Low Bandwidth Web Surfing

NOTE: This page is under construction and as such is filled with grammatical mistakes and lacking complete information. The information present is correct, but is not a complete representation of all information to be covered here.

The Skinny

If you are coming to Kenya, you are very capable of getting online at the myriad of cyber cafes scattered all around the country, including in remote villages. But if you are like me and you have brought your own computer (or plan on purchasing one), then you will find your money going not to cybers, but instead to paying for one of the many types of personal Internet connections. This can mean purchasing a fixed Internet service from a traditional ISP, such as you might do at home in the States, but it most likely means jumping on with one of the national telcom carriers and joining the growing ranks of the mobile-internet users. Three of the four major telcoms offern mobile internet solutions, all of which are currently served through USB GSM Modems (more on that later). Those three telcoms are Safaricom, Zain and Orange (Kenya Telkom). Who you choose is up to other factors outside of the scope of this article.

The Jargon

You are entering into a whole new world of tech jargon and in order to get your money’s worth, it’s in your best interest to understand all the lingo being thrown around. Let’s start with the hardware, that USB GSM Modem mentioned above:

  • USB: USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, and it is simply a universal means of connecting peripheral devices to your computer.  In non-tech: it’s the rectangle plug that is lets you connect your iPod to the computer. It can also be used to connect printers, cameras and all sorts of fun toys, including your GSM Modem.
  • GSM: GSM stands for Global System for Mobile communications (or Groupe Spécial Mobile if you are a Frenchie).  This specifies the frequency your network uses to transfer information (as in radio frequency).  There are a lot of other different freqency acronyms that get thrown around, but all you need to know are how they relate to speed.  GSM and CDMA are slower.  HSDPA/UMTS and WCDMA are the faster, more modern versions.  Almost all major telcoms around the world use GSM.  Your phone and modem need to specifically work with given frequencies, which will be advertised quite clearly on the box of whatever you are purchasing.
  • Modem: This guy doesn’t make the same noise as the old-school modems of yore did in the 90’s (it’s only because the noises are turned off by default).  Noiseless as it is, the hardware is still a traditional modem that is using a phone network to connect your computer to the internet, so that is how you should think about it.

On top of the hardware jargon, you also need to keep abreast of bits and bytes because that is how you will get charged.

  • Connection Speed: Your connection speed will most likely be measured in either Megabits per second or Kilabits per second.  Technically, these should be abbreviated Mbps/Kbps, mbps/kbps or maybe even mibps or kibps.  In short you will here a techie talking about Mips and Kips.  That’s this.
  • Total Bandwidth: The other thing you need to worry about is your total bandwidth, most often given in Megabytes (MB).  This represents the total volume of traffic you are allowed to have in a given period, and it is here that you will need to learn how to save.  Everything that gets transferred over your connection will consume bandwidth.  Everything.  No exceptions.  This means websites, files, music, streaming video, skype.  All of these consume bandwidth in varying degrees.
  • WARNING!!!! Notice how your speed is measured in bits and your bandwidth is measured in bytes.  You will need to do some math here.  It takes 8 bits to make up a byte.  Let’s look at an example here.  Let’s say you have an 8 Mbps connection and want to transfer an 8 MB (capital B means byte) song.  Those who have not read this helpful guide might think that their song will transfer in 1 second.  Wow, super fast!  WRONG!  Your connection speed is in bits and your song is in bytes, so first you need to convert those bits to bytes (or vice versa).  An 8Mbps connection is roughly equivalent to a 1 MBps (capital B again) connection.  This means it will take 8 seconds to transfer your song, not 1.

    Just please be aware of the difference between connection speed and bandwidth.


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