Embu for testing and if everything is fine, we’ll buy even more.

06-11010

One of the customers had brought this ancient brick along for repair – a Motorola Micro Tac II. Sijui if this ETACS or GSM, but it doesn’t have a slot for SIM cards – the content of the SIM is directly loaded into the phone. I think it’s from 1989 or so, maybe also 1992. Anyways, ooooold stuff. I told him to clean it, give it to a jamaa in the US or UK and have it sold on Ebay.

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.

Vodafone

Meine Frage an Vodafone:

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

ich habe einen (alten) D2-Fun Tarif, den ich nach Vertragsverlängerung im Spätsommer/Herbst auch weiterhin behalten möchte. Für diesen Tarif gibt es zwei Kurzmitteilungszentralen (..000 und …333), die es ermöglichen, netzinterne SMS ab der 101. SMS über die …000 günstiger zu verschicken. Für diesen Zweck bieten die mir bekannten Nokia Modelle aus der Vergangenheit (z.B. das Nokia 6230) die Option an, vor dem Senden via “Optionen > Sendeoptionen > Sendeprofil > Sendevorgaben (Auswahl der SMC)” die Kurzmitteilungszentrale für jede einzelne Sms auszuwählen. Also direkt vorm Verschicken – nicht erst umständlich über das Einstellungsmenü.

Meine Fragen daher an Sie:
1. bieten die zZt aktuellen SONY Ericsson Modelle diese Option auch an (zB K800i)?
2. bieten die zZt aktuellen Nokia Modelle der Series 40 (6233/6234) diese Option weiterhin an?

Und die Antwort (nach 3-4 Tagen):

vielen Dank für Ihre E-Mail.

Sowohl die neuen Nokia als auch die neuen SE Modelle bieten die Möglichkeit , mehrere Kurzmitteilungszentralen zu hinterlegen. Vor dem Versand der SMS kann die gewünschte Kurzmitteilungszentrale markiert werden.

Dieser Vorgang wurde am SE K 750i und am Nokia 6230 getestet.

Lieber Vodafone-Kundendienst,

beim Testen der neuen SonyEricsson Modelle (z.B. W810i), als auch der neuen Nokia Modelle 6280/6333/34 habe ich diese Option NICHT im Menü finden können. Meine Fragestellung bezog sich auf genau diese neuen, für UMTS “optimierten” Geräte.
Wann wird es eigentlich endlich mal eine SMS-Flatrate in Deutschland geben (so wie es in anderen europäischen Ländern auch schon der Fall ist)?

to be continued…