JOHANNESBURG, South Africa Botswana has great cellular data service. Wi-Fi at my
hotel in Zambia was usually better than expected. And as you might expect, Jo'burg,
as this city is also known, has excellent connections to the Internet and beyond.
I've wrapped up a quick trip to the southern portion of the continent, my first time
in Africa in just over 10 years. On that earlier trip, I remember being impressed
with a cyber cafe in Nairobi, Kenya, and the burgeoning cellular system in east
Africa. What a difference a decade makes.
Most of my time was spent in Livingstone, Zambia, a not-so-smallish city in the
southern part of the country, near Victoria Falls and on the Zambezi River; At the
Protea Hotel, one could get Wi-Fi access to the Internet, provided by iSpot,
a local service firm, but only in 60 minute increments, doled out by clerks at the
hotel's front desk.
Well, the tickets read "one hour," but they also stated a maximum of 25 Mbytes
of data transfer. Load too many Web pages, send too many e-mails say a photo or
two from a nearby camera safari where the giraffes, elephants and hippos were
plenteous and that "hour" can shrink to minutes.
By the end of my trip, I was up to two tickets at a time from the front desk; they
were, after all, tiring of me coming back so often. While I realize that most people
don't come to Livingstone for the Internet access, business travelers do have needs,
and it turned out that last Monday was a "heavy" work day for me; something back
home needed attention and I had to work very remotely. Perhaps the future will offer
better data services, even this far from home.
Neighboring Botswana the Chobe river and adjacent safari park is about 90
minutes from Livingstone via tour bus, ferry and safari-adapted pickup truck was
an amazing surprise in terms of cellular data as well as wildlife. Both Botswana and
Zambia have cellular systems built on the Global Standard for Mobile, or GSM,
format; it just seems that Botswana's is far more data-friendly, since in Zambia, I
could only receive e-mail on my cell phone via the aforementioned Wi-Fi at the
Though I didn't see any computer shops in Livingstone (nor, frankly, did I seek out
any), the penetration of computing is very strong. Conference-goers at the hotel
almost uniformly toted laptop computers; hotel rooms at the Protea have flat-screen
TVs, and the lobby was always a popular Wi-Fi "hotspot."
Indeed, the "netbook" craze can be found in Livingstone as much as in Laurel,
Maryland: the iSpot Web page offers custom-configured netbooks at what seems to be a
reasonable price, so I wouldn't be surprised if the small devices flood the market
there as much as anywhere, at least among the upper middle class and higher levels
of income. There are, of course, many people in Zambia for whom the dream of a
computer would be just that. However, in visiting several churches in rural areas, I
noticed a fair amount of computer equipment being used to run projection systems for
meetings, and some of the church schools I saw under construction will also have
Getting to Zambia required stops in Johannesburg, and on my way home, I spent a
night at the City Lodge Hotel near the O.R. Tambo International Airport. Here, the
Wi-Fi was to die for: super-fast, reasonably priced at about $20 for four hours'
service, and exceptionally reliable.
In London, the Sofitel Hotel at Heathrow's Terminal 5 is another dream spot: VGA and
HDMI connections for your computer to use the large LG flat panel display, and
reliable Wi-Fi at 15 British Pounds for a day's use. If only British Airways had
something similar on the wireless side, I could file these words while flying home!