Tips and Tricks for Dodgy Internet

Tips and Tricks – Operating on 7 Megabytes of low quality internet per day

The Third World is a shitty place to use the internet.  Botswana is no exception.  This article tells how to get by on a crap service.
There are some reasonably good internet services in Botswana, but they require typically 24 month commitment and often a phone line.  There are 3 gprs/edge/3G services – Mascom (57%?Market Share), Orange (35%?), and BeMobile (7%?) but all in their own ways are poor.  I have tried all 3, and am since some weeks on BeMobile, which at least is cheaper than the other 2 for data, though not by much.  In fact, I am paying about US$100/gigabyte, vs 20-30 in Kenya and about 8 or less in UK (for Three.co.uk it is GBP 15 per month for unlimited 3G data, which can also be tethered).  Thus unto those who have shall be given, and from those who have not shall be taken away…

What are the symptoms?  Internet up and down like a yoyo, mainly down.  Like down for 20 minutes at a time, or even for hours.  When available, operates at a trickle, eg a very light website might work, a normal or heavy website no chance.  Forget ever using Youtube.com, videoconferencing etc..  Gmail operates pretty well through the android gmail app, and automatically fetches and sends mail when a connection becomes available.  Twitter is great (as we all know!) – operates on a tight tight pipe,  but does need manually requeuing to send ‘drafts’ and does not automatically refresh.  In fact, apps generally do not take third world conditions into account.  They should be tested in a special lab which simulates third world internet conditions (seriously!).

So – I use a ZTE Blade (Orange San Francisco) US$ 150 retail (UK price, not Botswana price!) android phone running 2.1 and rooted or unlocked.  Also I have a Toshiba 650 laptop.   We also have a nearby cybercaf�, which gives decent internet for $2/hour (some others in Gaborone do it for $1.50).

Invaluable apps for the smartphone? –
1. Gmail
2. Twitter (their own app) – I use this 90% of my twitter time
3. Tweetcaster is sometimes better for some things than  twitter’s own app – so I use about 10% of my twitter time
4. Astro – invaluable for sending attachments by email.  And the inbuilt text editor is much better than android’s default notepad.  But using Astro means that to attach a file to the email you are writing is difficult or impossible – you have to send one additional email for each attachment to the same address.  Maybe by using Download All Files one can get around that limitation……
5. AndFTP for managing my website
6. Download All Files
7. eBuddy for instant messaging – using googletalk
8. Facebook app
9. LinkedIn app
10. PayPal – often does not work except when connection is really good
11. PdaNet – to tether PC to android when you want to use the android as a modem (which in Botswana is never!)
12. Google Translate
13. WordPress for blogging – operates pretty well
14. YouTube app – but never use this in Botswana
15. Google Plus for Android – too early to try that out, but hopefully that will be well designed, and with third world conditions in mind (?!)

How do I do things?
1.  Compose emails of any length in word on the pc, save to textfile with LF only, and with the tick box convert characters ticked.  Connect pc and phone with cable, press Mount option when prompted on the phone.  Copy from the PC the textfile to the phone, usually into directory sdcard/download/ .  then disconnect the cable and only then you can read that sdcard/download directory from the phone.  Find and open the textfile using file editor (not notepad) and press the text to ‘copy all’.  Then open a new email under gmail in compose and long-press the body to paste the text into your email.  Alternatively, long-press the text file (or even the word document) to bring up your astro options – choose send, gmail, and enter the destination email address then press send – the textfile or doc is sent as an attachment
2. For WordPress blogs use essentially the same techniques as above.
3. Getting text out of emails from android gmail app and over to pc – not possible I think.  But attachments can be handled by Download All Files app.
4. Shading and copying from android twitter search (e.g. to collate your own tweets and put into your blog) – cannot find any way to do this – rely on cybercaf�.
5. Facebook – basically avoid facebook and rely only on twitter, but set up so that everything I tweet also goes to my facebook page
6. Browsing – minimise browsing full stop because of up/down connection and very restricted pipe.  Set download images to off, except for some activities (e.g. checking website statistics graphs)
7. Newspapers – use free review  service – in my case newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/ or something like that – which reviews every day at 0800 hrs GMT/BST about 6 quality British newspapers.  This minimises browsing required.
8. Subscribe to many email services as alternatives to browsing – e.g. Spiegel.com, independent.co.uk, nytimes.com, economist.com, allafrica.com (which has many country daily emails), mail & guardian south Africa, etc..
9. If you want to run a notepad document which you can send over to pc then do not use the default android notepad – place a blank named textfile in sdcard/download and then open with File Editor to add and save content.

If I didn’t have a pc then I would have to set up some kind of external Bluetooth keyboard, so that reasonably rapid and spontaneous typing is possible.  Maybe others could contribute their experience on that score…? ***
The main thing to remember is that a pc will swallow typically 3 GB per month to do the same that can be done by a smartphone for 500 MB/month (well maybe that is an exaggeration – but not putting your pc online at all does save a lot of bandwidth).
So – by changing habits and curtailing activities, I got a 5 GB/month PC habit down to about 200 MB smartphone usage.  It has been painful, but quite possible.  The really disappointing thing is that 5GB/month in the UK and 200 MB/month in Botswana cost the same – GBP 15, US$ 25, BWP 150.
Alex Weir, Gaborone, Botswana. Friday 1 July 2011

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About alexweir1949

software developer, inventor and innovator, Fraud Proof Voting Systems Inventor, founder of cd3wd.com. Based in Botswana and Zimbabwe, work everywhere.
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