IT in Africa

On connectivity in Benin

I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for Benin Telecoms! A conversation with Jon Gosier on Twitter a few weeks ago revealed that in Uganda, he pays literally 10 times as much a month as we do, for the same connection. Can you imagine paying $600 a month for less than 256kb/s? Neither can I.

jongos-256kps-uganda

I’m constantly frustrated by how slowly internet infrastructure develops in Benin, but at the end of the day, a pro-active government has forced a lot of positive changes in the last few years.

logo_kanakooInternet for the common man

CDMA connections for everyone! Cheap handsets combined with a vast CDMA network means that anyone and everyone can have a (relatively) cheap internet connection. And I do mean everyone. Even in the most remote villages, if you have a usb powered phone and a computer, you can connect to the internet. Users don’t even need to go through the two year process of getting a landline anymore.

CDMA connections are supposed to be 115kb/s, but generally clock in between 9.6 and 36, depending on location and time of day. They also come with a “land line” phone number.  A technician told us yesterday that Benin Telecoms recently bumped Kanakoo to 230kbps, but I’ve yet to see evidence that these connections are any faster.

A few of the newspapers we work with use Kanakoo, but if you’re in Cotonou, there are alternatives that cost about the same.  It’s better than nothing, but not yet useful for more than checking email and Google searches.

Internet for those with pull

DSL is affordable for just about everyone these days, as long as you have a land line and live near an exchange with the necessary capacity

DSL connectoins range from 128kb/s to 2Mb/s, however, even in Cotonou, there are zones (like ours), where the local exchanges just don’t hack it. And of course, it can be a two year wait for a landline.

isocelWireless solutions

WiFi has been opened up to private investors, although the state ISP has no offerings. The customer service sucks and installation is a hassle, but it’s affordable. Unfortunately, the service is curently available only in Cotonou and the environs, however, there are plans to expand the service in the future.

WiFi connections range from 128kb/s to 2Mb/s, including a special “nights and weekends only” package, which is probably the cheapest way to get connected in Benin right now. The biggest complaint I hear is that users never know when their connection is actually going to work. For the cheaper packages, it seems to be 50/50 on whether they’ll actually be able to work on a given day.  Also, their customer service is poo; however, that’s systematic in the sector, and probably unfair to pin uniquely on them.

WiMax connections are offered by the state ISP as an alternative to DSL, and is the service that we use here at the house. Installation is a particularly expensive hassle, but once you’re installed, the connection actally works most of the time. As I told @jongos, the connection is super fast at night. During the day, it works most of the time, but tends to the sluggish. Occasionally (okay, about half the time), the connection is unusable between 9am and 9pm.

WiMax is offered at 256kb/s. At night, it actually runs that quickly. During the day, we tend to see 9.6 to 128. Oh well. WiMax is available in and around Cotonou, as well as Porto Novo.

logo_mtn1The future of connectivity in Benin

Recently, the government has put pressure on GSM companies to offer internet connections, and they have! While not blazing fast, they’re more than serviceable. As the services are relatively new, they don’t work in all parts of the country. I’m hopeful that GSM will be the key to real connectivity here in Benin.

Slowly but surely, things are changing. Day-to-day, it’s a constant battle with our ISP to get problems fixed, but overall, we have a working internet connection. We can do training sessions at home, instead of in cybercafes. We can check email all day long. And, believe it or not, the most important thing is that we have acecss to the power of Google 24/7.раскрутка

7 thoughts on “On connectivity in Benin

  1. Very enlightening post on connectivity in Benin. I find it interesting that with all the technology that's available, connectivity is still so much of a hassle. In Lagos, Nigeria where I live, I pay close to $100 (equivalent) for a rather decent 400kbps connection. It's not always 400kbps especially from around 9am to 3pm during week days as the speed drops a little but I've been using the service for about two months now and I'm very satisfied. In learning about the history of the company, I'm made to understand that they were really terrible in the past but of recent, they've done phenomenally well. Customer service is very good and the service is superb.

    I might also want to chip in here that competition is important in bringing out the best of these companies. My feeling is that there's little or no competition amongst the ISPs in Benin and so they really don't bother how satisfied their customers are. My belief is that with time as more options for connectivity are being created are there are more entrants into the market, these companies will sit up and begin to offer good service.

  2. You're absolutely right about competition. Everything goes through
    the state ISP. Benin Telecom has a monopoly on the SAT-3, and forces
    everyone to go through them, (and I do mean everyone, including int'l
    calls via GSM networks with their own satellites).

    The big WiFi provider leases bandwidth from the state. When their
    product took off, they didn't have enough capacity to deal with
    demand. Still don't, actually. A connection to the backbone is
    expensive, and more so due to the state monopoly. Plus, the state
    doesn't exactly make it easy to increase the size of the pipeline.
    It's a bureaucratic nightmare.

    However, a lack of demand also creates problems. There's a nascent
    tech sector, but there's nowhere near the demand for cheap bandwidth
    that Lagos has. Not as many people. Not as much business. Not as much
    money floating around. It's a catch-22. Demand won't grow until
    prices go down, but prices won't go down until demand creates a market
    big enough to handle a few competitors.

    The bright shining star is actually the GSM networks. Slowly but
    surely, they're rolling out 3G connectivity all over the country.
    It's the same price as slower, less portable alternatives, and doesn't
    require any investment on the part of the end user other than a cell
    phone suitable for tethering.

  3. 3G in Benin! That's awesome. We didn't see so much of the Internet boom until the GSM companies came. Let's watch this space. I'm pretty confident something really good is about to happen in Benin.

  4. Hi Theresa, You say that the WiFi operator leases bandwidth from the state? So the ISM bands are not unlicensed? That is not good news. It seems it is only when spectrum is unlicensed that you get really innovation in delivery.

    You may have read about the successful Television White Spaces – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_space_(telecom… – campaign in the U.S. aimed at opening up unused television spectrum for wireless broadband. Worth looking at and lobbying for in any country where rural connectivity is a challenge.

    Out of curiosity, what is the default price to send an SMS in Benin?

    1. Same network SMS = 25F (0.05 USD)
      Different network SMS = 50 F (0.10 USD)
      Int'l SMS = 75 – 125 F (0.15 – 0.25 USD)

      I actually have no idea whether the ISM bands are licensed or not.
      Probably, because everything's a hassle here (I will find out,
      though). Getting a license to become an ISP can take up to two years.

      When I talk about leasing bandwidth, I mean that the only pipe into
      the country is owned by the gov't, and so all ISPs have to lease that
      bandwidth in order to connect their subscribers to the internet. Or
      maybe we're talking about the same thing … ?

  5. Thanks for the SMS info! In terms of whether ISM bands are unlicensed or not, that is a question of is it legal to offer Internet infrastructure using WiFi gear or do you have to first pay for a license to do so from the regulator.

  6. Hello everyone
    Currently, I am working for a leading IP based communication service company in India called Net4India. We are planning to expand our horizons and I was looking for channel partners or strategic alliance to share business interests in the African region. We’re providing VoIP services (call termination) to destinations across the world – including India on whole sale and retail basis. Along with VoIP services we provide facilities such as data center facility (ISO 27001 certified), business email services, domain registrations and hosting (we are India’s leading domain registration company) and we also offer Microsoft Hosted Dynamics CRM services.

    Currently, we are interested in providing VoIP services along with our web products and services – Domains, hosting and email solutions.

    It would be great if we could move forward and start a fruitful business relationship.

    Regards
    Asad Ansari

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