Keeping software up-to-date – the Dili way

Once a month, Microsoft brings out their security updates which from a user point of view is a bit more manageable than the old random release of these updates. Some of these monthly updates (for Windows XP) run to over 40Mbytes but the typical size of late has been around the 10 to 20Mbyte mark.

Now it is just not possible to handle this sort of download over a modem connection unless you possess infinite patience. And if you add in the almost daily anti-virus software updates (and the large updates once every couple of months), you can get blown away pretty quickly. I try to keep up but this will usually involve a visit to an internet cafe to get this stuff.

That may seem OK but the majority of internet cafes here proudly advertise “fast broadband” when they only have 128kbps connections. Some have 256kbps. If you get in early, you can get most of that bandwidth to yourself and do your stuff. But heaven help you if a large group of other users file in.

I recall one time I went into a “cafe” (no coffee in sight) to do my updates and my humble task ground the bandwidth right down such that the owner came out to find out who was downloading music or images. “Not me”, I said. I killed the task, did a bit of harmless surfing and finished the job off at another “cafe”.

On another occasion, I thought it wise to ask the manager if I could do my updates and I was told “no, try somewhere else”. Honest but obviously a strategic mistake.

I have been reading about Google’s new online applications (calendar, word processing, spreadsheet etc.) and just how useful they are. And the pressure this is putting on Microsoft. On the one hand, you never have to worry about updates again but on the other, you may never have enough bandwidth to make the experience worth it here. And Youtube ? What’s that ?

Its just too expensive here and the real broadband world is just a dream.  The 15 year monopoly by Timor Telecom is just not doing it for me.

2 thoughts on “Keeping software up-to-date – the Dili way

  1. Dear Squatter
    Totally agree with you. It’s like squeezing data through the eye of a needle. To think, in other countries people get broadband for as little as $25 per month! When you consider that the Sod househould currently operates three blogs and a website, it’s no surprise that we can’t afford luxuries, such as food, anymore. We have to keep emailing our incredulous friends overseas to warn them not to send Mb’s of stuff, otherwise our outlook express runs for a day and a half. So we have to do without all the baby pictures. (Guys, please understand, but all 5Mb newborn babies look the same to me!!)

    Mrs Sod
    (It probably cost me $10 to make this post…)

  2. You can’t even get iPSTAR broadband via satellite in East Timor, so even West Timor is leaving its neighbour behind. It’s not just the likes of the developed world that gets decent broadband, Rwanda does. Yes, you read that right, Rwanda, that (other!) genocidal hellhole, thanks to an enterprising American called Greg Wyler, who’s set up a fibereoptic broadband cable network. Of course, it helped matters no end that he was a multimillionaire.

    Entrepreneur has quixotic goal of wiring Rwanda

    Thursday, August 17, 2006
    By Christopher Rhoads, The Wall Street Journal

    MOUNT KARISIMBI, Rwanda — Greg Wyler, an American tech entrepreneur, dreams
    of bringing the Internet to this troubled country. There are a few hurdles.
    One is a battered communications tower atop this 14,787-foot volcanic peak.
    The air is too thin for helicopters to transport the several tons of
    equipment needed for repairs. Instead, it has to go by hand.

    One recent morning, as mist covered the mountain, a group of 20 Rwandans
    lugged a 1,300-pound transformer with ropes and pulleys through deep mud.
    Rains had turned part of the trail into swamp. Mr. Wyler, 36 years old, was
    checking on their progress. He had recently hired a South African
    mountain-rescue company to advise on navigating the steeper sections.

    “We are pushing the boundaries of technology here,” Mr. Wyler said, as the
    muck oozed up around his knees.

    Mr. Wyler’s company, Terracom, expects the tower to start beaming services
    in the coming months, including, for the first time, cellphone coverage,
    Internet access and television. Rwanda is among the least-connected
    countries in the world. Mr. Wyler wants it to be the first completely wired
    African nation, with citizens paying $80 a month for Terracom’s Internet

    Right now, Rwandans earn on average an annual income of about $200. Outside
    Rwanda’s major towns, few homes have power. Rwanda still bears the scars of
    the genocide that consumed this nation 12 years ago when ruling Hutus
    slaughtered more than 800,000 Tutsis in a 100-day period. The country’s
    telecom minister, Albert Butare, supports Mr. Wyler’s efforts but
    acknowledges the obvious.

    “We’ve had to rebuild everything from nothing,” Mr. Butare says. “So when
    people need shelter, water and energy, they ask, ‘Do I really need a

    On a recent break-neck tour by Land Cruiser of Terracom’s projects around
    the country, Mr. Wyler stopped at his northwest regional office where
    clothes salesman Edward Rugamba had come to get his phone line fixed.

    The 33-year-old Mr. Rugamba mentioned he’d once tried to start an Internet
    cafe. It folded after customers complained about the poor connections. On a
    whim, Mr. Wyler took Mr. Rugamba to see one of Terracom’s new solar-powered
    towers, a journey that took an hour up a twisting, narrow dirt road. He
    wanted to persuade Mr. Rugamba to re-launch his cafe. “There are some damn
    good Java programmers out there!” Mr. Wyler shouted over the thick forest

    On the ride back down the mountain, Mr. Wyler pitched his visitor the job of
    running regional sales for Terracom. The car zipped past barefoot children
    playing among goats.

    “I need you on my team to show these guys how to use the Internet,” he said.
    “We’ll make this a booming metropolis!” Mr. Wyler put Mr. Rugamba in touch
    with Terracom’s sales team, but hasn’t learned if he accepted the offer.

    Until three years ago, Mr. Wyler had never been to Africa. In the early part
    of the decade, he was investing in tech startups and real estate after
    making a fortune from a technology that cools computers. In 1998, the
    28-year-old Mr. Wyler sold his company, Silent Systems Inc., for about $15

    Then a family tragedy intervened. In 2002, Mr. Wyler’s parents were in the
    midst of an ugly divorce, rife with accusations of physical abuse, according
    to reports in the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. In October of that year,
    Mr. Wyler’s mother, Susann, was murdered in the family’s home near Boston.
    Widespread media coverage at the time identified Mr. Wyler’s father,
    Geoffrey Wyler Sr., a prominent Boston lawyer, as a suspect. Local law
    authorities won’t comment and to this day no one has been charged with the

    Geoffrey Wyler did not respond to calls seeking comment.

    Around this time, at the wedding of a friend, Mr. Wyler met a Rwandan
    government official who invited him to visit the country. Eager for a new
    venture to occupy his time and mind, Mr. Wyler readily accepted and visited
    Rwanda that spring.

    The government official was the chief-of-staff for President Paul Kagame,
    whom Mr. Wyler soon met. Mr. Kagame quizzed Mr. Wyler about a $50-million
    government project to give schools Internet access via satellite. Mr. Wyler
    says he told the president the deal was overpriced and that satellite
    Internet access was slow and unreliable.

    “I told him if he wanted real infrastructure, he needed fiber,” recalls Mr.
    Wyler. Mr. Wyler drew Mr. Kagame a map showing how fiber cables connect much
    of the developed world and bypass Africa. The government scrapped the
    satellite deal. Mr. Kagame and other government officials urged Mr. Wyler to
    take on a project wiring 300 schools, which he accepted.

    Rwanda has tried to forge connections to the global economy under the
    leadership Mr. Kagame, the Tutsi military leader who led the army that
    defeated the genocidal Hutu government. His ultimate goal is to transform
    Rwanda into a Singapore-like hub for business and investment in east Africa.
    He has lured back from abroad several million Rwandans — many with Western
    skills and education — to help the country catch up with the modern world.

    Yet government-owned phone monopolies throughout Africa have stifled
    competition, keeping innovation limited and prices high. Western companies
    and carriers have mostly shunned Africa, with its poverty, disease and
    instability. Recently, both France Telecom and Vivendi SA have scaled back
    their ambitions in the area.

    Rwanda got its first dial-up connection in 1999 and, like most of the
    region, relied on expensive satellite links to access the Internet. When Mr.
    Wyler first visited, Rwanda counted just 22 broadband connections, each
    costing more than $1,000 a month, which were used mostly by embassies and
    nongovernmental organizations. Even at those prices, the connections were
    faulty and slow.

    Mr. Wyler glimpsed an opportunity. Most of the recent growth in Internet
    users has come from developing nations. The world-wide number has more than
    doubled in the past five years to one billion.

    In December 2003, Mr. Wyler started his own Rwandan Internet service
    provider and named it Terracom. With about $15 million, which came from his
    own funds and another investor, he began building a fiber network using the
    same technology that forms the U.S.’s Internet and data backbone.

    Mr. Wyler says he is focusing on access first, profits later. He’s starting
    with schools, institutions, and small businesses such as coffee cooperatives
    hoping to sell to U.S. coffee houses. Eventually, he’ll get to individual

    During 2004, Mr. Wyler hired 45 full-time workers and about 1,000 part-time
    laborers. They laid a 100-mile stretch of fiber in the ground from the
    capital Kigali southwest to Butare, the second-largest city and home of the
    country’s biggest university. “We’re on a mission here to see what happens
    when we drive prices down and quality up,” says Mr. Wyler.

    Last October, Mr. Wyler solved the problem of what to do with the country’s
    telecom monopoly: He bought it. With a $20-million bid, Mr. Wyler won an
    auction that privatized Rwandatel. The acquisition included an antiquated
    fixed-line phone network, about 25,000 customers and 530 employees.

    Mr. Wyler was now running a bloated government monopoly with little
    technical knowledge and no idea how to compete. Rwandatel had no
    customer-service department and 12 employees whose sole job was to play on
    the company soccer team.

    “It wasn’t expected to turn out this way,” says Mr. Wyler, who on some days
    relies on a steady consumption of Gummi bears that he brings with him from
    the U.S. “It just sort of happened.” Mr. Wyler spends one week of every six
    in Rwanda and most of the remainder at the home near Boston he shares with
    his wife and young daughter.

    Back in the Land Cruiser, Mr. Wyler checked emails on his laptop. Terracom
    offers wireless broadband access wherever its cellular network has
    coverage — he says it currently covers about 60 percent of the
    population — for $60 a month, $20 less than the company’s regular Internet
    access offering. The wireless technology is similar to what Verizon Inc. and
    Sprint Corp. are rolling out in the U.S.

    As Mr. Wyler answered email, the SUV careened around mountain roads lined
    with banana trees, and narrowly swerved past people on foot. One email came
    from Terracom’s new head of DSL, a technology that turns basic phone lines
    into high-speed ones.

    “There is something that I would like to tell you,” wrote Christian Mulola,
    25, a Rwandatel employee Mr. Wyler promoted to run DSL operations. “It is
    that I do not feel confident enough to handle the installation all alone.”

    Mr. Wyler ignored the email, having given his employee a pep talk months
    earlier. “Greg told me my work would seem like a mountain on the first day,”
    Mr. Mulola recalls. “But that tomorrow it would seem like a hill, and then
    seem smaller and smaller after that.” Mr. Wyler later received another
    message announcing that the job had been completed after all.

    Next, Mr. Wyler visited Terracom’s Internet cafe in Gisenyi, a dusty city in
    western Rwanda on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The cafe has 12 computers in wooden stalls but its Internet connection was
    down. The cafe is the main and perhaps only way for tens of thousands of
    residents here to access the Internet. Emile Munyandamusta, the Gisenyi
    manager, had not addressed the problem for about a day.

    Mr. Wyler was furious. “Did you know about this?” he shouted. He explained
    through a translator that each minute the Internet cafe was closed Terracom
    was losing money. Startled, Mr. Munyandamusta made a call on his cellphone
    to check on the repair work. Mr. Wyler became further exasperated when he
    noticed Mr. Munyandamusta using a cellphone from a Terracom competitor,
    South Africa’s MTN Group Ltd.

    Mr. Wyler demanded the employee running the cafe email him the moment the
    problem was fixed, which happened the following day. On his way out the
    door, Mr. Wyler noticed the employee was wearing an MTN T-shirt. “We’ve got
    to get him a new shirt,” Mr. Wyler said to his translator.

    Terracom now has about 220 miles of fiber in the ground, bringing broadband
    to more than 150 locations, Mr. Wyler says. He wants to install another 700
    miles of fiber during the next two years. The price of Internet access is
    still well beyond the reach of most Rwandans, but is a fraction of earlier
    offerings and for much higher speeds. In Terracom’s Internet cafes, users
    pay 20 cents per 15 minutes.

    Terracom’s cellphone service, meanwhile, costs about a third of the rate
    offered by MTN. Mr. Wyler reckons he can reach more than a million customers
    within the next five years, offsetting the low margins with volume. By compa
    rison, it took MTN eight years to win about 220,000 Rwandan customers.

    In late July, Terracom, which Mr. Wyler says is now a “sustainable”
    business, merged with GV Telecom, a regional telecom company incorporated in
    the British Virgin Islands. The new company plans to extend Terracom’s model
    of low-cost high tech throughout Nigeria, Kenya and Congo, Mr. Wyler says.
    Initially, Mr. Butare, the Rwandan telecom minister, denounced the deal in a
    news conference, stating that his office had not been consulted. He calmed
    down after Mr. Wyler called to explain he was not simply flipping the
    company for a quick profit.

    Mr. Wyler says he has no intention of stepping down and will run strategy
    for the new company as well as its Rwandan operations.

    One of Terracom’s biggest tasks was making operational the Mount Karisimbi
    communications tower. The lush, mountainous area, where gorillas roam, has
    seen little but warfare since the 130-foot tower was built in 1989,
    initially to provide FM radio.

    When the country plunged into civil war in 1990, Mr. Kagame’s invading Tutsi
    army hunkered down here. The tower had never worked when the systematic
    killing of Tutsis by Hutus began four years later. The work crew left. When
    defeated Hutu militants fled across the border into Congo, they destroyed
    much of the equipment around the tower.

    The tower, which sits in the northwest of the country, sat unused,
    surrounded by chunks of charred metal, covered in graffiti and the debris of
    war. The area remained in a communications blackout. Nearby airports
    couldn’t even talk to pilots flying through the region.

    About a year ago, the government asked Terracom to bring the tower to life.
    The company imported tons of telecom equipment from overseas and shipped it
    four hours by truck from Kigali to a grass airstrip near the mountain where
    mud huts dot the landscape.

    From there, a military helicopter made more than 50 trips hauling equipment
    to a base camp at about 12,000 feet. Then, it was taken by hand to the top.
    One piece — the 1,300 pound transformer — took a week to haul to the

    To speed up the work, Mr. Wyler suggested having workers sleep and eat at
    the camp. For their down-time during the evenings, he suggested providing

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