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THOUGHT: Back from Angola - back on Duty
Posted by Arne Hess - on Monday, 28.11.11 - 15:41:44 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 21055x
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Have you missed me as much as I've missed you? Maybe you haven't noticed it all but I was away earlier this autumn but if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was away for three months in Angola. Angola? The country between Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo? The country which was in a civil war for nearly 30 years which just ended in 2002 and the country which is still full of landmines? Yes, I'm talking about that Angola! A country which is the second largest oil exporter of Africa, rich of diamonds, unfortunately still full of landmines with Luanda, the capital, which is said to be the most expensive capital of the world, where a simple pizza can easily costs over US$ 35 or a beer in the supermarket up to US$ 5 or more!

On my way to Angola

Well, end of July I was asked if I want to participate in a project at a local company which would like to benefit from my knowledge (all I can say it was in the telecom industry but I'm not disclosing any further info - for given reasons) and if I could imagine to work there, in Luanda, for around 2 - 3 months.

Arrived in Luanda and picked-up from the airport

I have to admit that I was a little bit skeptical because I didn't knew too much about Angola, a country where they speak Portuguese what I don't speak at all. But after a meeting and some discussions, I accepted the consultancy offer and after I received my first visa, I flew down to south Africa in early August; fully packed with some gadgets and gear which should help me to stay alive and connected to the rest of the world.

The two faces of Luanda

The average income in Angola is said to be something around US$ 300 per month but for sure you can also find the extremely rich upper-class and a growing middle-class - at least in Luanda. Angola has two GSM/UMTS carriers, Unitel and Movicel, and thankfully - as part of my project - I received a HSPA-enabled SIM card from Movicel right on the first day. Unlike let's say 98 % of all SIM cards which are prepaid in Angola, this one was one of the seldom postpaid SIM cards.

HTC Sensation with Movicel SIM card

Movicel, the former state owned telco, is rather new in the GSM and UMTS business since it just launched both networks late last year. Before Movicel was (and is still) running a CDMA network. Interesting enough Movicel is using 900 MHz for both - GSM (which also features GPRS) and UMTS (which is already HSDPA 3.6 Mbps enabled). So I was pretty fine with all the smartphones I brought, as long as they were dualband UMTS.

Movicel street promotion downtown Luanda

In the first week I looked a little bit around what the mobile telecommunication market was in Luanda and I found entry-level phones, most of us have never seen in Europe or North America. Sure, if we keep in mind that the average income is around US$ 300, it makes a lot of sense that there are phones on sale which cost around 2,500 Kz (Kwanza), around US$ 25. And as my colleagues told me, the most important mobile phone features (but this is all over Africa the same, not just typical for Angola) are a torch and the FM radio.

Typical mobile phones on the streets of Luanda

The torch makes a lot of sense since Luanda as well as the rest of Angola has to fight with heavy power outages which roughly hit you every second or third night. Thankfully, the guest house I lived at had a power generator which therefore turned on every second or third night but unfortunately the generator was in front of our sleeping room windows; so you can imagine that it was hard to grab any sleep during such a night, with a Diesel running in front of your Window.

Devices can make a real difference
Let us come to the interesting question which gear I carried? As a matter of fact, I wasn't in Angola the whole three months in a row but I had the chances to travel back to Europe in between. Therefore my gadgets changed during the time. In the beginning I had two Android smartphones and one tablet with me, the HTC Sensation, the HTC ChaCha and the HTC Flyer as well as the Samsung Omnia 7 Windows Phone 7. Also with me was my Apple MacBook Air 11" (which I had to use for my work there).

For security reasons, I decided to use my mobile phone cameras only because of the portability and to better not to carry expensive gear around the streets. And as it turned out, I was right with this decision. As my colleagues told me, they were robbed a couple of nights before I arrived and not to far away from our guest house. All their laptops were taken but well, what else would you do if someone with a Kalashnikov comes along your way and kindly asks for your equipment? That's one reason why our guest house was protected by other guys - also with Kalashnikovs (which was as a matter of fact my first contact with a Kalashnikov).

Security guard with Kalashnikov

After the first third, when I flew back to Germany, I had to sent the Sensation and ChaCha back to HTC but got a Sony Ericsson Xperia ray which fit my needs even better than the Sensation. Because it's so unbelievable small for a smartphone, it's so easy to carry and for is the camera quality of Sony Ericsson smartphones out of any discussions. As a back-up I also took a Samsung Galaxy S II with me which was - funny enough - just officially launched in Angola at the time I was there.

Samsung Galaxy S II launch event in Luanda

It's also about the services not just the devices
Before I left to Angola the first time, I've checked and compared the quality of Google Maps and Bing Maps and had to realize again, that the Bing Maps coverage is as bad in Angola as it was in Uzbekistan where I was earlier this year as well. Bing Maps has virtually no footprint in non American or European countries while Google Maps has very detailed maps including point of interests. Therefore, Windows Phone wasn't a real option at all and unfortunately Nokia hasn't launched its Lumia 800 with its excellent Nokia Maps at that time.

Google Maps vs. Bing Maps vs. Nokia Maps

Nevertheless, another reason to use Android with Google Maps was the fact, that Google just launched map area download a couple of weeks before which allows to have maps pre-downloaded to have them available offline. Since I wasn't sure how my mobile connectivity would look like this was another important fact for me to use Android instead of Windows Phone. Furthermore I decided to enable Google Maps Latitude to allow selected friends to track me. I thought it might be a good idea for a case of emergency where I would be able to call or text them and they would be able to see where I'm, to inform the local authorities or embassy. Thankfully nothing happened at all but better is better I prefer to be prepared.

Google Maps Latitude and Go Weather on Android

In addition I decided to install Google Translate and Google Goggles on my Android smartphones. As I've initially said, Angola is a Portuguese speaking country and I don't speak a single word Portuguese, which is - for my ears - fairly different from Spanish or Italian. Google Translate and Google Goggles were handy tools in restaurants, where I used Goggles to translate the menu, or in other situations, where I used Translate. Google Translate even allowed me to translated Portuguese text messages, which I've received from my carrier (just to found out that these were marketing SMS only and nothing important).

Google Translation in action - translating a Portuguese text message

While the typical working day was something around 12 - 14 hours, I had some good spare time in the evenings as well as on the weekends and thankfully my SIM card had a HSDPA flat-rate. Therefore I used my Android smartphones all the time as hotspots for all the other devices; especially because I hadn't had network access at the office but had to also use my mobile broadband connection for work.

Using Android as a mobile hotspot

And while I used the connection during the day for E-Mail, research, chat with colleagues, etc., in the evening I was listening my music via Google Music (Beta) or I watched German TV through my Slingboxes at home and the installed SlingPlayer Mobile for Android. Later on, I've also brought a MHL HDMI adapter to Luanda which allowed me to connect the Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Flyer to the common room flat screen as well as to my sleeping room flat TV.

For sure I've also installed Skype on the Android phones and tablets because Skype was used in the office for chat. But for sure I've also used it to stay in contact with home. Nothing compares to a video call if you are far away for such a long time and calling home was even free of charge. Furthermore I've installed Pinger, which was just released in Germany. For some reasons, I was able to send text messages from my Movicel number to Germany but I never ever received a German SMS on that number. However, Pinger fixed this problem and did it as a workaround since it receives and delivers text messages through a gateway in between. While I received the text messages as a kind of IP push message, my friends and family were able to send messages to a German mobile number.

Final Conclusion

All together I can say that all the (mobile) technology made the trip to Angola very easy for me and my family. It helped me to get my work done there, it entertained me in the evening and it kept me connected to my local colleagues, my friends and my family. Don't know how generations before us did the same without these little helpers but I don't want to miss this kind of mobile technology in my life anymore.

However, it was also a great use case to compare different platforms and as much as I (still) like Windows Phone, it proved how far it is behind Android today and shows that Microsoft has still a long way to go. Mobile technology, mobile phones and smartphones aren't about a simple mobile OS anymore but about the overall packages a user get. Since I had only one SIM card, I had to share the SIM card's data connection with my devices like my Notebook and tablet. And since Windows Phone wasn't supporting tethering at that time (which it is supporting now with Windows Phone 7), it was relatively fast out of the scope for me. Furthermore, Google Maps, Google Translate and Google Goggles are services which are either not available on Windows Phone or not as useful as on Android. And maybe you understand now why I like niche technologies like wireless DLNA and MHL HDMI that much. For me it was way more than just a geeky piece of technology but something really useful!

Now I'm back in Germany which I missed a lot while I was in Angola. However, now I'm also missing Angola a little bit since I made great friendships there and really hope that I will return sometime again. Nevertheless, until I will return, I'm back on duty here at the::unwired to bring you the latest news and views from the mobile world.

Cheers ~ Arne


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