Tanzania Phone Tricks

This is a reworking of “Kenyan Phone Tricks” by Paul Blair for Tanzania

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

There is a somewhat updated version of this document available at Current 2009-2011/12 PCV Yue’s Volunteer Blog. His additions are in red on that page. And there are a few late-2010 numbers at WhiteAfrican’s blog post.

VodacomZainTigoZantel
Speed / AvailabilityEDGE, Unconfirmed nat’l 3G coverage3G in Dar, EDGE elsewhereGPRS/EDGE?EDGE, CDMA EVDO in some large cities.
Activate SIM for first usageEnter ?, call ?(no steps needed)(no steps needed)(no steps needed)
Top up*?#code#*104*code#104*code*104*code#
Check balance?*102#*102#*102#
Instruct carrier to send APN settings to your phone?“all”, “internet” or “wap” SMS to 232. This must succeed once to enable line for net, see notes.Dial 15301 and mention mobile & model number and connects you. Alt: text “web” or “wap” to 500.SMS “wap” or “internet” to 15098
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)[none]:[none]
@internet
[none]:[none]@internet[]:[]@tigoweb (?)[none]:[none]@znet
Transfer credit into data planCall #123#, when menu appears select option 4, then option 2, then pick your plan.Visit Zain store; limits are simply prepaid data, not month-expiring(no prepay plans available)Visit Zantel rep?
Check data plan balance?SMS the word “balance” to 450.(?)(no prepay plans available)?
Data price if no plan used or plan exceeded254 tsh / MB?470 Tsh / MB200 tsh / MB?100 tsh / MB
40MB planVoda Details--
50MB plan---
100MB plan15,000+2000/=150-170Tsh/mb--
250MB plan25,000+5000/=100-120Tsh/mb---
300MB plan--
500MB plan40,000+10,000/=80-100Tsh/mb--
1GB plan75,000+20,000/=-*1.4gb = 55,000 TSH/mo ()
“Unlimited”60,000 TSH/=moSmall discount for 3mo prepaid

Since voda charges 20TSH/mb even when in a bundle there may be a hidden fee (noted).

-On SEACOM Fiber as of 9 Sept 2009, 500ms ping time-**”unlimited but 3GB” 90,000 TSH*Zantel has effectively proprietary CDMA modem available with “free downloads” and cheaper rates but more limited coverage in TZ (none in my city) CDMA info here.

**Zantel’s normal internet GSM/EDGE offering, 1400ms ping time, 9 Sept 2009

Contained within is my attempt to clarify Kenya Tanzania’s mobile phone situation for new visitors, especially current and future Peace Corps volunteers, who may not be the most technical people.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR Kenya TANZANIA TO LIVE HERE FOR TWO YEARS

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 reasonably common here, especially in Dar, so don’t spend your life savings. 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, 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

THE PHONE COMPANIES

You will decide on your phone company once you get here.  Most volunteers have traditionally chosen Zain for specific deals but have recently dispersed:

  • Vodacom, the incumbent, first phone company
  • Zain (previously Celtel), the second largest phone company.
  • Tigo (previously Mobitel), original discount company, often used by students
  • Zantel, fair nationwide coverage, discount company started in Zanzibar, acquired by a UAE company EtiSalat
  • TTCL, landline provider, CDMA mobile, and DSL provider, mentioned here for completeness, generally not a contender.

To get a line from any of these companies, just buy a SIM card in a shop that has a sign that says “Nunua Linei ya Simu hapa.”  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 starting digits for the phone number.

THE DIFFERENT CALLING PLANS

The calling plans are pretty complicated even before you start worrying about Internet.  Most companies have at least 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:

  • Nights & Weekends (after 9pm+Weekends),
  • Family/Circle of Friends
  • 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.

THE INTERNET ON YOUR PHONE

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 Vodacom:

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 Vodacom.  I usually just leave my phone on the Zain settings and I can swap SIMs and surf the Internet with either with no problem.

When trying to apply to the internet service by texting in as described above, if the Zain network doesn’t happen to recognize your model of modem or phone it will give an ambiguous message and fail to enable your line. Then you will need to find another internet capable phone to activate service from (preferably a Nokia as most of these seem recognized). Line must be activated before internet is available.

For Tigo: ???

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.

For Zantel: Send a text with “wap” or “internet” to 15098. You should get a system message back with the phone settings.

THE INTERNET ON YOUR LAPTOP

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 Vodacom & 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:

  • (bonus!) NetLimiter 2 Monitor Freeware – this is software that will watch to see how much of your internet speed is being used by each program on your computer. For example, you can see how many megabytes you downloaded with Mozilla Firefox on 21 September 2009. You can also see what is using all of your download speed or upload right now. Handy for tracking down bandwidth hogging programs. It can be the only tip you’d forgotten to turn off expensive autoupdates!
  • http://m.google.com/?dc=gbackstop to enable access Google services like Gmail in whatever bandwidth format (standard, HTML, mobile) you prefer, even from your computer.
  • 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!

  • Firefox (and the below extensions)
    • ImgLikeOpera (more control over selectively allowing images)

    • Greasemonkey (needed to run the below)

      • 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)

      • 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’s a 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.
      accessibility.blockautorefresh;true
      browser.cache.check_doc_frequency;2

      browser.chrome.favicons;false

      browser.chrome.site_icons;false

      network.prefetch-next;false

    • 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.
      Network.dnsCacheExpiration;3600
      network.dnsCacheEntries;1000
  • 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.

WHICH INTERNET PLAN TO GET?

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:

  • Vodacom: 254 shillings per megabyte
  • Zain: 470 shillings per megabyte
  • Tigo: 200 shillings per megabyte
  • Zantel: 100 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.

  • Zain Prepaid: There are discounts by pre-purchasing megabytes for three month blocks in advance. It does expire after 3mo. I believe 500mb is sold for 160/= just the regular per-MB rate, 200MB and less packages are available at the store. If Zain is the only provider in your area or it seems faster due to its fiber connection these might pay off.
  • Vodacom Prepaid: 60,000/= per month for unlimited internet. This may be related to an international unlimited data deal also available through USA/Verizon ($60/mo).
  • Zantel CDMA Unlimited: For 90,000/= per month you can get unlimited Zantel internet through a semi-proprietary Zantel CDMA/EVDO modem. They will also sell you “unlimited” 3GB plans on GSM/EDGE for 90,000/=.

PHONE-SPECIFIC DATA PLANS

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.

I don’t know the ins and outs of the deals in this category for Tanzania so refer back to the Kenya guide for the gist of this section and visit the respective stores downtown Dar or at Milimani city Mall where they are all together.

SPEED

Zain has 3G in Dar Es Salaam only with Mwanza/Arusha in planning as of Aug 2009. Vodacom advertises 3G in large cities around Tanzania. Zantel has 3G in many larger cities around TZ using its CDMA modem but otherwise only EDGE.

Tanzania lags behind Kenya in acknowledged fiber adoption. Zain has officially connected the fiber to its data hub in Dar and has better responsiveness as a result. I haven’t heard updates from the other vendors.

Since there are limited capacity on the towers, if other people are using the internet or heavily using the cell service, you may be affected. For EDGE 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 networks are promising to go 3G “eventually.” though for Tanzania this may take a rather longer time than in Kenya, given Zain’s slow adoption to date)

CONCLUSION / WHICH TO GET?

Internet in Tanzania, like phone calls, are expensive versus neighboring Kenya but you generally don’t have to worry about contracts and thanks to Zain, internet is available even in many of the most remote Peace Corps-post villages.

If you are in an area where you get a 3G connection, you might consider Vodacom.  Theoretically the speed should be better.  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 maybe you can find a friendly and cheap Internet cafes to offset your data usage in your major banking town.

If you are not in such an area, Vodacom Unlimited looks like the best deal if you can stomach the 60,000 shillings.  Then you never have to worry about another megabyte, you only have to worry about the 1 month recurring payment.  They’ll also be happy to sell you a modem.

If that’s too much money, any of the Vodacom’s/Zantel prepay plans seems good.  Just pick the one that you know you’ll use up in 30 days (90 days with Zain), and if you start to go over, just add more.  It’s way cheaper than paying the same 470 shillings per minute all the time with basic Zain.

PERIPHERALLY RELATED:

I feel like I also need to mention the following:

Zantel has confusing CDMA vs GSM networks. They also sell 2G EDGE modem devices at their store, further confusing their system. Make sure you know what you are buying if you shop at their stores. Expect if you buy the CDMA (its fast 3G internet tech is called EVDO) then you will be completely out of luck if you leave their very limited CDMA network. GSM/EDGE is practically national with many options.

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 Dar Es Salaam. At least one popular service uses proprietary Navini pre-WiMax box devices.

POSTSCRIPT

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.

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


28 Responses to “Tanzania Phone Tricks”


  • Great to see someone posting these tips. Thank so much for doing this. I just got to Tanzania a couple of weeks ago and have slowing been figuring out how to get online through my phone with the different providers.

    I just picked up a vodacom sim so here is some info for your chart.
    When activating sim dial 105 first to set the language. eg. to get service in English.
    Recharging credit/top up: *105*(pincode)#
    Check balance: *103#
    Automatic APN settings: SMS saying WAP or INTERNET (space) phone make (space) phone model number to 15300. Example: INTERNET NOKIA N79
    If your phone is not supported (as mine is) you can send sms to 15300 with the first 8 digits of your IMEI. Example: WAP 12345678 To get your IMEI number type *#06#
    If that does not work, as it did not work for me, call 101 and try to get a person… (which I am trying to do now…) One good reason to go with a common phone here such as a Nokia…

  • Got my vodacom working, never needed to talk to anyone it just started working after I restarted my phone. Got a Zain sim (its actually branded with their old name celtel and I noticed the network name is still celtel) to try out and on their website this is what they say if your phone is not a model they can send the setting to. “Some handsets can not automatically accept Internet settings (Palm Treo, HP and some others). In this case you will need manually enter – Zain TZ as a network name and internet.tz.Zain.com as APN” so I am trying to get it working and hopefully I will not need to activate through another phone.

  • Great Post! Most of the data reduction trips I already use (ifconfig ppp0 | grep bytes is my most frequently used command), but that Mowser GreaseMonkey script is awesome for those times I want to right click and view an image.

    It’s amazing how hard tables of data rates actually can be to find. I’ve got Vodcom because thats what most PCVs in my group have and it makes sms/phone calls cheaper to us.

  • Using VodaCom’s unlimited plan for 60k/month. There’s no hidden 20 TSh/MB fee like with the other bundles, but they do slow it down to about 64kbps down.

    –Alex Bernstein of http://stusik-i-sharik.livejournal.com

    Alex posted the above but I made a mistake and lost a few days of database time when I updated to MySQL 5.1.

  • Greetings from Nairobi via Canada! :-)
    My pal just arrived in Arusha with his lappie from the USA so I’mm trying to help him out. I was in Dar/Zanzi a few years ago and wrote a blog post back then about Zantel’s EVDO service offering.
    But now in 2010, I do think it’s wiser to go with a 3G provider that uses the Huawei E220 USB modem. Also, if your modem is LOCKED, just cruise Net for a way to re-flash it with the software from Huawei’s website. :-) In Kenya, we can get a 3G modem from Safaricom for about KSh 2000 and data rates are CHEAP now at about 10MB for KSh 8. Safaricom is really kicking major ass over here in the data realm.
    But I’ve always felt that TZ was a little more deregulated with its many mobile providers. Are they only using Seacom? Is EASSy live yet?

    Cheers!

    * Zantel ups the stakes with new mobile data service
    http://maxtheitpro.com/zantel-ups-the-stakes-with-new-mobile-data-service

  • Any chance of getting the latest data plans for August 2010? :-) I’m sure things are waaay cheaper now. Nice theme…K2 rocks but I’m liking the Twenty Ten theme of the new and improved WP 3.0.

  • i use zain. Seem to be the cheapest option for me. Also much more reliable then tigo ..

    For internet they have a new package 400mb @ 2500/=

    to activate send an sms say ‘internet’ to 15444.

    Its great with the 3.5g service

  • etisalat is uae based company nt french!!!

  • I’m visiting friends in Arusha and Zain is GREAT for Internet. However, the vaunted “One Network” is fu*ked!! I can’t make long distance calls to Kenya…or sometimes the call goes thruu (10% of the time).

    I got a Vodacom SIM but their Internet is sloooow on my celly and the settings they sent me didn’t connect me to the Net but it worked for my pal’s Nokia 2700c celly which is the same as mine. Odd!! In Kenya, Zain, Safaricom and Orange would send the settings for this fone without any TROUBLE.

    Oh, you need to do manual settings for Zain: APN is internet. That’s it!
    Does any1 know the manual settings for Vodacom??

  • Oh, back to Zain’s (er Airtel) MASSIVE network fu*k up with making LONG DISTANCE calls…
    I also have my Airtel KE sim in another fone and I CAN’T make long distance calls to Kenya or overseas. WTF?????
    Airtel, are u reading this page?? I’m fu*ked! The customer service rep admits there’s a “network problem.” Yah think so and it’s nothing to do with my sims??

  • Airtel (formerly Zain) has too many ‘network problems’ since they took over Zain. It is like they are un-tweaking everything! I can no longer make Skype phone calls with my 3g phone. They have also been eating the voucher credits many people load onto their phone. Airtel refunded my credits after I complained, but they could not tell me why my credits just disappear.

  • I need your help how to settup EDGE/GPRS Internet connection in Blackberry 8310 via Zain Tanzania or Vodacom. Plz send me details through my email above. Thanx for doing the greats.

  • any body can help me how to check internet balance

  • why is kikwete not allowing tz people chosing thear leader proparly

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