It’s almost coming to a year now since NITA-U released the initial coverage hotspots for their #MYUG Free Wi-Fi internet project in Kampala. There was a lot of optimism in the air now that finally, Kampala dwellers were about to access the internet free of charge at considerably fast speeds of 2 Mbps. NITA was to leverage on excess bandwidth reserved for government agencies for their free WiFi hotspots available between 6pm and 6am mostly around central business district.
One year down the road, the MYUG hotspots are nowhere to be seen. I know this because I am always on a hunt for affordable, cheap or Free internet around Kampala like Harrison Ford and the Nazis looking for the Holy Grail in the India Jones movies. It’s not just NITA that claims to provide the elusive public wireless hotspots, Roke telecom as well as MTN Uganda too and a number of hotels and restaurants around Kampala allege to have public WiFi hotspots.
Roke Telecom was to use the much hyped Google project Link metropolitan fibre internet project to create its public Wifi hotspot product. While Roke Telecom public hotspots work, their coverage is very very scanty even in busy urban areas. Chances are that you won’t find a Rokespot as they called where you currently are reading this article and if you did, signal strength is often very weak.
MTN Hotspots on the other hand have relatively more coverage. In fact, if you are currently reading this post from Kampala, an MTN Hotspot might show up on your radar. However, MTN Hotspots simply don’t work. In fact, they have never worked since we first reviewed them more than three years ago. Before writing this article, I tried to register (again) to the service, but I was met with registration errors. I simply couldn’t get past the MTN Hotspot product page.
Visitors and tourists to Kampala might particularly find this very frustrating when they try to checkin to a hotel or restaurant and to their dismay discover that the advertised “Free WiFi” offer actually doesn’t work. I have attempted to use Chillis and Cafe Javas Wifi while grabbing my cup of coffee to no avail. When you try to ask the waiter for the WiFi service, it’s not treated with as much attention as your meal or accommodation, but as something that you optionally should get.
At a time when a number of users are being disconnected because of Sim card registration, you might think that public wifi hotspots might come to rescue. But what a huge disappointment that absolutely no service provider has really managed to provide a consistent and fast public wifi service in Uganda in a way that would provide an alternative way of accessing the internet other than through mobile data.