10 things you must know about Google and Roke Telkom’s WiFi network in Kampala

10 things about Roke Telkom Wifi

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[/blockquote]Last week Google under the Project Link umbrella partnered with Roke Telkom to launch the largest WiFi network in Kampala. WiFi networks in Kampala are not a new phenomenon, as MTN already has an existing and seldom used WiFi network in some areas of Kampala, and Roke Telkom wants to chock it with their new deployment. The rate at which Ugandan smartphone users are craving for internet, clearly inspired Roke Telkom’s decision to roll-out a WiFi network that is compatible to every smartphone and tablet. It means that irrespective of your carrier, everyone can use this network as long as they have a WiFi compatible device. And, using Google’s exiting high-speed fiber in Kampala, made this seem like a match made in heaven. Since this news broke, we’ve had several questions, praises, comments and rants on our social media channels and complied them in a quick and dirty 10 point Q&A. But at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. So will Roke Telkom and Google’s WiFi service wean you off your carrier’s monthly data plan? Lets find out.

1.What is this WiFi stuff?

Commonly known as “Wireless internet” or “Wireless” by many, WiFi is an acronym that stands for Wireless Fidelity and is a local area wireless computer networking technology that allows electronic devices to connect to any network. It uses the  industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio bands mainly using the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz spectrum. This band is free to use and is unlicensed by the Uganda Communications Commission, UCC with one condition to limit the emitted power of the Access Points (HotSpots) not exceed 4 watts (36dBm) to stay within the recommended international standards since the same spectrum is used for many other applications like all devices using Bluetooth technology and that Microwave oven you use at home.

2. Can I understand how a WiFi mesh/ Hot zone network works?

Roke Telkom’s WiFi mesh or Hot Zone network is made of multiple overlapping access point (Hotspots), the whole idea of having them to overlap is to ensure that users stay connected in that target area which is covered. The idea of the mesh came about because WiFi signals outdoor can only go about 100-200 meters before they degrade hence affecting the user experience. So this means that before the signal can degrade a new access point is placed in the area where the signal is weakening in-order to achieve continuous coverage. Another advantage of using a mesh network is that all these deployed Hotspots communicate to each other via Google’s Fiber to ensure that there is redundancy which means that if one Hotspot is off, it won’t affect other Hotspots hence causing interruption in the WiFi service. Check generic illustration below

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Wifi mesh illustration
Generic WiFi mesh illustration (Image Credit: mullumwifi)
3. Project Link: Where does Google fit into all this?

Just as illustrated above, the red dotted lines can illustrate Google’s fiber that interconnects most of the major HUB access points back to Roke Telkom and Google’s surveillance centers. Since Operators cannot lay fiber every 200 meters or so in an area, they could opt to utilize other transmission technologies to connect all spoke Hotspots to the Hub Hotspots that have Google’s fiber backbone network. In 2014, Google began the process of enabling Internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile network operators (MNOs) to get access to high-speed and reliable internet connections without investing heavily in upgrading base stations. Project Link was aimed to connect the ISPs with long-distance fiber lines, equipping them with near-unlimited capacity to build and expand services to Ugandans.

4. What is the potential coverage of Roke Telkom HotSpots?

An access point (or Hotspot) has an outdoor range of about 100-150 m with no obstructions like buildings and trees. Hotspot coverage can be as small as a single room with walls that block radio waves, or as large as many square kilometres achieved by using multiple overlapping access points. And, the latter is what Roke Telkom has deployed also known as a mesh WiFi network. Using Google’s interconnected fiber network, Roke Telkom is able to connect the hotspots and also send back the WiFi signal to Roke Telkom’s switch for proper authentication and billing. Roke was able to deploy a metro WiFi network made up of over 100 HotSpots placed in strategic places around Kampala. It is also important to note that, you will not need to buy a SIM card to use this service.

5. Wow, those are many HotSpots beaming all that radiation, won’t they affect us with cancer?

No, you will not get cancer, at least no detailed scientific research has been published to this effect. Your microwave and Bluetooth devices use the same frequencies (2.4 and 5 GHz) as WiFi belongs to the ISM band. By definition ISM stands for industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio bands which means this same spectrum is extensively used in medical purposes. I think we can all fill in the blanks there.

6. Where can I find these Roke HotSpots?

There is no clear coverage map officially shared by RokeTelkom to illustrate where users can access their services in Kampala, but we expect that soon. The company has only shared particular areas within malls, hostels, restaurants and public places and local providers can use this shared Wi-Fi infrastructure to bring Wi-Fi to people on-the-go at busy locations—like Seroma Shoppers Stop Plaza or Ben Kiwanuka Old Taxi Park.

7. How much will this service cost and how do I pay?

Unlike traditional data billing where we pay per megabyte or kilobyte, the evolution of WiFi allows for consumers to be charged based on time (how long they stay connected to the service)just like in an internet cafe. It should be noted that the latest advancement in WiFi deployments (HotSpot 2.0) in developed countries is mainly used by carriers to switch users from the overloaded 3G networks to WiFi a process known as offloading. Since Roke telkom has no 3G network to talk about, as long as you leave your device’s WiFi always on, it will automatically connect to this WiFi service once you are in range. All you need to is to turn on your WiFi on your device, connect to a ROKESPOT (SSID) around you, subscribe for any of the premium packages below and you are good to go. You subscription will remain valid for the amount of time you have paid.

The service has different price categories which open it up to everyone. You can access this internet for 1,000 UGX per day, 5,000 per week or 18,000 UGX per month. From our very own survey carried out recently, 28% of Ugandans who participated in the poll spend between UGX 100,000- UGX 200,000 per month on internet which means once Roke Telecom attains the kind of network coverage that is comparative with the existing 3G carriers, this will be the preferred data service for many. That is the day we shall finally see Mobile Network Operators reduce their data prices. You can pay for Roke Spot via MTN mobile money or PayWay kiosks.

 Period Cost
11 dayUGX 1,000
21 week UGX 5,000
31 month UGX 18,000
8. How fast is this internet and how do I connect to it?

At this price, don’t expect blazing fast user speeds. The speeds will vary depending on usage with some customers promised to hit as high as 1 Mbps. This will be a show stopper for many who are used to 3G and 4G-LTE speeds. But for the price, its worth a try.

To use the service, when you see a Rokespot SSID, Click on it and you will have a popup that will launch with a login/registration screen. If this does not show, you will need to launch your web browser and try accessing a webpage (preferably one that is not https). Then you will get redirected to the login/registration page. In order to be able to use the services later, you will need to register your mobile number .

9. Which devices can be used on Roke Telkom’s Hotspots?

Many devices can use WiFi, e.g. personal computers, video-game consoles, smartphones, digital cameras, tablet computers and digital audio players. But for Roke Telekom’s WiFi network, we shall see mainly Smartphones and Tablets connect to this network. All these devices can connect to a network resource such as the Internet via Roke’s wireless network access points.

10. Will WiFi drain my phone’s battery more compared to 3G?

All wireless technologies will drain your device’s battery, but compared to 3G. Although both 3G and WiFi waste some power after completing a data transfer, WiFi is “significantly more efficient than 3G” while completing the transfer. Therefore, a WiFi download will use less energy overall than an identical 3G download.


Image Credit: Roke Telkom Facebook Page