Practical Guide to Life in Beira – Pt. 3: Staying connected – electricity, phone and internet

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Staying connected in Beira

Prepaid electricity – it’s a thing

Most houses in Beira town are connected to the national electricity network, EDM (Energias de Mocambique), and each household has their own counter. Not so special from what I was used to in Europe. However, what makes it interesting is the fact that you buy your electricityin the shape of prepaid vouchers. Credelec, credits for electricity, are available at EDM selling points, as most petrol stations. Look out for the symbol:

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EDM post

When buying credelec, you have to provide the EDM registration number of your household which you will find on the counter, and then your voucher is printed uniquely for your number. At home, you simply type the code into the counter, and your energy account is recharged. I must say find this system more straight-forward and down-to-earth, and actually…truly educational: The prepaid system makes you aware of consumption. In Austria, I did not have ANY notion of how much a KWH of energy cost, let alone the slightest idea of how certain practices affect the overall consumption, hence the costs. Here, I automatically check how many KWH are left on my account every morning to make sure I top up on time – and I see deviations that can usually be explained easily with my own habits and behaviour: Did I use Air Condition? Did I forget to put off all the lights the day before? Did I (or guests of mine) stay at home the whole day? It is not a big deal – and yet, similar to what I learned about water consumption, I consider this precious…well, not exactly knowledge, but awareness.

Mobile Phones and Internet

Leapfrogging is a term used in innovation management to refer to the phenomenon that societies sometimes skip one level of technical innovation and directly adopt a more advanced version. A popular example is phone usage in developing and emerging countries: While infrastructure and markets for landlines never really got established on a broad range, mobile phones have had a revolutionary aspect on all aspects of life over the last decade.

And indeed it is true: Mobile phones keep Mozambique up and running. Companies like Huawei are manufactoring smartphones specifically designed for emerging and developing countries: Robust, functional, un-fancy hence cheap, but still smart.

WhatsApp in Austria was a nice, entertaining way to stay in touch with friends, send memes to my siblings and create conversation groups. In Mozambique, it has become an essential tool to organise my work and every day life. I use it to coordinate with my housekeeper, to receive and send information about meetings and other events at work  – my employer, the Catholic University, does not have an intranet, no central web client with distribution list or anything comparable, but several WhatsApp groups -, and to send models of dresses to taylors.

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Provider mcel supports Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook for Free initiative

There is another feature widely spread and part-of everyday life: Mobile Money. MPesa, developed in Kenya in 2007, has actually become one of the most frequently quoted and highly praised innovations “made in Africa”.

And there are not only potentially practical use cases. It IS an incredibly useful thing. Some examples from the past few months: Colleague is on a business trip in Maputo, misses his flight back and has to stay for another night, but ran out of money. I send him 1000 Meticais via mPesa. Water bill arrives, but I lack and time and mood to queue at the FIPAG agency. I pay the bill with mPesa. I am out of town for the first week of the month when my housekeeper is supposed to get her salary. I pay her via mPesa.

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mpesa – Innovation made in Kenya

So, practically, how does one achieve the benefits of mobile phone and internet upon arrival in Mozambique? Go for prepaid. You can buy SIM cards basically anywhere – even the retailers on the streets sell cards and can activate them with a device they carry around with them. Ask for a Pacote initial (“starter pack”), it costs somewhere between 10 and 30 Meticais. SIM cards are usually adjustable to “normal”, micro and nano size. However, since [quote ICT-Mozambique article], each SIM card has to be registered – you need to fill in a form and provide an ID, but it is simple so you do not even have to go to a shop. The retailers on the streets have their activiation devices with them and simply scan your ID so that the card can be activated on the spot. As far as I know, a Mozambican address is not required in order to register a SIM card.

Regarding providers, the Mozambican market is divided between three companies: MCel, Vodacom and movitel. I am a faithful customer of Vodacom. However, in more remote areas, movitel has better coverage. MCel, however, participates in the Free Online Services initiative [quote] – you can use “basic” services like Wikipedia, Facebook etc. without using mobile data. So which provider is the best? Many people, including me, apply a very practical solution to this question by simply buying one SIM card from each provider and using the one that is most appropriate for a given context. [Among others, this common practice is a reason for the extremly high phone penetration rate in many African countries that often reach levels way higher than 100 %.]

Topping up is even easier than getting a SIM card. Just look out for guys in yellow mcel vests, they sell credits and for all providers.

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Guys selling créditos

Domestic calls are cheap – within the same work sometimes even free. Default mobile data is more expensive, but all providers have offers for “mobile packages”: Using your credits, you buy a package of mobile data that can be consumed within 30 days. I noticed that the MB you get for a certain amount of money strongly changes over time. In September 2015, 500 Meticais would buy you 2.500 Megabyte. At the time of writing, roughly a year later, I usually get more than 6.000 MB for the same amount.

Either way, it’s the easiest, most comfortable and very affordable way to get online. Actually, I do not have even have a wireless (or wired) internet connection at home, I simply use my phone as hotspot that perfectly serves all my electronic devices.

So…that’s how to stay connected in Mozambique.

If you are interested in other aspects of everyday life in Beira, check out my these posts:

Practical Guide to Life in Beira. Pt. 2: Shopping

Practical Guide to Life in Beira. Pt. 1: Water and Public Transportation

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One thought on “Practical Guide to Life in Beira – Pt. 3: Staying connected – electricity, phone and internet

  1. Pingback: Learning Technologies in Mozambique: Fact, fiction, fairy tale? | Some Time in Mozambique

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