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Woodshop photos

A friendly member of the Peace Corps Kenya staff visited me from Nairobi and sat in on one of my classes last week and took photos.  Here are a couple for you to enjoy:

Me and all seven vocational school students (we’re signing our names for the camera):

See my nose and hand in action!  This was a picture/word matching exercise using the vocab they started picking up a couple days prior on the computer.


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Kenyan Phone Tricks

Updated 2009/10/28: Added Safaricom unlimited details.
Updated 2009/07/15:
Updated modem info and yu rate info.
Updated 2009/07/01: Added more Orange CDMA/EVDO “Fixed Plus” info.
Updated 2009/03/23: Added Firefox DNS settings
Updated 2009/03/03: Added Orange Broadband / WiMax notes at bottom.
Updated 2009/02/04: Fixed typo in the “Data balance” table row.  Also updated yu info slightly.
Updated 2009/01/19: Orange Internet is finally working, so details on Orange have been added.

Because no one should ever have to remember all this nonsense, or have to track it all down, here is a Kenyan Internet Phone Phone Cheat Sheet.  If this doesn’t make sense to you, read the text below and then return to the table later.

  Orange Safaricom Zain yu
Speed / Availability EDGE, Nairobi and Mombasa and growing fast 3G in Nairobi and Mombasa, EDGE elsewhere EDGE almost everywhere, occasional drop to vanilla GPRS EDGE, Nairobi and Mombasa only
Activate SIM for first usage Enter PIN1, call 130 Enter PIN1 (no steps needed) ?
Top up *130#code# *141*code# 138*code ?
Check balance *131# (basic) or #123# (with options) *144# *133# ?
Instruct carrier to send APN settings to your phone Blank SMS to 1234 (or call #1234#), although neither works Blank SMS to 445 (or call *445#), although neither works SMS to 232 the word “all” (no quotes, all lowercase). ?
Manual APN settings you can put into your phone or your laptop if there are no presets.  You only need to put in one. (Format is username:password @ APN) saf:data @ safaricom web:web @ (supposedly for postpay “Advantage” but works for prepay too)
web:web @
(or use Zain settings)
internet:internet @
web:web @
Transfer credit into data plan Call #123#, when menu appears select option 4, then option 2, then pick your plan. SMS the word “activate” to one of the following numbers:
442 for 40MB
443 for 100MB
446 for 300MB
447 for 700MB
448 for 1GB
(no prepay plans available) ?
Buy a single day of UNLIMTED data. Send a blank SMS to: 555
Check data plan balance You will automatically receive an SMS with your balance every time you close your Internet connection. SMS the word “balance” to 450. (no prepay plans available) ?
Data price if no plan used or plan exceeded 7 ksh / MB 8 ksh / MB 10 ksh / MB 3 ksh / MB
40MB plan 250 ksh (6.25/MB)
50MB plan 250 ksh (5/MB)
100MB plan 450 ksh (4.5/MB) 500 ksh (5/MB)
250MB plan 850 ksh (3.4/MB)
300MB plan 1000 ksh (3.33/MB)
700MB plan 2000 ksh (2.86/MB)
1GB plan 2500 ksh (2.5/MB)
2GB plan 2000 ksh (1/MB)
Unlimited (rate is daily) 200 ksh (6000 ksh /month if you do it every day)    
Contained within is my attempt to clarify Kenya’s mobile phone situation for new visitors, especially current and future Peace Corps volunteers, who may not be the most technical people.


The Peace Corps recommends that you wait to buy a phone until you arrive.  I disagree.  Good phones here are rare, old, expensive, hard to find, and sometimes fake.  Buy a tri-or-quad band phone with 3G on eBay.  Size of the screen, keyboard, etc, is entirely up to you.  Small Nokias go unnoticed here because everyone has them, but nice phones unavoidably look expensive, and phone theft is apparently common here, so don’t spend your life savings, and for God’s sake don’t think you can pull out an iPhone and expect not to attract thieves.  My current suggestions: the Nokia 6220 Classic (no WiFi) or N79 (with WiFi).  The WiFi is good because you can leech off of other people’s Internet, if you can find it, without toting your laptop around town.  Great for downloading big files that would cost you a lot otherwise.

If you already own such a phone, but it’s locked into a contract, cancel your service but beforehand tell them you’re leaving the country and YOU NEED THE UNLOCK CODES.  They will give them to you if you persist, then just follow the instructions so your phone will work in other countries. If you are buying a new phone, make sure it is UNLOCKED.

Also buy a USB cable that will connect your phone to your laptop.  BUY THIS IN AMERICA, because not only is it expensive and hard to find here (special order at $50US when I was in Loitokitok), good luck even describing what you want to the phone store employee who mostly sells tacky faceplates.

Before you leave the US, install these program on your phone, or at least note them down so you can get them later:

  • Web browser: Opera Mini (if you have a Blackberry you NEED to download and install this before you disconnect your US service)
  • Email: Gmail Mobile (or if you use Hotmail or something else, the appropriate program if you can find it).  Gmail Mobile also works with Google Apps, which is how I have it set up.
  • Maps: Google Maps Mobile
  • Text chat: Skype Mobile
  • Alternate browser: TeaShark


You will decide on your phone company once you get here.  There are three viable options at the moment, with a fourth just starting:

  • Safaricom, the behemoth
  • Zain (previously Celtel), the contender
  • Orange, the European champ moving into Kenya
  • yu, currently only in Nairobi and just started in Mombasa.  I haven’t gotten Internet to work yet but supposedly they have a data network.

To get a line from any of these companies, just buy a SIM card in a shop that has a sign that says “Lines available here.”  Pretty simple, just pop it into your phone and then follow the instructions.  You can also buy little credit card-looking things with scratch-off codes that will add credit to your SIM card.  If you buy SIMs from different companies, each will have its own phone number.


The calling plans are pretty complicated even before you start worrying about Internet.  Most companies have at lest two “tariffs,” which is to say different plans.  They change a lot, so I won’t bother itemizing them, but after you’ve settled down here, ask around and look out for the fact that:

  • Sometimes buying credit in larger increments will lower your per-minute call rate and per-SMS rate.
  • Usually one tariff gives great deals on in-network calls but lame deals on cross-network calls
  • Another tariff usually blends the rates into one flat rate
  • Other tariffs might have good, or even unlimited, “night and weekend” type deals
  • None of these things affects the cost of the Internet, which is where all my money goes, since domestic calls and texts are really not that expensive and incoming calls (including international) are free.

Usually you are allowed to change your tariff once a month.  The way you accomplish this is the same way that you accomplish most things with these companies: you type cryptic, mostly undocumented numbers into your phone and hope that they work.  Usually they resemble *123# or #123#, were 123 are the secret numbers.  Sometimes you will hear people, and even advertisements say, “send a blank SMS to 123,” but I’ve never seen this work.  You usually need to type *123# or #123# (or whatever numbers) directly into your phone and dial.  I won’t bother looking up all the tariff codes… I don’t know them and they’ll probably change soon anyway, but just be aware that they’re out there.  Read the fine print on the posters to find the specific codes.


So now you want the Internet, both on your phone and on your laptop.  Let’s review how to do this.  First of all, good job, you bought a 3G phone, this leaves your options open.

To make the Internet work on your phone, what you need to do varies depending on your carrier.

For Safaricom: Call *445#.  You will get a message on your phone asking you to download your settings.  Do so. (I have never seen this word, sadly, since people usually get messages saying that Safaricom is temporarily unable to send settings, but it SHOULD work.)

For Zain: Send an SMS to 232 that says “all”.  (No quotes, all lowercase.)  You will get a message on your phone asking you to download your settings.  Do so.  This worked right away for me, and interestingly, if you pop in a Zain SIM and set it up, you can use the same settings for Safaricom.  I usually just leave my phone on the Zain settings and I can swap SIMs and surf the Internet with either with no problem.  It is not true the other way around— you can’t use the Safaricom settings for Zain.

For Orange: Send a blank text to 1234 (or my guess, call #1234#).  The text does nothing when I try and my guess doesn’t work either, but at least it says “coming soon” when you try.

It’s worth noting that if you have trouble with this, and you have a Nokia, your phone has a support option somewhere (depends on the model) where you can have Nokia send you your settings, in case your carrier is being dumb.  This is what I did at first for Safaricom.  If that fails, enter the APNs manually into your phone using the cheat sheet table.

INTERMISSION: A rainy day in Loitokitok (Cell tower in background)



You will probably also want to use your phone as a modem (called “tethering”) for your computer.  You can do this even if the Internet on the phone itself isn’t working.  These things are actually unrelated, which is usually sad to realize after struggling to get one to work… that was just the first hurdle!

Most brand name phones have some sort of software package you can install on your computer.  I connect through “Nokia PC Suite,” which is free and has presets for Safaricom and Celtel (now Zain).  I think it may even work on non-Nokia devices.  Anyhow, the more you can do on this front before you leave, the better, because downloading programs needed in order to access the Internet is incredibly difficult when you don’t have Internet.  The steps for this are completely phone-specific.  Find the nearest computer guru and task him/her with helping you set this up in advance.

You can also accomplish the above through Bluetooth (wireless phone/laptop communication), but it takes up extra battery and is slower, so why bother?  Just buy the cable.

Before you leave, you should install on your laptop the following free programs:

  • ZoneAlarm or similar software firewall (blocks all sorts of annoying programs from taking up all your Internet)
  • Opera web browser 10.0 or newer (syncs your bookmarks and stuff with Opera Mini): “Turbo Mode” can save you bandwidth!
  • Mozilla Fennec (mobile web browser that runs on your computer, fast and uses less bandwidth than a normal browser)
  • Firefox (and the below extensions)
    • ImgLikeOpera (more control over selectively allowing images)
    • Greasemonkey (needed to run the below)
      • My custom GreaseMonkey Mowser Images script.  This is a simple script that will make all images pass through Mowser, which is a web site that converts sites into phone-friendly versions.  In this case I’m on a laptop so I don’t want the site to be changed, but Mowser also recompresses images. Anyhow, I still mostly keep images off, but when I selectively “load image” using ImgLikeOpera, this script actually loads it from Mowser to save a lot of bandwidth.  If this ever becomes popular I’m sure Mowser will just stop allowing this.
    • User Agent Switcher (needed to run the below)
      • My custom User Agent list. You can trick sites into thinking you’re using any number of mobile phones, so they’ll give you streamlined versions of their pages.  Gmail for instance gives a cool little version for iPhone and Android, and a super-basic version for the other mobile browsers.
    • Flashblock (forces you click on a Flash element in order to start it— nice bandwidth saver!)
    • Adblock Plus
    • Google Gears (may help you if you use WordPress or other web apps that can take advantage of it)
    • Type about:config into the Firefox address bar and change the rightmost values so they match the below.
    • Do the same for the following, but you will also need to right-click and select “New -> Integer” and type everything to the left of the semicolon.  Then enter the number value to the right.  Doing so will save you a little time and bandwidth because you will have to contact your DNS servers less often.
  • Windows Live Writer or similar offline blogging program, great if you have a blog.
  • Mozilla Thunderbird (and try to set up your email on it before you leave—it’s nice to be able to read old emails and open attachments without having to get online every time)

Because you pay your phone carrier per megabyte (upload/download combined), all of those little auto-update programs on your computer can cost you money and can also slow everything else down.  ZoneAlarm takes care of this by asking you every time a program wants to connect to the Internet.  Get used to saying “No” a lot.  Even with this, you will notice that the Internet on your laptop costs more than on your phone.  This is because the web browser on your phone intercepts data and compresses it before giving it to you, which saves money for you.  This is called a “transcoding proxy server.”  Mozilla Fennec and Opera 10.0 do the same things for your laptop, so use them when you can.  Images cost more than text, so in Opera I stay in “cached images” mode, and only download images when I really need to, and they will then show up on subsequent visits to that page.  Firefox seems to have a clunkier images off/on method, so I use Firefox only for site that use Gears.  Google it and see if any site that you regularly visit can take advantage of Gears.  Live Writer is also great because you can prepare blog entries before you go online, and then you can simply press one button and let it go.  It will shrink the images before uploading them and prevent annoying copy/paste.


If you set up all the above and take no extra steps, credit will simply deplete from your account on a per-megabyte basis.  The rates, to my knowledge, are as follows:

  • Safaricom: 8 shillings per megabyte
  • Zain: 10 shillings per megabyte
  • Orange: 7 shillings per megabyte
  • yu: 3 shillings per megabyte

An MP3, for example, is about 3 megabytes.  Using Skype Video in a rural area will take up maybe 1MB per minute.  These are ballpark numbers if you are not familiar with such things.

If you use more than, say, 50MB per month, you should look into some of the more specific data plans.

  • Safaricom Prepaid: this one is pretty easy.  Basically, if you have enough in you account, you can simply allocate it to a separate monthly data plan.  No contract or anything, just more cryptic codes to put in your phone, so it’s pretty safe to do.  There are three tiers, each with their own instructions:
    • 300MB that will expire in three months’ time: 999 shillings.  This is 3.33 shillings per MB.  If you go over you will just be charged at the normal rate.  Make sure you have enough credit and then send an SMS to 446 with the word “activate”, all lowercase, no quotes.
    • 700MB, 1999/-, 2.85/- per MB: same deal but send the SMS to 447.
    • 1GB, 2499/-, 2.44/- per MB: same again but 448 this time.
    • They recently added 40 and 100MB plans also… see the table for details.
    • The money will come out of your normal balance immediately and you can then check your data balance by sending an SMS to 450 that says “balance” (all lowercase, no quotes).
    • Safaricom also offers an UNLIMTED DAILY package.  Send a blank SMS to 555 to activate for a single day’s time.
  • Safaricom Postpaid: Only viable in the big cities I think, so just visit Safaricom if that’s possible for you.  These are just more expensive versions of the prepaid plans that also lock you into a contract.
  • Zain Prepaid: No plans exist… just the regular per-MB rate.
  • Zain Postpaid: 500MB, 1500/-, 3/- per MB.
  • Zain Postpaid UNLIMITED: This one appears to be a real bargain if you can work out the postpay situation where you’re staying.  3000/-, UNLIMITED DATA.
  • Orange: Plans similar to Safaricom, but with lower lows (plans down to 50MB and higher highs (up to 2GB, the best non-unlimited deal out there).


Each company has a flagship phone that they’d like to sell you, but if you show up from America with that phone, you can probably just get into the phone-specific deal if you want.

Safaricom and Zain: Pretty much identical Blackberry plans.  Zain is pushing the newer Blackberry Bold phone, which is weird because it’s a 3G phone and only Safaricom is 3G.  UNLIMITED DATA (but only when using the Blackberry browser and email programs, other things charged separately), 2000/-.  Good deal if you love using the built-in Blackberry web browser, which doesn’t really allow you to download big files.  Any data usage outside of the built-in Blackberry programs costs extra.  If you want to go down this road and you have a 3G-capable Blackberry, you might as well go with Safaricom because at least they have 3G in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Orange: exclusive Kenyan dealer of the iPhone 3G (like Zain, Orange does not have a 3G network, so don’t get too excited).  300MB for 5000/-, which also includes a certain amount of airtime and SMS’s.

I have a hard time getting excited about the phone-specific deals.


As just mentioned, Safaricom has 3G in Nairobi and Mombasa.  In the Mombasa Safaricom sales office I clocked the connection at 1Mbps down / 256kbps up.  I’ve seen it fluctuate lower, down into the non-3G speeds, but that is still blazing compared to the EDGE connections in the rest of the country, which for all carriers hovers around 50kbps down / 20kbps up.  (Of course, if you don’t have a 3G phone, you’ll never get 3G speeds.  Hence my earlier recommendation, as all the telcoms are promising to go 3G “eventually.”)


If you are in an area where you get a 3G connection, seriously consider Safaricom.  You will love the speed.  You can also get a dedicated modem from them if you don’t want to always be plugging in your phone.  Just be aware that it’s not unlimited, so Skype Video and Windows Update will eat that data plan for breakfast.  Then again, if you’re in Nairobi or Mombasa, maybe you can use cheap Internet cafes to offset your Safaricom data usage.

If you are not in such an area, Zain Unlimited looks like the best deal if you can stomach the 3000 shillings.  Then you never have to worry about another megabyte, you only have to worry about the 1 year contract and postpay arrangement.  They’ll also be happy to sell you a modem.

If that’s too much money, any of the Safaricom/Orange prepay plans seems good.  Just pick the one that you know you’ll use up in 30 days, and if you start to go over, just add more.  It’s way cheaper than paying the same 7-10 shillings per minute all the time.

I’ve seen signs advertising yu as 3 shillings per megabyte, a good deal if you can get yu reception and figure out all the settings.


I feel like I also need to mention the following:

Orange has been working hard recently to be the most confusing phone company in Kenya.  They have two mobile phone networks.  The one we have discussed so far is GSM, like all the other companies, and the other is CDMA, which they call (rather stupidly) “Fixed Plus,” although it really has nothing to do with their Fixed Line services at all.  “Fixed Plus” doesn’t use SIM cards, so you have to use different phones.  I’m under the impression that you need to buy the phone from Orange, even if you have an unlocked CDMA phone, but I’m not 100% sure, since I haven’t tried.  You can tether your Fixed Plus phone to your computer, just like you can with a GSM phone, but Orange charges by the MINUTE (as opposed to megabyte) for Fixed Plus Internet: 1 shilling off-peak, 2 shilling peak.  I know that some people only get Orange Fixed Plus reception in their area, which makes this the only/best option. 

Orange also markets what it simply calls “Broadband,” which is an unlimited flat-monthly-fee Internet plan.  It’s expensive and the brochure is vague.  In a nutshell, they have three speed tiers.  The slower two are supported by both Telcom Kenya’s landlines (meaning DSL) and Orange’s CMDA (EVDO) network, which is the same one used by their Fixed Plus lineup.  What is EVDO?  It’s kind of like 3G, but older and using different cell towers.  To buy the flat-rate service, you need an EVDO modem, which Orange will sell you for the same price as the DSL modem, which is why they (confusingly) do not distinguish between the two services.  The fastest “Broadband” tier can only be had via DSL, not EVDO, because it has an upload speed that is not possible with EVDO.  If this sounds confusing, it is.  The brochure is terrible and few people at Orange can actually explain it.

Some areas also have WiMax as an option.  There are two kinds of WiMax: regular and mobile.  Regular WiMax means you basically need an antennae on your roof.  Mobile kind of resembles the tethering options discussed above, although you need to buy a special WiMax modem.  Different companies provide different services, and usually just around Nairobi/Mombasa, but it’s worth checking out Zuku (who I use) and AccessKenya.


Go back and look at the table— it will make sense now and you won’t have to reread all this text unless you’re looking for the lists of programs.

87 Responses to “Kenyan Phone Tricks”

  • I thought Zain went down to 5 Ksh per MB off-peak. Shame.

    By the way, those big towers in the photos are floodlights for the stadium.

    • I knew somebody would catch me! I noticed they were lights (and not giant cell towers) the second time I was in a matatu that drove by, but then I forgot to update the picture. Maybe Zain has updated their rates… I can’t say. I haven’t used it in a while and their site still is totally wrong.

  • I have a BlackBerry Pearl (from the States) and can’t get the manual APN settings to work on Zain. I called customer service and they said they didn’t support internet service for the BlackBerry on prepaid, but I explained to them that I didn’t need the BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service), I just wanted the settings for WAP. Thoughts?

  • Paul,

    Fantastic post. This is amazing. I’ve learned quite a bit from it. It has been Stumbled and Delicious’d with pleasure.

    Many thanks


    • Good luck! I’ve gotten at least one BB to work with a Safaricom non-BB plan. Not yet tried Zain, but there’s no reason for it to not work. BB settings are just convoluted. Don’t have one, though, to give you detail… sorry!

  • Great summary, reminds me of my “How to use GPRS in Kenya” posts from 2006 but much more detailed.

    One small detail: data cables are for sale in Nairobi @ around 1.000 – 1.5000 Kshs but of course it’s always better to get them from eBay (aka China) while abroad.

  • Oh, and two more points:
    A Phone Laptop connection via Bluetooth makes sense if the wireless signal is too bad. A user could then place his phone next to the window and connect to that one via BT up to 10m away. I’ve used this setup b4 in Embu. A serial data cable is much better though.

    After returning from Kenya, I bought an older 3G (Option) PCMCIA modem card for just 2,- EUR from eBay Germany which works up to 1.8 Mbps. Downside is of course that PCMCIA ports often drain a lot of battery power and that it won’t work with most Apple laptops (which I understand is more common with folks from the US) that imho don’t have such a port (?). The alternative could also be to invest into a 3G USB modem – like the different Huawei modems currently sold by Safaricom in Nbo these days.

    I completly agree with your selection of Nokia phones as they look like “normal” phones due to their T9 keypad but have the S60 operating system which allow the installation of the afromentioned software.

    I am btw using a netbook with an internal 3G modem today which could be the perfect solution for work in rural Africa: light-weight (always carry along), long battery runtime, relatively cheap, matt display, internal SIM card holder.

    • Integrated 3G was expensive when a I left the US, more of a “traveling executive” type feature on high end Lenovos. I hope it comes down if it hasn’t already.

      Macs only have ExpressCard slots, which is the newer version of PCMCIA. So does my PC laptop. I asked around Mombasa to see who could get one for me and came up dry. Safaricom and Orange are both offering modem packages at around 5000 shillings. I don’t like them because they’re locked, but they’re pretty easy to set up.

  • Paul, I second Mark in saying thanks and that I have been pointing quite a few people to this post. Great stuff here.

    Any chance you would be willing to add some of it to the African Signals wiki on internet and web costs in Africa?

  • Victor Omondi

    Hi Paul, great write up here. Hope you enjoying your stay in Kenya.

    following your blog, you have set up a wireless hotspot from which guests can leech off your internet, just wondering which ISP you use and brand of wireless router?

    reason I ask, there are a couple of routers I have seen on ebay for 3g sim cards. there is a vigsys vr20 and huawei e930 where you insert your sim card and it then broadcasts the signal to various users. would you recommend such with the safaricom 3g?

    • My ISP is Zuku, meaning I don’t use any of the phone carriers. Another volunteer (listed in my blogroll under “One Computer at a Time”) just visited Safaricom to discuss their SIM-enabled router for his school… perhaps drop by his blog and see what success he is having with it.

  • Forgive my ignorance, how do I find this “One Computer at A Time” blog?

  • Victor Omondi

    hello again Paul,

    I am a bit curious as I left Kenya before mobile phones were deployed. I am quite familiar with gsm technology from my part of the world, which I know is mainly in Kenya, but not with cdma which is in the US. (havent been yet!)

    just following your description on Orange EVDO; Orange was previously called telkom kenya when they launched and they used mobile phones which run on CDMA which I understand is common in the States too. I hear Orange now employ both gsm and cdma technologies within their network.

    My questions:

    Would a phone from a cdma network say in the states be used on the orange Kenya cdma and can the internet be set up on such a phone?

    If the answer to that is yes, would it be feasible to tether the phone as a EVDO modem to take advantage of their broadband?

    I have heard cdma phones use a RUIM rather than SIM. is it just a case of swapping RUIMs like with gsm SIMs?


    • Good questions. If you have an unlocked CMDA phone, you MIGHT be able to get Orange to switch it over to their network. Not sure. Orange calls their CDMA network “Fixed Plus,” and they change by the minute for the Internet connection that it can provide. I’ve updated this page with this info.

  • Paul,
    This is great info. I have been looking for something like this and couldn’t even find in the carriers website.

    I have 24 blackberry 8700c that I am bringing from the U.S. They are used phones but in good condition.

    Any idea how much they will fetch in the Kenyan market? Is it easy to unlock phones in Kenya or setup?

    I will take your advise off my email at

  • how can i put orange settings in my laptop… it asks for Access point, User name and password?! please kindly assist me in what i should insert?

  • Hi i got an sms from my orange line the 1234 telling me application/x-wap-prov.browser-bookmarks. And another one for configaration my phone is samsung D880 what am i supposed to do?

  • Have a samsung m620 and i suspect your phones message settings are similar to mine. After opening the text message, go to – Options and select – Install. Thats it. don’t forget to make the orange WAP settings your default browser. Worked with mine for GPRS, MMS and WAP.

  • Sospeter Mola

    Hallo Paul,
    came upon this blog by accident today.Thank God I now know the difference between CDMA and 3G modems.I have both from orange.I recently bought the 3Gmodem for 2999Ksh.Infact Iam disappointed with orange because: 1;when advertising they dont tell you that their network does not support 3G technology only safaricom has it.2;the deference in speed for this two modem is only 7kbps,I thought that with acquiring the 3G modem,the difference in speed will be astronomical! Now I see they have introduced 3G+ confusing me further.The other issue is reducing the bandwidth consumption by using a number of software on my computer,please mail them to me if you dont mind Sir.My address Thank you.

  • To everynoe out there! Don’t get into any contract with Zain for your Internet connection.
    True experience. The moment you pay your monthly bill, you speed will be quite fast, but after 10 days you’ll get ridiculous speeds, ranging from 2KB – 5KB.And for that you pay Ksh.3000 monthly. Safaricoms offer is ridiculous, thats way to expensive for Internet. Am about to buy the Evdo modem from orange.Since my Zain contract expired last month and this month ,they have been chasing me away from there service though I paid for this month.Chasing away is that I can not upload my CV which is 147KB. Reason why? Unstable Internet connection.

  • Hi Paul,

    Thanks for an excellent and most helpful post! Just a couple of thoughts.

    You have Skype mobile on your list of programs to download. On their website they don’t list Kenya as one of the countries where Skype mobile is accessible. Would be wonderful to be able to use that with the Zain unlimited package (slower but definitely more cost effective than the Safaricom option), but alas, I don’t think it would work. Would love to hear otherwise.

    A friend was able to get Skype to work on my laptop but only by standing on one leg and holding the computer at 34.5 degree angle, and then only at 16.5 minutes after the hour. The connection kept cutting out. Virtually impossible! But hey, he wanted to hear from his kids….

    Also, about unlocking phones. I arrived in Kenya with phones locked onto Western networks. A pain, but simple to fix. Any local phone duka that fixes phones can unlock them. But be careful that they don’t rip you off too much on the charges. Some of these guys charge silly money for a simple code you punch into the phone.

    Thanks again.

    • Skype mobile has worked for me, but it’s only for text chat– no sound or video.

      • Jawahar Dhutia

        I am in Mombasa @ Bamburi Beach on holiday and Skype mobile works great – Voice connection with crystal clear sound with Safaricom @ Shs 8/- per day for 10MB. I have three Nokia3G phones and each subscribed to this very cheap service. That is 24/- enough for a full days chat and unlimited internet browsing

  • Hi Paul,

    Nice write-up and quite accurate too. You wouldn’t believe how much your site has helped me, considering I couldn’t squeeze the orange apn out of a customer care representative. I was advised to go with my laptop to one of their customer care centres. These guys think we are just sitted at home waiting for something to happen so we can rush to their customer care centre offices and queue?

    Anyway, thanks a lot

  • hi, would anyone know a good phone shop in Nairobi to unlock a nokia supernova phone? I recently returned to Kenya with this phone hoping to unlock it but so far the places I have tried are unable to do it. Any help greatly appreciated! Thanks

  • I use a cheap samsung e250 to check the net. Thats how i found myself here. Internet speed is 10 to 50kbps on my laptop. nothing more. Sarah, too bad am in Eldoret but could do the unlocking.

  • This is a fantastic website Paul! Great info. On your Zuku WiMAX setup, can you tell me what brand/model number of WiMAX modem you are using? Also, have you (or anyone you know) configured your WiMAX modem with a Cradlepoint Broadband Router (, such as the CTR500 or MBR1000 router, in order to share your Zuku connection over WiFi? One group managed to get these to work with Safaricom (

    Finally, the Zuku 3000Ksh connection is 256Kbps – correct? ( Is that enough bandwidth to do a Skype Video chat? Is the connection 256Kbps for both up and down links, or is the uplink slower? Any figures would be appreciated. Thanks for publishing a lot of great info and insights!

    • The Zuku WiMax modem and the antennae on the roof are one and the same— it only outputs data over Ethernet, so I’m using a conventional WirelessN router to distribute the signal around. The cheap package is still 256k, but you are right, the upload is slower. I’m not sure by how much, though. It’s not terrible, and I do video Skype pretty often. It’s not crystal clear, but on most days it’s passable.

  • I hope you don’t mind Paul but I’ve made minor edits to your post for Tanzanian volunteers and others. It needs a lot of continuous work but I don’t know if I’ll get to it before COS. Thanks for the idea & content.

  • Zain go start to bring small the speed as you use it modem for longer loyal time. I had to wait like 4 am in morning dawn for it to just reach 1.8 kbps. Very bogus….I quit and using safaricom…sometime overload if many are using for it per certain radius. My frien advice me to buy orange…now they have 3G and is cheaper affordable bundle AS LONG AS YOU CLEAR THE BUNDLE IN 30 DAYS

  • Hi. would you pliz send me the unlock code for this modem. E160

  • At least at the moment, Safaricom has an unlimited deal which is 7 days of unlimited for 999 shillings. You send a blank text to 555 to sign up.

  • hi paul ive a palm treo 680 unlocked from at&t any help on using it as a modem?

  • I was in Kenya December 2009 and used skype over safaricom 3g using my iphone 3gs. Not only was i able to receive calls with my US number but the calls were so clear in nairobi and Kisumu. I was also able to thether to my iphone from my laptop. If you are a heavy data user, i strongly suggest you go for unlimited data.

  • Hi Paul, just discovered yu have a website with links for apn settings for their mobile data. Just wondered if you would update your cheat sheet table above? otherwise good effort.
    By the way, have you replaced your nokia phone which went missing on your recent coach trip?

  • Anybody who know the Internet setting for ZAIN on a HP iPAQ 914 Business Messenger Phone?
    ZAIN customer service are not able to help at all …

  • Hi Paul,

    How did you get the BB to work with a Safaricom non-BB plan, can you access the internet on the BB.
    Please give me have the settings you used.

  • Hey, ur ignorance as to how our operator systems works is absolutely outstanding. for real, if someone had never left the states for Kenya they would think we still operated within the dark agaes. Sadly that is not the case. firstly all operators in Kenya (Safaricom, Zain, Yu and Orange) now offer 3G data connectivity and more so its very very reliable even where network is kinda shaky. 2 CDMA is an obsolete technology while its still in use in Kenya its recommended that one uses it in far remote areas where cellular network is an issue (Wajir, Mandera, and yes past Lodwar)

    Compared to teh States and even the UK, phones here are absolutely much cheaper and that is considerin that for u to source on ebay u have to get a recon and the quality and condition of the phone not guaranteed. Data cables, please..u went to Loki (which i might add is quite remote) to ask for a cable..even that chap must hav thot u were a blithering idiot. get ur cables from anywhere in nairobi, go down to Eastleigh and courier them to Loki. A cable for $50? HILARIOUS.

    then again, this is just my take what i’d advice dont let ur ignorance run amok amongst the vast idiocy of the Americans who believe that they are way ahead…and when it comes to mobile telephony…u have nothin on us…even UK not reached next generation of 3.5G or 4G as were soon moving to.


    • All Kenyan carriers may offer 3G–on paper, at least–but the reliability is nowhere near “very very”. It depends on where you are, e.g. surprise-surprise it can work nicely in Nairobi, yet very-very poorly if you’re in Kisumu. Let’s not even go there when talking about pricing, which has already been confirmed that rates are higher than some western countries.

      Phones are cheaper in Kenya. They’re also more-than-not likely to be knock-off or outright fakes, and thus quality is not assured. I’ld rather buy a N-o-kia than a N-C-kia, no matter the extra costs.

      CDMA is not obsolete, even in western countries {hello! Wikipedia is your friend!}. I think you meant to write “has very very less market share.” That is true.

      Ok, I’ll give it to you about shopping for a data cable in Loki. Another example of “looking for donuts in a hardware store.” Just plain silly.

      If you think that Kenya/Africa is gonna have 4G before Europe/US/AUS…You gotta stop drinking Sijuicom’s koolaid.

    • CDMA is not obsolete Verizon use it in the states

    • Hello T.K. There’s no call for you to get rude and abusive here on this particular forum. Paul has been exceedingly helpful to all of us. Let us try to keep the discussion civil so that we can all benefit.
      I know that Paul is using a bit of hyperbole at times. Sorry if you are not amused.
      Besides, it is true that the only 3G carrier available today is Safaricom. Orange only offer 3G on CDMA modems today, and not on their GSM network.As for 4G, only Safaricom are currently doing tests on it.
      From personal experience, I know that the only carriers I can rely on is suffericom on 3G (very expensive data bundles) and the orange 3G+ modems (Less expensive than Safcom but more expensive than the rest). The other MNOs only provide speeds that go from slow as a tortoise to slow as molasses (2 kilobytes per second anyone…?). Take your pick.

      • 4ward 2 years n orange iz still shit. 3g+ iz a sham. 10kbps tops if u r lucky. safaricom is the only 3g service in kenya. the others dont qualify as 14k dial-up modems/

  • Good Job Paul.very helpful post.

    This post has been more useful and practical than all the carrier`s websites combined.
    T.K. would you kindly provide info as to how I can successfully use 3G connectivity on Orange, Yu or Zain as I have not been able to get anything past the 236kbps (on paper) using a 3G capable modem.

  • Great job Paul, this info is useful to Visitors as well as Kenyans as it gives a good comparison and detail. Ignore idiots like T.K. – there are always random idiots like him somewhere. Only Safaricom has 3G, no one else has bought the licenses, yet the ignorant idiot assumes all 4 operators offer 3G.

  • I can confirm the BB with safaricom sim works perfectly with the 2000 shilling prepaid tariff. Also the Huawei modem worked well, the Safaricom staff at the Local Mombasa office set-up my laptop and my BB Bold with all the settigs without charge within one hour whilst I sat at the desk with them.(July 2009)

    I am now ready for another month long visit to Mombasa & Nairobi in mid June.
    What I now need to know is how to get Skype working with my 3G Nokia phone & BB if possible and to enable my laptop to work with the safaricom – usb E160 modem. Thanks

    • just plug in the modem and enable autorun to install safaricom broadband. ( doesn’t work go to my computer open the sfaricom broadband and run setup) after install unplug and plug in the modem.

  • Google for safaricom and zain free browsing tricks! Someone managed to hack them!

  • Can anyone help me to crack safaricom broadband moden to work with all mobile lines
    safaricom modem,imei:351596036849067


    can anyone help me to unlock my safaricom broadband modem.
    IMEI IS 353871029545008
    SN DK5TAA18C2015499

  • Orange is also 3G now…. and zain should get 3G very soon because of their new owners airtel of india…. airtel has very very deep pockets full of money :)

  • I have Erickson double (made in Malaysia and assamled in Japan) Sim would like to connect internet please help.
    Please help through,

  • Help me connect my (erickson phone Aino)to be internet enabled

  • i have seen a few mobile browsers and used some of them, they are still a bit slow ;:-

  • paul, most of what you’ve highlighted is true but please try updating your information if u still, in kenya. I’m a kenyan and I’d be of help with any inquiries. Truth is Safaricom is still the only ISP dishing out 3G connectivity but the other operators will soon be getting their licences come May, this year. The phones are also quite cheap here i can assure u. Just make sure u walk into the right stores; stores that sell geniune phone don’t deal with conterfeits and viceversa. Data cables are also very cheap, say not going for more than ksh 1500 at most. If u wanna use skype then You’d rather subscribe to safaricom’s daily internet subscrition of 25MB for Ksh 20 a day. (would be a bargain if you have multiple phones or simcards subscribed to the service. 3G services from safaricom are also available in all the major towns and their surrounding say for a 10km radius: nairobi, mombasa, kisumu, nakuru and eldoret. But if you want a stable connection, look no further than Wimax offered by zuku which is very reliable and actually fast especially during the night. As for phone unlocking…any of the local computer gurus will do it for you….just don’t take the phone yourself(once they see ur white you will be exceedingly over-charged. So if you’ve made any friends with the locals ask one to take it for you if you trust him…..shouldn’t cost you beyond ksh 500 depending with the type of phone) for any of your questions, you may email me at

  • Great article – will help me get up and running next time im in kenya – had to make do with voice only this time. I wanted to add an update… the latest bunch of android smartphones allow you to set the phone up as a mini wifi network – and share your data connection with up to 5 other devices. Works great – but eats the battery – so leave the phone plugged in on the charger – by the window 😉 And connect up your laptop, ipad, wireless mobile printer and what other lovelyness you’ve bought on your trip. Also – android allows you to precache google maps… great if you lose signal, or arrive and haven’t yet got a Kenyan SIM. (only the line maps – not satellite or street view, LOL). Star a place as a favourite- then go to the options menu and click precache map. It’s will store all the roads in a 15 mile radius. So Most of Nairobi or Mombasa. You can add more to cover the whole country if you can be bothered to spend a few hours. Each is anything between 500k and a few 10s of MB depending on how dense the roads are. I’ve got Mombasam, Nanyuki and Nairobi plus a few other towns in UK on 65mb.

  • 1 more update I should have included above, my other half got Airtel(Zain) working on her HTC Desire HD (August 2011). As well as doing the settings stuff in the original post, customer service told her she’d need to have 1000ksh on her credit before sending the SMS to activiate the data plan.

  • You can now get a safaricom dongle (USB modem) for a one-off 2,000 Ksh (US$21.50) and then buy unlimited internet for 3,000 ($32) per month.

    Or buy the Ideos phone to tether/hotspot your laptop to for 7000 Ksh and the 3,000 per month will give you unlimited data and also phone calls.

  • and you know what? in the Nokia phone unlocking calculator, Kenya is the only country missing. so we cant do it here. or which version of the calculator is working it out? email me if you have an idea.

  • I HAVE BEEN KENYA FOR 46 YEARS AND I LIKE THE PLACE AND AM NOT GOING ANY WHERE ELS hewa kenya jua na mwezi kenya aaanga nzuri

  • Hey, this is great info.I have an open modem and now i want to try using orange GSM. How do i load that in my phone and convert into unlimited internet, Any ideas….

  • u should update this because I think Kenya call Operators and services are the best right now…

  • Thank you Blair for the insight for you’ve broadened my perception of mobile internet. I’ve been using Opera on my desktop and Opera mini on my phone for some years now and I’d say Opera mini saves a lot of bandwidth, money on phone. I live in Ruiru, that is in between Nairobi and Thika where we only accessed mobile internet through EDGE will very low connectivity. For this reason Opera became my browser of preference. But now things have improved tremendously we’ve got 3G allover.
    You’ll never loose your bookmarks on either phone or desktop as long as you synchronize both gadgets.

  • thanks for the informative forum…does anyone have any idea of browsing on blackberry 8100 Pearl without having to use the still expensive safaricom BB plan? like through opera mini but using the regular bundles like 50MB for a 100shs?thanx.

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Details on my assignment

Today the curtain was lifted: I’m going to Mombasa!  In fact, I’m going to the deaf school that we visited during our first week of training, which is where (as you may recall) I was given my sign name by the children there.  So it’s a full circle, which is nice.  Also nice is that Mombasa has great food and, if I recall correctly from the tour we received of my then-unknown future home, I will have a refrigerator, which means I can eat a lot of cheese.

This is a picture of one of the school buildings that I took during the first week of training.  Note the hand signs painted above the letters.


And here is the nearby Indian Ocean view:


Just outside Mombasa, the Tembo Disco and Beer Garden makes me think of my job back in the US.


And here is a view from the Deaf VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing for HIV/AIDS):


Suffice to say that there is not a lot of mystery surrounding WHERE I’m going, since I’ve already been there.  My placement is unique in this way, as the rest of the trainees are a) unsure of exactly what their place will look like and b) going to less urban places.  My placement in Mombasa, I believe, is the most urban in all of Peace Corps Kenya.  Of course I knew this would happen when I bought all my solar panel equipment… oh well, a backup plan never hurt anyone.

I am still in Nairobi for the next couple days and I haven’t seen much of it.  The Peace Corps office here has a lot of books on deaf education, which I was happy to see, and I am also happy that the curtain has also been lifted on a lot of other things, like long-term project goals.  I kept waiting for such things, and was beginning to fear that the Peace Corps was just a wandering organization, but it seems that they just keep things away from us during training.  Tomorrow is the swear-in, at which point I “officially” become a volunteer (not like they’ve been paying me a big salary so far), but that will entitle me, hopefully, to access all the secret information that I still don’t know is out there.

On a more sad note, one of the deaf ed trainees went home yesterday, so we’re down to eight trainees in the group.  Most of us will be going out tonight to a swanky restaurant (Carnivore, voted one of the top 50 restaurants in the world on more than one occasion) as a treat before we go our separate ways.  Three of us will be on the coast, but the rest are peppered inland with varying degrees of inconvenient travel distance.  I am especially sad that one of the trainees really wanted my assignment and she is just about the farthest from it, at least geographically.  I threw out the idea of a teaching exchange program but we’ll see if it’s really feasible.

I have also been speaking with some of the contract staff who will soon be free from Peace Corps (for the time being) and there is a genuine interest in staying in touch for collaboration on video/interactive/etc, so really things are going as well as they can be.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I no longer have giardia.

1 Response to “Details on my assignment”

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