Safaricom is the first Kenyan ISP to offer actual 4G LTE network. Even though this super-fast internet communication protocol is available in select places in Nairobi and Mombasa, understanding what it’s all about and what you need to enjoy the faster speeds would do you no harm.
Must Read: Budget 4G/LTE Smartphones in Kenya
What is 4G/LTE?
LTE (Long Term Evolution) is a 4G (4th Generation) wireless network standard that replaces the 3rd Generation (3G) network with the intent of delivering 10x 3G speeds to smartphones, modems and other broadband powered devices. With 4G, you will be looking at lows of 100Mbit per second to 125Mbps.
4G, in itself, is old term. 4G technologies include HSPA+ 21/42, the almost obsolete WiMAX and the next-gen LTE. With most of the presentable smartphones and modems already offering the HSPA+ connectivity, it would be legal to say you have an idea of what it feels like to use a 4G network.
All LTE implementations aren’t the same
Since LTE is just a wireless network standard, there are loads of ways to implement an LTE network. This, in simple language, would explain why one 3G network could be slower than another 3G network. The strength and implementation of the Safaricom’s LTE network will determine how fast the new network will be.
Even though we would normally expect it to be faster, especially when uploading content like images to the web, the difference in speed between the LTE and 3G speeds might be negligible to the less refined internet users.
3G Vs 4G
The average download speed on a 4G connection ought to be 18Mbps while that of a good 3G connection stand at 7Mbps. Clearly, 4G doubles and dwarfs the download speeds you would get on a 3G connection on paper.
Things are different in reality. Download speeds of 1Mbps are unheard of on most Kenyan 3G networks. There are places were the best you can get is 40Kbps on an EDGE connection. While 40Kbps is truly mediocre, a 200Kbps connection is always more than welcome to average internet users.
What the Safaricom 4G Has on offer
According to my good friends over at techweez.com, kachwanya.com and hapakenya.com , the 4G network peaks at 25.28Mps and bottoms out at 17.78Mbps on the download and 6.36Mbps and 1.1Mbps on the upload. This is blazing fast. Actually, using this on your smartphone would be like sending a man to do a boy’s work. It is an impressive overkill.
Some Bandwidth Math
Our internet use determine the bandwidth we need to enjoy the internet. For instance, a normal Skype call will work just fine with 128Kbps to 300Kbps. This is more than enough to stream a 720p YouTube video without buffering (720p is some good quality video.)
If we pin the speed to 300Kbps and stream video content for 60 seconds, we would have used 18Mbs of data. A typical music video is 4 minutes long. That is around 60Mbs of data consumed. While this might not always be the case, a faster connection will yield more quality. Better quality = more Mbs = more money.
A 4G connection, for instance, could force you to consume 2160p videos sampled at up to 4Mbit/sec. Not only will you double your Mbs consumption but also pay for what you can’t see since very few screens in the Kenyan market can display the true clarity of a 2160p video.
This however, will only take toll on the 4G user who doesn’t regulate the quality of his or her content. The speed will be good, and thrilling but the ‘speed kills’ phrase might hold on your data plan.
The question of necessity
A huge percentage of the Kenyan population relies on broadband connections for their internet needs. Giving them 4G sounds like a super fun way to boosting productivity. While going against Safaricom’s LTE rollout wouldn’t be patriotic in any way, rolling out true 3G connectivity to all parts of the nation and revising the rather unwieldy data plans would be a better way to helping the nation grow faster.
To experience the 4G network, you need to own a 4G enabled phone, SIM card module and be within the specified 4G network areas in Mombasa and Nairobi. Getting the 4G phones isn’t hard at all. There is quite a number in the market with some going for as low as Ksh 9000.
The only problem would be getting to the 4G hotspots (Village Market, UNEP, Gigiri, Hanna_Lodge, Nyari West, Thigiri, Runda Estate, Mpaka Road, General_Mathenge Drive, Woodvale_Grove, Parklands 1st avenue, Safaricom_House, Technical_Building, Old_Buruburu, Bumbani_Rd and Kabete Exchange.) If you don’t mind spending a day hanging around these places, then you definitely should be excited. If you do, you should sit back and consider other more reliable ways to getting faster internet in Kenya.
Safaricom has always being ahead of itself innovation wise. Everything, from MPESA, to Bonga Points has been phenomenal. The 4G service is definitely an accolade, another medal on Safaricom already cluttered wall of fame.
To the regular Kenyan, this is just another experiment that is yet to be of any significance in life. If anything, most people use WiFi for their hefty data needs and are more interested in conserving their precious data bundles – not blazing upload and download speeds.
Safaricom, I will be back when you reconsider your data plans and spread the 4G network to cover more areas.