Getting Online in Arusha

Your business needs to communicate with partners or customers on the other side of the world. Your teenage daughter wants to download the latest parental advisory hip-hop album. You just want to log on to the Doom 3 arena and blow away some strangers. What these three things require is a fast and reliable connection to the internet – happily something that is becoming more readily available in Arusha. With the launch of two new services in the last month, prices are at last beginning to fall. More offices and even homes will be seeing the many benefits of a fast connection to the net.

Measuring Speed

Kilobytes per second or kbps is a measurement of how much data is transmitted in a second. The higher the number the faster the connection. An email containing a small photograph will take one second to download at 56 kbps.

You might also hear about Mbps – this is Megabytes per second. 1 Mbps is one thousand times faster than 1 kbps.

As this goes to press, all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in town are talking about broadband. What do they mean? Up until a few years ago, most internet users anywhere in the world were limited to connecting via a telephone line. This placed an upper limit on the speed of 56 kbps. (Note this is the upper limit – speeds will almost always be lower.)

As more people started using the net demand for faster access speeds grew and so called broadband was born. To the layperson broadband simply means faster than dial up.

Besides being faster, a broadband connection is likely to work out cheaper than dial up. In most cases you pay a flat monthly fee for broadband, whereas for dialup on top of this you had to pay phone bills. If you use the net more than occasionally broadband will prove considerably cheaper in the long run, despite high initial costs.

Broadband Technologies

There are two basic categories of broadband connection: Wired and wireless

Maximum vs real speeds

In this article I mention the maximum possible speeds offered by different technologies. The real speeds you experience will be considerably lower – typically ISP’s connections to the internet outside of Tanzania are much slower than any of the technologies.

Wired

In Arusha wired broadband access is available in two forms: Ethernet, which is often erroneously referred to as cable (which means something very different elsewhere), and DSL.

In Europe and North America Ethernet is used to provide networks within a single building. In Tanzania it is used to network towns. Where in Europe cables would run through cavity walls, here they snake through the branches of
trees and over streets. The maximum speed of an Ethernet network is 100 Mbps, although such speeds are rarely seen where cables are very long and connected to many hubs. Used like this, Ethernet tends to be very unreliable – cables
designed for use indoors are damaged by the elements, and power cuts along the way will knock out the connection. Often Ethernet connections are so unreliable that it is necessary to keep a dial up account as back up!

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) uses normal telephone lines to achieve faster connections than previously available through dial up. In Europe and America this is the most popular broadband connection method. In Africa, the necessary infrastructure does not exist as widely – most TTCL phone connections in Arusha are wireless. Where it does exist, the hardware required is very expensive. Arusha Node Marie will loan this to you with a $100 deposit.

Wireless

Wireless uses radio waves to make the connection. It is possible to connect up to 20km away from the ISPs mast (you can see a cluster of these twinkling at night on top of Themi Hill).

802.11b was the first wireless networking technology to be taken up in Arusha. Like Ethernet it is designed to be used within single buildings. However, with larger antennae it is possible to use 802.11b equipment over large distances. The maximum connection speed possible on 802.11b is 11 Mbps. This technology is the most widespread in town, but the equipment being used is very expensive – on average start up costs come close to $2,000. The technology is well tested and understood, so very reliable. Arusha Node Marie and Cybernet both offer 802.11b connections.

Benson Online launched their new broadband wireless internet service last month. The system, based on proprietary hardware produced by Navini networks, is very simple to set up compared to 802.11b networks – the radio can sit on top
of your computer rather than mounted on a mast or pole on your building – this means you are not tied to using the system within just your office. You can take the radio elsewhere and connect. The maximum speed of the technology is 2
Mbps. The required hardware costs $550.

In direct competition with Benson, Cybernet have just launched a system based on Motorolla’s Canopy hardware. The radio still needs to be mounted outside the building. The maximum speed of the technology is 10 Mbps. The required hardware costs $500.

Both Benson and Cybernet’s technologies are capable of connecting an office to the network. They offer some exciting benefits, particularly the lower start up cost, but are very new, particularly to the Arusha market. Connection speeds
are currently very fast for both. I predict that these services will grow in popularity very quickly.

If you are looking at getting connected, I recommend testing each of the providers systems, at your own premises if possible. Try downloading a few files and measuring how long it takes. Ask about Service Level Agreements, where the ISP guarantees a specified availability and connection speed.

For more information, and the most up to date costs the ISPs can be contacted through their web sites:

Originally published in Arusha Times 296

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