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lmavolio Jun 4th, 2007 04:00 PM

Cell Phone and/or Satellite Phone Coverage while in E. Africa?
Hi There - I am travelling to Kenya, Tanzania & Zanzibar in September...I would like to have cell phone access in case of emergency, but not sure if I should even expect coverage given the remote areas in which we're travelling (Samburu, Masai Mara, Tarangire, Lake Eyasi, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Serengeti & Zanzibar).

Does anyone have any idea if satellite phones or GSM based phones will even work in these areas?

I have Verizon Wireless right now which is NOT on the GSM network...So, through them, my only option is to rent either a satellite phone or a GSM phone for the length of my trip (over $100). They don't guarantee if service will actually be available, so I am just trying to get a sense for this from others' experiences before signing up for this...Not sure if it matters, but the phone service would be through Vodafone and I believe their satellite phone is an Iridium Vodafone..

Finally, if coverage is available, would you still recommend getting a rental phone or do most camps and/or guides have satellite or GSM phones we can use in case of emergency? Thanks so much!!

Patty Jun 4th, 2007 04:23 PM

Good coverage in Samburu and Masai Mara with Safaricom. The camp and guides will have cell phones if you just need it for emergencies.

lmavolio Jun 4th, 2007 06:04 PM

I just did a google search on Safaricom. Seems like a good option for Kenya. Is there a phone service that will cover me for both Kenya & Tanzania?? Also, how would I go about renting a phone through Safaricom? Or, if I sign up for a satellite phone here in the US, would it work over the Safaricom network?? Thanks!!

LoriS Jun 4th, 2007 07:35 PM

I had periodic coverage with my standard Cingular GSM phone in Zanzibar. The voice usually worked, the data was intermittent. The text messaging appeared to work fine.

Leely Jun 4th, 2007 07:40 PM

Cingular worked for us in Arusha. If you search for bat's report (or check the East Africa Trip Report Index), I recall that she posted something about what worked and what didn't for her party in the various parks of the Northern Circuit.

Have a great trip!

Africaborn Jun 4th, 2007 08:57 PM

You need to get a old Cingular GSM phone and have it unrestricted/unblocked. Then when you get to Nairobi, you can buy a local CELLTELL chip for $ 3.00 and buy some time -- You are all set for local calls all over E. Africa.
Cingular works fine otherwise.

Patty Jun 4th, 2007 08:59 PM

Just to clarify, Safaricom is cellular, not satellite. I think that you'd do fine with cellular and don't need satellite. I bring my own unlocked quad band GSM phone so don't know if you can get a rental there.

You have a couple of options. If you use your own cellular provider's roaming service, you don't have to do anything except activate it. It should automatically roam in Kenya and Tanzania (provided they have roaming agreements with the local cellular providers there) on whatever local carrier's network it picks up. So, for example, in Kenya you could be roaming on Safaricom or Celtel or it could switch back and forth between the two. This should happen seamlessly. You keep your own phone number wherever you go (a plus in case anyone else needs to reach you). The downside is that calls are very expensive (up to $5 per minute) and you're charged for incoming and outgoing. To keep costs down, you could text message. This option would be fine if you only expect to use it for emergencies and is pretty straightforward and easy.

The other option is to get an unlocked quad band GSM phone (look on ebay). You can purchase a SIM card (this usually goes into a slot underneath the phone battery) and airtime from a local cellular provider (either Safaricom or Celtel) when you arrive in Kenya. The cost of the SIM is very minimal and you can add more airtime as needed. The cost of calls is also much cheaper. The last time I used Safaricom, it was only 25 KES per minute to call the US. I think Safaricom has a roaming agreement with a cellular provider in Tanzania, but I'm not sure exactly how it works. Check their website. You could get another SIM/airtime from a local cellular provider when you arrive in Tanzania. This latter option is more cost effective if you think you might make several local calls or plan to stay in touch on a regular basis with someone at home. Keep in mind when you change SIMs, your phone number changes, so you'll have a Kenyan phone number in Kenya.

Hope this helps.

tuckeg Jun 4th, 2007 09:16 PM

I used a quad band phone and picked up cards in each country after checking with locals about which companies had the best coverage in the areas we were visiting. In some areas you may not be able to get reception at the camps.

Patty Jun 4th, 2007 09:26 PM

Further clarification, even when using your own cellular provider's roaming service, you still need a GSM phone. It just doesn't need to be unlocked.

And actually, you don't need a quad band phone. The specific frequencies that you need in Kenya/Tanzania are 900 and 1800 MHz (so a dual band operating on those two frequencies would work), but if you plan to buy a phone, you might as well get a quad band which gives you more versatility for use later.

lifelist Jun 4th, 2007 10:41 PM

I did the Northern Circuit last year, and was surprised at how often I had coverage with my Cingular quad band phone. IIRC, I had good coverage in Tarangire, Ngorongoro (on the rim, not in the crater itself), Lake Manyara, and the Serengeti. I think the only time I didn't have a good signal was when I was in the Northern Serengeti.

A GSM phone should serve fine - no need for a satellite phone.

Our guide had a radio in the car that reached Arusha from the Serengeti, and he carried a cell phone, as well. It's very likely that your guide will have a cell phone.

jasher Jun 5th, 2007 02:25 AM


My quad-band phone (from the UK) worked fine in Arusha, Tarangire, Ngorongoro, and the Serengeti. I had to re-arrange some parts of my itinerary on the fly so it was useful, but also a bit scary -- I normally travel to Botswana where there's no cell phone access and hearing it ring in the bush was a bit jarring.


jasher Jun 5th, 2007 02:27 AM

Yes, I did switch it to vibrate after the first time I heard it ring!


stakerk Jun 5th, 2007 08:42 AM

I have an unlocked GSM phone I use outside of U.S. Use a sim card. Bought Celtel sim card in Nairobi. Long story short. Saraficom works great in Samburu (per the employees at Larsen's Tented Camp, saw them often on the phone in camp), hear not so good in the Mara Triangle. Celtel only worked when upcountry in the foothills in Samburu. But worked great in the Mara and Kizingo.

Buy a used unlocked GSM 4 band phone over Ebay (should be about $50). Actually you can probably purchase a new phone in East Africa for about $50 US

Kevin from California

sundowner Jun 5th, 2007 09:01 AM

I used Cingular in Kenya and Rwanda with a quad band phone (locked/Cingular). I had Cingular turn on Intl calling and text messaging before I left home. I never called anyone but I did text message to the kids every day or two. Incoming text messg was 10 cents and outgoing were 50 cents each. Worked great for me.

dssxxxx Jun 5th, 2007 10:38 AM

I will have a quad band phone for sale ($55.00 shipped in the US) when I return from Tz after July 4th.

Just to let some peeps know prior to it going on eBay.

sundowner Jun 5th, 2007 10:46 AM

dssxxxx - Email me at jim cindyw at yahoo (without all the spaces). I may be interested.

matnikstym Jun 5th, 2007 11:51 AM

seems like most of the phones on ebay are the razr model. is that one o.k.?

Patty Jun 5th, 2007 12:07 PM

If it's a quad band, which I believe the razr is, then it's fine.

matnikstym Jun 5th, 2007 12:33 PM

Thanks Patty!

jasher Jun 5th, 2007 02:10 PM

Hi Dennis,

The Razr is definitely a quad-band phone -- it's what I have and I've used it in Europe, SA, Tanzania, and the US.


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