Sabahi (Washington, DC)

Somalia: Low-Cost Internet On Smartphones Altering Way Somalis Stay Connected to World

Mogadishu — Despite the initial high cost of purchasing a smartphone, Somalis are increasingly paying up for the benefit of instant internet connectivity, making communicating with family members abroad and accessing news and information easier and less expensive than traditional ways of accessing the internet.

"The most expensive iPhones cost $800, while Samsung [phones] are sold for $500, even though there are some that cost more," said 34-year-old Faisal Abdullahi, who owns a mobile phone store in Hamar Weyne Market in Mogadishu. The cheapest smartphones are sold for about $250, he said.

Smartphone sales are steadily increasing, Abdullahi said, noting that his store sold 15 smartphones in 2012, and nearly 100 this year.

Abdullahi said most of his customers ask for smartphones, particularly Samsung mobile phones, which are popular because they are cheaper than iPhones and have more free applications.

"Some of these phones are very expensive even though they are now sold for less than when they first came," he said. "You could look at this as being very expensive, but we sell them constantly."

Lower data usage costs

Abdisalam Warsame, a 20-year-old form one student at Djibouti School in Wadajir district, said he was grateful for his sister in Saudi Arabia who sent him money for a smartphone four months ago.

"I used to go to an internet cafe that charged 18,000 Somali shillings per hour when I needed to use the internet, and it is possible to need it several times a day," he told Sabahi. "I now pay $1 (20,000 shillings) for more than 24 hours on my smartphone."

With internet access on his mobile phone, Warsame said he is now able to stay connected to the rest of the world at all times.

Likewise, 32-year-old Mogadishu resident Yusuf Ibrahim said he has been a frequent mobile internet user for the past five months.

He said this service has made it easier for him to stay in touch with his family members who live in Finland.

"I communicate with my wife and children on WhatsApp every day," Ibrahim told Sabahi. "It [feels] as though I am with them, and it is cheaper than speaking to them directly. I used to pay more than $50 before just to talk to them, but I now use less than $10 a month, even though I communicate with them every hour."

Abdirashid Hussein, 35, an employee of the internet and mobile company Hormuud Telecom, said 1 gigabyte (GB) of internet data costs $25, and how long it lasts depends on a person's usage.

Besides Hormuud, Hargeisa-based Somtel is the only other company providing internet access via cellular phones in southern Somalia.

Aweys Abdirahman, a 23-year-old student at al-Imra School in Mogadishu's Hodan district, said modern phones are making it easier for Somalis to stay connected, even though critics argue that young people are too pre-occupied with their smartphones.

Somalia lags behind when it comes to internet accessibility, however the increasing use of relatively low cost mobile internet is helping close the gap year after year, he said.

"In one sense it is not too expensive because the amount of money I am spending to access the internet now is [less than] what I used to spend for calls [alone]," said Abdirahman, adding that he saves money by sending text messages to his friends and family instead of calling.

Faisal Muse Mohamed, a 24-year-old journalist who works for Radio Mogadishu, has been accessing the internet via his smartphone for about a year.

Specifically, he says he uses his Samsung Galaxy to access social media sites such as Facebook, where he goes to socialise and get news.

"I use Facebook the most because you can communicate with friends and stay updated on news and pictures that are posted," he told Sabahi. He said he also uses Whatsapp to communicate with friends because it is inexpensive and does not require a lot of data usage.

Replacing internet cafes

Hassan Mohamed, a 30-year-old Mogadishu resident who studies sociology at University of Somalia, said smartphones are a more private way to access the internet, connect with people and stay informed.

"I now feel that I have the ability to access the internet any time that I need it instead of being dependent on other internet [providers] like before," said Mohamed, who has been using a Samsung Galaxy phone for about seven months.

"I use it to send emails, stay informed about news, and I also use it to download lessons and information from Google and to access social sites," he told Sabahi.

"I am now also able to read or watch anything that is private on my own. Since internet cafes are public spaces, you cannot access or watch everything you like," he said.

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