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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Internet in Egypt. Etisalat to the Rescue!

We finally have a reliable Internet connection from the apartment here in Cairo. Thanks to the newest of Egypt's mobile phone suppliers, Etisalat.

When we first arrived, I unpacked the computer and checked for wifi connections. Perhaps Cupid, the local shisha and tea shop might have a connectible wireless. We are not lucky enough to live right above a Cilantro restaurant where they do have wifi connectivity.

Here is a picture of Cilantro from a previous visit. Note the lady in the lower right corner.

In the 2nd shot, you can see that she's surfing the net.

Well, sure enough, I not only found a wifi hot-spot but it even seemed to be a vendor selling their Internet access service.

That name, VETO might give one pause, but I called the listed numbers. It took a while to find someone speaking a little English, but soon Muhammad and two friends were at my door. From what I could understand, Muhammad is both owner and tech support. He brought along the Marketing Department and a wire-puller. Muhammad is a recent EE graduate and has developed his own antenna to improve the range of the typical wireless access point (WAP). With three installers on the job, soon we had a WAP taped to the balcony railing and about fifty feet of Ethernet cable strung across the room to our computer. We were connected into Muhammad's Internet access point that lies about a kilometer to the east.

In spite of Muhammad's success in demonstrating the system and a later on-site support visit, access was poor. I ended up "pinging" the server and found that I wasn't just losing a few packets, frequently I would lose most packets. It was time to veto VETO.

I stopped in at a major-league Etisalat office at the Carrefour mall (more on that later) and found a one-page English language description of their Internet service. I didn't have my passport along so couldn't sign up on the spot. A return trip yesterday brought me a nice EVDO USB stick modem and a monthly data service plan.

This was the simplest install of any Internet connection I have used. Click "yes" about four times and we were connected at 384KBPS. Not super fast but it sure beats the alternatives. And for a techie like me, I love being able to monitor the download and upload speeds on the chart.

Now I just have to call Muhammad and cancel my VETO plan. He offered me a thirty-day free trial and so he will probably cheerfully refund my money and take back the equipment.

I think the system might work better if he used a more directional antenna. This youtube video shows how to make one and is entertaining even for the non-techy!

UPDATE 01/28/2009
Muhammed called last night and wanted to drop by to work on the network. I said "now would be fine" and he and two assistants stopped by around 9:30 p.m. He was surprised to find the equipment disconnected. He just wanted to make adjustments to his customers computers because he had changed the SSID on his base router. I showed him the video linked above and he promised to build the "can antenna" and bring it back for a test. We techies just can't resist experimenting. Meanwhile, I still have the equipment and he has my money.

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