Since last week, Airtel has launched its high-speed HSPA+ (or 3.75G) Internet around Kigali, which is the mobile connection between 3G and 4G (there's currently no 4G in Rwanda).
"The technology on our 3.75G network will give our customers the opportunity to interact with data in a different way," said Marcellin Paluku, the country manager of Airtel Rwanda. "This is why Airtel doesn't see 3G as a product but a platform that enables the community to expand its social and commercial horizons, alongside the rest of the world."
After being awarded 2G and 3G licenses in September, Bharti Airtel pledged to invest US$ 100 million in Rwanda over a three-year period.
HSPA+ essentially provides download speeds on a mobile phone equivalent to a broadband line in your office or home, removing any limitations placed on the use of your phone by a slow connection.
We have taken a good time to test it and we can admit that it has the best speed available, and what is more, it maintains this speed with no fluctuation -- it instead balances between 3G and HSPA+, which is very good. The network supports connection speeds of up to 21 Mb/s.
YouTube is of course your first stop if you want to know whether you have a good browsing connection. During our test period, all the videos played very well from start to the end, with no buffering. We have also downloaded heavy files to see how long they will take -- the speed went as high as 450 kb/s, and a 177.5 MB file was ready in less than 15 minutes.
In different areas of Nyamirambo, Kimironko, city center and Gikondo, the connection retained the same high-speed, bringing HSPA+ to once frustrated individuals who were stuck with disappointing GPRS and Edge before Airtel. Anywhere you use Airtel in Kigali, chances are that you'll be on HSPA+.
Airtel's HSPA+ network also supports Internet tethering, meaning that you'll be able to turn your smartphone into a wireless router by sending your cellular connection to any Wi-Fi compatible device. The speed will remain the same. Airtel has also brought the easy-to-install 3.75G-capable modems for those who don't have smartphones (or don't want to tether). The price is 10,000 FRW (SIM card included), and the modems work on Windows XP or later and OS X Leopard or later.
People with feature phones can contact Airtel Call Center for them to have Internet settings remotely set. If you have an Airtel modem, then you're all set. Provided that you've installed the software (which you find on the modem) successfully, every time you insert the modem in your computer the connection program auto-launches - just click "Connect."
You can alternatively send the word "All" to 4950 to get Internet settings for your phone. By doing so, you'll be instantly sent a configuration message. Please click "Install" and there you are.
Marcellin Paluku, the country manager of Airtel Rwanda: "The technology on our 3.75G network will give our customers the opportunity to interact with data in a different way."
Smartphone users will have to enter the settings manually, which is also quite easy. Go to network settings and you'll see entries for "APN" and "Username". Enter "internet" for APN and "Airtel" for Username. Wait a few seconds for 3G (or H) symbol to appear in the upper right (or left) corner of your screen - you're connected.
The new HSPA+ network will initially be available to Airtel customers in Kigali, but will become available to other parts of the country over the course of the month. Airtel will offer customers 1 GB free every day for the first two weeks, until July 17. Afterwards, the rates will be 20 francs per MB from 6 am to midnight, and 10 francs during off-peak hours.
Airtel has also plans to bring broadband Internet connection as well as BlackBerry Internet Services soon.