Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Jungle of Specialists

Uganda has moved forward in many ways over the past few years but many things remain the same. A prime example is the telecom industry, which we became reacquainted with on our first day. Communication is a critical part of this project both for project management and for sharing our stories with people in Canada.

We heard that it was now possible to use the internet with your smart phone and this sounded very convenient for our purposes. The evening we arrived, Rogers had given us a Uganda Telecom (UTL) sim card. I tried to use the card that evening but it would not work so we decided to try MTN – which is the company we used last trip. At the MTN store they assured us that you could use the internet with their service so we both bought sim cards ($1.50 each) and a little airtime. Upon leaving the store we found their service was really only for voice and email over their accounts. So we were directed back to UTL. The sweet girl at the UTL store told us our new UTL sim card from our friend Rogers was useless – sometimes they are just made that way – and we should get another one… and yes, they have 3G internet. But, she told us, UTL has the best rates for voice but we should use Orange for internet. It sounded like Orange was the company for us. We went to the Orange store and found a USB key wireless modem for our computers and we picked up one sim card so at least one of our phones could be used on the internet. But there’s always a catch. Their voice rates are astronomical. So we returned to UTL and purchased a UTL phone for 35,000 UGX (about $17) for voice use. Within an hour of leaving the Orange store my overheated iPhone’s battery died as a result of struggling with the poor G3 network. I am now back to mostly using UTL for voice only.

In the end, between Nat and I we have six new phone numbers over three networks. Each network works better in certain areas of the country, one is for data the others are for voice. Now, like most people here, we are juggling a pocket full of sim cards and multiple phones on different networks.

And then there was our trip to the bank to set up our account…

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