8 Jun 2018 – by Kerry Hayes
Africa is often perceived complicated when it comes to internet connectivity, with travellers fearing they will be out of touch with friends, family and the social world while journeying across the bush, beach and tropical terrain.
But while notably slower in some southern and East African countries when compared to the rest of the world, many countries in the region are advancing in their ICT infrastructure, telecommunications, and satellite and mobile connectivity.
Knowing what connectivity options are available is key to keeping a traveller online. Rural areas will have unreliable to no internet coverage, and when they do have connectivity, it may not be compatible with a traveller’s international mobile phone.
So the best way to ensure a tourist is connected is to contact the cell phone provider in advance. Most larger providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, will have special international plans. And if local providers can’t offer good rates, purchasing a global SIM card and/or renting a handset from a phone rental company such as Cellular Abroad and Telestial, is a practical route to go.
Tip: Ask the service provider if additional charges apply for incoming calls from overseas and what the texting cost is – texting is usually cheaper.
When within an internet-capable area, travellers can use Skype to touch in with loved ones back home, send emails, or conduct business calls. This cyber-chat app is free of charge, and offers video functionality so a traveller can share locational videos in real time. Also, if those on the other end don’t have a Skype account, Skype credit can be used to call mobile phones or landline, at a relatively low cost.
Connecting in nature
Usually the primary reason for visiting a southern or East African country, is its breathtaking and exciting safaris. But internet connectivity in the more remote parts of the continent is scarce and unreliable at best. Places such as Chobe, the Okavango Delta, Savuti and South Luangwa (across Botswana and Zambia) have no Wi-Fi or any kind of internet or mobile coverage. Kenya and Tanzania are also relatively unreliable, especially out in the Serengeti or Masai Mara.
Tip: Remember to pack a phone charger with appropriate power adaptor. Solar chargers are also great for journeying to areas with limited electricity.
In South Africa, most four to five-star lodges in the Kruger, Pilanesberg, Madikwe and Shamwari have Wi-Fi in communal rooms in lodges, which is either complimentary or comes at a small fee. But a service provider such as Safaricom has great bundles on offer with a good 3G network.
Here are some connectivity insights into some other southern and East African countries.
Safaricom can keep travellers connected across most parts of the country, even some of the more remote areas (though in some, such as the Masai Mara, it is not always reliable). Most high-end hotels and lodges offer Wi-Fi.
In most South African cities, internet is readily available with fairly reliable speed. Landline companies offer ADSL, ISDN, Diginet and leased lines, along with wireless and satellite connectivity. The last two are also offered by small and mobile phone providers. Keep an eye on fees, which can be quite high – these can be found on service providers’ websites. Most charge flat monthly rates, or packages that include voice, data and text.
A practical solution could be incorporating online activities, such as posting holiday images, updating Facebook and Twitter, or sending a Postagram, into a day’s itinerary. Many hotels, restaurants, business centres, internet cafes and shopping malls offer free Wi-Fi, which can be logged onto when inside the venue.
As mentioned, most lodges in Chobe, the Okavango, and Savute don’t have internet access owing to their remote locations. Some higher-end venues have Wi-Fi in common rooms, but satellite phones will be available for any emergencies.
Tip: Check with the hotel or lodge before arrival, whether internet access is available.
Good Wi-Fi access is generally available around Victoria Falls and Livingstone, however many lodges in South Luangwa have no Wi-Fi, and basic camps have no coverage at all.
Major accommodation venues have a Wi-Fi connection in communal areas, though remote tented camps will have limited to no coverage. All lodges do, however, generally have satellite phones.
As with the above-mentioned, coverage is dependent on remoteness.
Ugandan technology is largely based on satellite technology, making connections slower. Options to connect include plugging into a direct network at an internet café; finding a Wi-Fi hotspot, which can be in a hotel, bank, airport or office; using a mobile modem to connect to 3G; or connecting to a local area network (LAN).
If using a mobile phone, ensure that it is compatible with the local carriers. Common brands include Apple, Nokia, Samsung, Alcatel, Siemens, Android-enabled devices and Spice phones.