Nairobi Wi-Fi Hotspots Fail to Impress Users

Computing

As Wi-Fi usage records impressive growth in developed countries with restaurants, train stations, and public places continuing being high-growth areas, Kenya is struggling to play catch-up.

Wi-Fi, the technology that allows wireless networking of computers, laptops and other gadgets, has changed the way workers in countries like USA and Singapore communicate in offices, allowing employees to use hotspots freely in office spaces or even work from neighbouring buildings without requiring wire connections.

In airports around the world, Wi-Fi has transformed the dreary layover experience into an opportunity to connect with the world, allowing travellers who have laptops or smart phones to freely access the Internet.

Wi-Fi hotspots, as they are commonly referred to, have continued their march into nearly every venue you can think of - including one of the most unusual access points to be found atop Mount Everest.

Almost every gadget manufactured these days comes off the production line Wi-Fi ready, with research house IDC predicting there will be over 15 billion intelligent, connected devices in the next four years.

But if you have ever engaged in a quest to find a working Internet hotspot in Nairobi then you will know that it is nothing short of an odyssey of near Homer-like proportions.

In the over four years since Wi-Fi was first commercialised in Nairobi, the technology is yet to find its stride amongst users who want to access free or near-free data services at hotspots- puzzling given Nairobians penchant for free things.

The romantised image conjured by figures lovingly bent over portable devices as they slurp coffee in swanky restaurants none withstanding, the Nairobi Wi-Fi experience is not for the faint-hearted.

You will need to bring along some patience as an additional accessory for your laptop if you want to take advantage of the hotspots at Prestige Plaza along Ngong Road, where a plethora of Wi-Fi connections are available, but all must be coerced to work.

Once you do get on board, you are likely to compete for bandwidth with anyone else who harbours the same hopes of getting online while on the move. If there are more than two of you, it may be time to throw in the towel.

V stands for vexation at the Village Market, where pages load at snail's pace, and once they arrive, they proceed to obnoxiously stare at you as you repeatedly hit the refresh button in the hopes of getting some movement out of them. In their quieter hours, the connections at Nairobi Java house outlets outside the city can be bearable, as is the experience at the select Dormans outlets in the city.

You need only see the large numbers of hunched surfers in Art Café at Nairobi's Westgate to know that the connections are live and ready to do your bidding. At the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the connection is said to be better, unfortunately, it has never worked while I have been at the facility.

The Wi-Fi experience in Nairobi remains as fitful as the connections at the public spots where it exists. The good news is that several companies are tapping into this technology in order to improve connectivity options for a mobile workforce.