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mrm512 May 21st, 2006 04:23 PM

Telephone Usage
I am leaving for Kenya and Tanzania in mid-June. Can anyone help me understand what the cell phone - satellite phone situation is in East Africa? I have visited several websites, but am still very confused. My husband needs to stay in touch for business reasons, although I assume on an emergency basis only. Can anyone direct me to a website?

Thanks in advance,

Patty May 21st, 2006 04:29 PM

Try for cellular service. Click on GSM Roaming, GSM Coverage Maps, select the country and it gives you the frequencies used and maps of carrier networks.

jill_h May 21st, 2006 06:59 PM

What my husband did last year was to get a quad band phone (one that works worldwide), buy a SIM card in your destination country and a phone card.

Patty May 21st, 2006 07:32 PM

I just took a look at gsmworld again and while it lists Safaricom in Kenya as having both 900 & 1800 frequencies, I don't think 1800 is all that widespread (actually I question if it even exists). In Kenya, you really need a phone that operates on GSM 900. If you have both 900 & 1800, then great but you definitely can't rely on 1800 alone in Kenya.

Not sure how much coverage in Tanzania is 900 vs 1800.

I would look at the coverage maps and see if you can get service in the areas that you're traveling to. If not, you'll need satellite.

If you think that cell service is adequate, you'll need an unlocked GSM phone that operates on 900 MHz (or 900 + 1800). You can purchase a SIM on arrival in Kenya at Nairobi airport for 300 shillings (no air time included) plus whatever prepaid amount you think you'll need for air time. Top up cards in various amounts are sold everywhere so don't worry if you didn't purchase enough as you can add more as needed.

Safaricom and Celtel both have shops at the airport after customs. You could actually buy a SIM from each carrier as one may have better coverage in one area or another. When you get to Tanzania, you would repeat the same process.

If you don't want to mess with purchasing a local SIM, you can check if your current carrier offers international roaming in Kenya and Tanzania (and if your phone is compatible). In the US, that generally means T-Mobile or Cingular. Rates are expensive at nearly $5 per minute incoming or outgoing, but you would keep your own phone number. If you get a local SIM, you would have a Kenya or Tanzania number and you may need to let others know your new number (would this be mostly for incoming or outgoing calls?).

In comparison, per minute international calls using a local SIM will run approx $1 to $1.50 and incoming calls are free, but the calling party pays long distance to call you.

mrm512 May 22nd, 2006 09:28 AM

Thanks so much for all of the information. I am afraid I am not very savvy when it comes to all of these phone terms. What is a SIM? My husband will need the phone, I am assuming to mostly call into his office, but in case of emergency someone may have to call us. I have been looking at a couple of websites and think I might need to go the satellite route, and rent a phone. I am going to look more closely at the website you indicated.

Any other advice is greatly appreciated!


Patty May 22nd, 2006 10:07 AM

A SIM is a chip inside a GSM phone that is removable. The SIM determines the carrier, phone number, etc. GSM phones issued by Cingular and T-Mobile in the US come "locked" to the issuing carrier, but all phones can be unlocked. T-Mobile will send you the unlock code if you've had service for at least 90 days. With Cingular, you're on your own. You can google the word unlock plus the model of your phone for unlocking instructions and cost. Once your phone is unlocked, it will accept another carrier's SIM so that you can purchase a local SIM on arrival in Kenya or Tanzania.

If you have a non-GSM phone, then none of the above applies and you won't be able to use it in East Africa.

Patty May 22nd, 2006 10:18 AM

Even if you decide to go the satellite route, if you already own a compatible GSM cell phone, I'd bring it as a back up. You don't have to bother with unlocking it if you don't want to. You can just use your current carrier's international roaming (assuming your carrier has roaming agreements in Kenya and Tanzania) in an emergency. No need to swap out the SIM in this case and your phone number doesn't change.

I believe it was bat who reported that she could sometimes get a cell signal when her friend's rented sat phone couldn't in northern Tanzania.

lifelist May 22nd, 2006 10:24 AM


If you tell us what brand/model of phone you have and what service provider you're using (verizon, cingular, t-mobile, etc...), we could probably narrow down your choices.

mrm512 May 23rd, 2006 06:09 AM

I use Verizon and my husband uses Sprint. My phone just says "LG" on it, so I am not sure what that means. I don't know what style or model phone my husband has, but it is specially made to go with his BMW. My experience with Sprint was terrible in terms of coverage, which is why I now use Verizon, so I have my doubts about coverage for his phone in Africa!!!!

I think he is going to just get his office to get some kind of satellite phone for him to use. I think I will leave it up to them because if I made a suggestion and then it didn't work, it would be on me. I would rather he blame his office!!!


Patty May 23rd, 2006 09:45 AM

Verizon uses CDMA technology in the US and as far as I know, none of the Verizon issued LG models have a GSM mode.

I believe Sprint is also CDMA, and I'm not sure whether they offer any dual mode CDMA/GSM phones. Just based on the information you've given, without knowing the exact model, I would say the likelihood that he has a compatible phone is very low.

lifelist May 23rd, 2006 11:02 AM

Yup, Sprint is CDMA. They have an International Roaming service, but they handle that by renting or selling you a GSM phone.

So, you'll have to rent or buy something, no matter what.

If his office is willing to pay for it, a satellite phone is fine.

lovetodiscover May 25th, 2006 10:10 PM

MIght check with your current phone provider and see if they have a rental for you. Not sure if renting pays off. Don't think Verizon CDMA service will work there, but see if they've got a rental. Seen a rental offered on my companies internal web site regarding the business cell phones.
AT&T phones/Cingular would be okay or if he's got a Blackberry from Cingular - might also work.

Calling the provider would be easiest. You can reach Verizon using *611 direct from the Verizon Cell phone if you are in the US.

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