Having recently arrived from Canada, I’ve had to make a bit of an adjustment in expectations when it comes to internet access speeds here in Kigali.
After arriving in Kigali, I stayed in a hotel for six weeks where the wifi was, at best, barely adequate. Email and very light browsing were manageable, but any moderate lifting (You Tube videos, modern sites made for broadband, downloading) was hardly functional. My weekly one-hour episode fix of “Game Of Thrones” (as I am not able to watch it on TV here) took me over 24 hours to “procure” each time.
As an alternative to the hotel wifi I tried using my USB MTN and Tigo modems but wasn’t any better. Those USB sticks would take hours to buffer videos, and the internet (at least the internet I have become used to while living in Canada) was not anywhere near the same experience. Watching my KB/s on the USB modems, I would get anywhere from 4 KB/s, to very rarely around 30 or 40 KB/s max for just a brief moment (but almost always less than 10 KB/s…) Back in Canada, I would easily get 200 to 300 or more KB/s all the time…
But of course, “This Is Africa”.
So, when I moved into a house in Gacuriro, with hotel wifi no longer an option, and averaging around 5 KB/s on my USB modems (ranging from frustrating to depressing), I was willing to try anything else and was curious to check out Broadband Systems Corporation’s (BSC) internet offerings. I was told they had something called the “Egg”, which is a WiBro (Wireless Broadband) solution.
But first, I had to find them. Broadband Systems Corporation is located on the 2nd Floor of the Telecom House, Kacyiru (at the time of this writing, their website says “3rd Floor” but they recently moved, as pointed out by the signs next to the elevator) . Most moto taxis know the place, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find if you just say “Telecom House, Kacyiru”. If that doesn’t work, head for the “Novotel” hotel and continue down the road towards the US Embassy. Telecom House will be on the left side of the road.
There aren’t any signs (that I could see anyway) outside the building, so it really has more of a “headquarters” feel than a “retail” feel from the outside. Also, I actually had to leave a piece of ID (my passport) at security, at which point they gave me a visitor’s badge. I’m guessing any piece of ID, or some other kind of collateral, will do, I just happened to have my passport on me during my visits. Again, this made things feel more like “headquarters” than “retail”, but not an issue.
Once at BSC’s offices, I asked for the “Egg”. Here’s the deal…
You fill out a form, and then deposit Rwf 30,000 and sign a quick contract. Basically the contract states you have two days to try the “Egg” out for free, with zero obligation (note that the offices have limited hours on Saturdays and are closed Sundays). Since BSC’s WiBro coverage is not 100% in all of Kigali, the only way you can know for sure if it will work where you live is by testing it out. After two days, if you discover where you want to use it doesn’t work, or you just simply don’t want it, you return it, and get your deposit back. Check out the BSC website for a a coverage map of Kigali.
If, however, you want to keep the “Egg”, you fill out some more paperwork, sign a new contract, pay Rwf 72,000 to buy it outright, and then your Rwf 30,000 deposit is used for your first month of service, which starts from the day you sign the second contract (so you really do get to try it out for free, which is nice). The cost of the service, which is unlimited data, is Rwf 30,000 per month.
In terms of speed and reliability, I’ve only had the “Egg” for a week, but so far, I’m fairly happy with it. They say you can get anywhere from 256 KB/s to 512 KB/s (or more in evening/night time hours). In the evening at my place, I’d consistently get around 40 to 100 KB/s with the “Egg”, sometimes more, but on average still less than advertised. However, when comparing this to my usual 4 to 10 KB/s with my other USB MTN/Tigo modems, having something that is around ten times faster (sometimes more) is quite welcome!
The “Egg” itself is pretty small, about the size of an iPhone, and has lights on it that include the indication of signal strength and battery power (green is good, orange is not so good, and red means there is a problem). This allows you to immediately see how strong the signal is (and move it around if need be) as well as how much battery power is left. From my own experience, I have not yet had to move it around to get a better signal, but I’m told this may happen depending on where you’re located (I don’t think coverage goes outside of Kigali, yet, unlike I’d guess normal USB modems).
So overall, I’m fairly happy with the purchase/service but here are my pros and cons as I see them at the moment:
- it’s battery powered, which means it doesn’t need a power source for extended periods of time (i.e. when the power goes out, which happens from time to time). It also comes with a USB cable, and an outlet plug, for charging/leaving plugged in
- thanks to the USB cable for attaching to a computer, this means that, unlike my USB/Tigo modems, it doesn’t block my only other USB port when I have it plugged into my Macbook Pro
- after using it for a week it has always given me a signal, so reliability (so far) is good
- it is a WPA password protected WiFi router as well (network/password is on a sticker on the device when you buy it) so I can have my Macbook Pro, iPad, and iPhone all using the same access point at the same time (before using the “Egg”, I had to share my USB modem connection from my Macbook Pro to other devices, regularly switching things on/off for sharing, WiFi, etc. which was a bit of a pain)
- Skype, Youtube, BitTorrenting, general internet browsing, etc. are all the best I’ve experienced for any wireless service since arriving here 2 months ago (compared to hotels, cafes, other USB modems, etc.)
- the fact this something like this exists is pretty cool
- depending on your budget, 72,000 RWF for a portable WiBro modem, and 30,000 RFW a month, may be a bit steep. For me, having (possibly) the fastest wireless internet connection anywhere (so far) in Kigali is worth every dollar!
- the battery only lasts around 3 hours, which isn’t ideal, but I am happy to say I was told this up front by the BSC rep to expect that from the battery
- at the moment, for the monthly service, you need to pay at a bank, and then bring the receipt to BSC, or simply pay cash at BSC. Either way, you need to physically go to BSC once a month. I asked if I could pay several months in advance, and they said yes, so that could be an option, but having some way of paying without having to go to BSC regularly would be more convenient. This, to me, is another example of how BSC hasn’t quite ironed out all the wrinkles of having a smooth consumer experience
- the BSC rep told me to avoid leaving it plugged in/turned on for “long” periods of time (not sure what a “long” time is exactly is, but it probably means don’t use it 24/7 like you would a “normal” broadband modem/router). I wonder if this means it can overheat, as I have noticed it gets pretty warm. This may be something I’ll be able to report more back on in the future after some extended use
- it’s still not as fast as I would like, but it may just be the fastest wireless connection available in Kigali, so I guess I can’t really complain
- coverage in Kigali is not 100% (I’m told) and I don’t think this works outside Kigali, yet, but this should be regularly improving as time marches on
Some of BSC’s other options include a WiBro USB modem (Rwf 20,000 to buy and Rwf 20,000 per month) and a plug-in router that is obviously not as mobile, nor as good when the power goes out (Rwf 85,000 to purchase and Rwf 30,000 per month) Finally, it looks like they also have wired services for buildings, but I have no clue what needs that would meet… I’m guessing it’s more for business or some serious expat action.
There are further options other than buying the hardware outright (I was offered a 2 year plan for the “Egg”), but I just chose to buy it up front and pay month to month. If I’d known I’d be writing a review at the time, I’d have asked for more details! I was told I am given a 2 day grace period after my bill is due each month before they will cut off my service.
So there you have it. I will give an update at some point in the future with a quick status of how the “Egg” service/reliability has fared over the longer term, but so far, so good!
BTW – The “Egg” gets its name because the original design looked like an egg. It seems the name has stuck, but the design has not. The BSC rep told me that this is the 3rd generation design, and that the 4th generation, which is out in Korea right now, has actually moved back to an egg shape, but she said she didn’t know when the 4th generation would be offered here in Kigali.