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HOW TO Guide
How To with Internet & computers
WELCOME TO GHANA !
Internet & using your own computer
These days, being without a computer and some kind of access to an Internet connection is almost unheard of. Increasingly travel-friendly laptops are being released and smart phones and other handheld devices make Internet access a cinch.
There are numerous Internet connection points in Ghana. Know that even the following best are never perfect with regards to hardware, software as well as connection. They may also temporarely shut down for lack of network and may face power issues.
Vodafone Internet Cafés
Opened in 2010, the Vodafone national chain of Internet Cafés is well designed, comfortable, clean and air conditioned. Flyers say "Flat screens, the best chairs, top of the line graphic cards and multimedia kits will let you surf, email and play in good conditions". Nevertheless, expect already broken chairs and headphones.
At up to 40MB per second and GHS 1.80 for one hour (0.90 for 30mn), it is the best speed in the country for a lower price than the other main players. Credits are valid 7 days only. Most Cafés also have in-house retail stores selling phones and communications.
Locations in Accra:
§ Accra Mall, next to Game store entrance, the easiest outlet to find.
§ Road directions to the one in Cantonments: from 37 intersection on Liberation Road, go east on Giffard Road and turn right at the first traffic light and take the first right at about 50 meters. It will be right there on your right after the Post Office. This location can also be accessed from Cantonments: ask for the nearby Lands Department
§ Accra North: not in the north in fact but at Nkrumah Circle in the previous Ghana Telecom HQ building
§ Accra Central (the name given to the center of Accra): on High Street, the main road running through the city along the sea, across from Standard Chartered Bank HQ. Good to use after shopping for arts & crafts at the large Arts Center (Center for National Culture) and visiting the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park as they are both a few hundred meters west of the Vodafone outlet.
Best location besides Accra Mall: a Vodafone location has opened in the summer of 2011 right on Oxford Street in Osu. This airy café offers about 30 stations and a wi-fi area, at GHS 2 an hour, and is open from 8 to 8 M to S and 12 to 6 on Sundays. It now offers copy/printing services. The phone shop is open from 8 to 5 M to F, 9 to 3 on Sat and closed on Sundays.
Located on the edge of busy Osu near Koala Supermaket at Danquah Circle, where everyone goes one day or the other, its distinctively pink two-storey building is right on Ring Road East, which makes it very easy to find and access, whether on foot, by taxi or trotro. Open day and night, Sharpnet offers over fifty 20 to 22 inch flat screens on the ground floor along with a small Wi-Fi zone and five booths for private chat in a separate room. Complete copy, print and fax services are on hand. The staff is nice and efficient. The outdoor bar offers a spacious sitting area to relax. Often full, Sharpnet feels sometimes crammed and a bit noisy but is running all the time and is air-conditioned, thanks to a new generator.
Rates: GHS 1,90 an hour and GHC 0.95 for 30 minutes, GHS 2.20 an hour and GHC 1.10 for 30 minutes for private booth (with Skype), GHS 0.70 an hour between midnight and 7am and GHS 0.80 an hour for students up to high-school on week-ends.
Road directions: on Ring Road East, opposite Glory Oil petrol station, about 150 meters east of Danquah Circle where Oxford Street starts (at Koala Supermarket)
Busy Internet Café
The main and vast air-conditioned outlet is housed in a large building with good signage, right on Ring Road Central, about a kilometer east of Nkrumah Circle. Like Sharpnet, that makes it very easy to access. The Wi-Fi zone is large and separated. Full copy, print and related services are on hand. Open 24/7. In Tema, the outlet is in Community 6 and opens from 7 am to 11 pm except on Sundays (2 pm to 11 pm).
Rates: the hourly rate is GHS 2.50 for all - that is 40% and 30% more than the above competition.
In Sharpnet and Busy Internet, you do not need to spend all your funds in one sitting. The system is like a prepaid phone. You get a username, pay for the time you want but can use it for 5 minutes, leave, then come back five hours or five months later and use the rest of your time.
The Apple store opened in 2010 in Accra Mall makes you feel home. One side is dedicated to Internet access with eight stations. Rates are GHS 1.25 for 30mn, GHS 2.50 for an hour and GHS 5.00 for two hours, with a three-day validity, excessivelly short in our opinion. Printing, scanning and copy services are on hand. The IShop is opened from 930am to 8pm daily, except on Sundays (12pm to 8pm). It is located in the main hall, next to the large food court.
In Ghana, visit Internet Cafes at your own risk and potential aggravation. Expect some keyboards to have erased letters, your USB key undetected at times, provided software sometimes not always starting but the overall service and speed are satisfactory (except for streaming).
Most non-budget hotels offer Internet connections.
See also the computer chapter in our Resource page “How to before moving to Ghana”
Some considerations thereafter apply to an eventual desktop that you might install at home but most concern your best companion: your laptop or netbook.
Should you move around with it, do not forget to use a password and you can also encrypt or secure some or all your files so they become unreadable for anyone other than the user with the correct password (in Word, go to Tools/Options/Security).
Wireless internet access is a great innovation that makes it very easy to get internet connection and all good Internet Cafés in Accra have Wi-Fi areas as do many hotels and serviced apartments. As far as public Wi-Fi networks, they are open to anyone and represent a certain security risks. You never know who is trying to spy on your internet activities and it is recommended not accessing bank accounts or transmitting vital information while linked to an open Wi-Fi network. The same applies to offices you may visit or airports.
Voltage, plugs and other electrical considerations
Voltage in Ghana is 220/240 volts like in Europe (120 volts in North America). Most laptop power adapters (like camera battery chargers) convert voltage from 110-240 volts to power your computer. Any other electrical equipment should be dual voltage, have a 110/220 switch or you will need a “step down” voltage converter.
Plugs in Ghana are the same as used in Great Britain (large 3 pin) so you will probably need an adapter to plug your laptop into power outlets (easy to find in Ghana but ensure to buy the best quality).
The power grid is unreliable in many developing countries: there are instances in Accra where a serious voltage surge has blown up all equipments at once (fan, fridge, etc). Surge protection is therefore a must to save both your power adapter and your computer in case of a power surge.
- the best solution is a UPS with an extension cord which accepts all kinds of plugs.
If you plan to send faxes or sign on to the internet via your modem, your surge protector should also include a phone jack. Many new laptops no longer have built in modems, so you may need to bring an external one if you plan to use it.
Keeping your Laptop Safe
In many developing countries, a laptop computer is a sign of wealth that not only exposes you to the risk of theft, but also makes you a potential target for being mugged. The less openly you carry your laptop around, the safer it will be. In Accra however, considering how ICT literate urban Ghanaians are and the large numbers of expatriates, the risk is low. In any case, carrying your laptop case in a backpack when out in public is a good idea. Never leave your computer bag (or any bag in fact) in your car to avoid the common smash and grab (like at restaurant/bar parkings at night).
No serious concern. Computers can take heat more than you may think and most of the places you will use your laptop at are probably air-conditioned anyway. Same as far as humidity which is not as bad in Accra compared with other capitals on the Gulf of Guinea, but is higher in Takoradi. Ghana in general is dusty so cover your computer when not in use and clean it regularly with a soft wet cloth or dedicated wipes.
Repairs and parts
Ghana being well developed IT wise, you will find good service centers (such as CompuGhana) and numerous good shops selling about everything (including affordable non or fake-branded equipment and parts) so you do not need to bring anything, except if you are going to stay in the countryside and not coming to a large city regularly. Good repair technicians are easy to find as well.
Should you plan to print large numbers of pages, you might have put a laser printer in your container (cheaper abroad than in Ghana). Other wise, you may buy it in Accra but a top brand color ink printer that does photocopy and scanning should be sufficient and cost around US$ 100.
To print without a printer a home, use an external USB storage device, transfer the files you would like to print on it and then take it to a print shop or Internet café.
When you want to escape your new environment, stress, fill a lonely evening and relax or while traveling, watching a movie is a great idea, with good headphones or computer speakers.
The best and easiest is to have as many movies you can loaded in your laptop or in your portable external hard disk but if you plan on watching DVDs, be aware of the fact that there are six global region codes for DVDs. This is basically a protective system put in place by the entertainment industry to protect their movies from being easily pirated and sold abroad. A North American laptop will not play DVDs from Europe, since your laptop is programmed to play ‘Region 1’ DVDs only. You can change the region code on your laptop to play DVDs anywhere in the world, but you can only change your computer’s region code five times so think and keep track of how many times you are switching DVD regions.
Beware that the some types of laptops come without a DVD/CD player, but compact external ones are affordable.
There are various ISP’s in Ghana (Internet Service Providers) which you can get a local connection from, LAN or wireless, but remember the motto you should live by in Ghana: keep things simple! So, we advice the easiest, most reliable and very practical solution: get Internet connection through a 3.5G modem. This USB key type equipment is small, can be bought and installed in a few minutes, connects fast and provide access at a reasonable speed for a good data volume/price ratio. Another advantage is that you can use that key on any computer and also carry it around to have access to Internet during business meetings or surf while moving around (in the car, at friend’s homes, at the airport when you plane is delayed, etc.). Additionally, get a wireless router and turn your home (and office) into a wireless spot.
MTN, the leading mobile phone company in Ghana, offers a modem and either variable prepaid data volume based on the amount purchased or postpaid packages from 200MB to 2.5GB , valid two month. MTN 3.5G service is available in Accra, Tema, Kumasi, Takoradi, Tarkwa, Bogoso, Ho, Koforidua, Cape Coast, Kasoa, Winneba, Tamale, Sunyani, Kenyasi, Techiman, Obuasi, Bolgatanga, Wa, Prestea, Damine, Ntoroso, Bibiani, Besomtwi, Bekwai, Aflao and Chirano. See MTN webpage.
Airtel (ex-Zain) offers a modem and proposes these packages: 750MB/2GB/5GB, all with a validity of 30 days. If you plan to surf and/or be connected a lot, 5GB will give you freedom. Whatever capacity is left at the end of the month is lost. Though Airtel’s 3.5G network is presently limited to Accra, Tema and Kumasi, EDGE (faster than GPRS) is available where their 3.5G doesn’t cover. See Airtel webpage.
Vodafone 3.5G network offers good speed, depending on the area. Packages arefor 750MB/2.5GB/3.5GB/6GB. All are valid for 1 month, except the 6GB (two months). See vodafone webpage.
There is no best providers overall: it all depends on the location. The rule is to survey with your neighbors on which company provides the best connection in your area. Best, try your friends modems on your own computer at home.
The National Communication Authority (NCA) is working on better bandwidth and fiber optic cables to develop high-speed Internet in Ghana. It has recently implemented a more liberal approval system for international providers which should result in an increase of 60% of bandwidth by 2012. This could bring a 90% decrease of Internet access costs for home use and Internet Cafés. Currently, only Vodafone offers high-speed Internet in Ghana, via the South Atlantic Telecom Cable 3 (SAT 3) satellite.
Laptop tips to help ensure you keep your laptop secure and avoid problems dealing with Security and/or Customs. You are the first line of defense for your laptop when traveling and it’s important to keep these laptop tips in mind to save time and prevent aggravation.
1. Carry your Laptop or Pack It Away?
Keep it with you at all times. It goes with you on the flight as carry-on baggage. Do not store it in the overhead storage area; it could get knocked around by someone else. Absolutely do not put your laptop in with your other baggage. Baggage handlers aren’t expecting expensive electronics to be in the stored baggage areas and you can’t expect it to be treated as a fragile object.
2. Visual Inspection (Hand checking)
You may be required to remove your laptop from its carrying case and turn it on to demonstrate to Security/Customs that the laptop is exactly that – a functioning computer. A good way to save time if you anticipate this happening is to turn on your laptop earlier and leave it in suspend mode. This is a good reason to ensure that your laptop battery is kept charged. When your laptop is examined in this manner it is often called “hand checking”.
3. Should You X-Ray Your Laptop?
Letting your laptop go through the x-ray equipment will not harm your laptop. The magnetic field which is generated is not enough to cause harm to your hard drive or cause damage to your data. Metal detectors on the other hand, can cause damage and request politely that Security/Customs do not use the metal detector but do a hand check instead.
4. Carry Proper Documents
It’s very important when returning to your country of origin, that you have the correct Customs documentation or original receipts. These show that the laptop and other mobile gear is what you left the country with. The onus is on you to prove that you already own the equipment and did not purchase it while traveling. You will have to pay duty and taxes on items purchased while traveling if you can’t provide proof of ownership.
5. Keep a Low Profile
Don’t draw attention to yourself while waiting for your flight or while in-flight. While waiting for your flight and using your laptop, pick an area where you will have some privacy and don’t have to worry about someone looking over your shoulder. If it’s too crowded, don’t use your laptop, and waiting for a time when it’s less crowded. If someone is curious about your laptop, be brief but polite and pack it in. They could be looking for a laptop to steal.
6. Don't Let Your Laptop Out of Sight
If you let your laptop get out of sight even for a few minutes, it could be gone. If you have to use the facilities in an airport, take your laptop bag with you. The only exception is if you are traveling with someone you know and trust, but remind them to not leave your laptop unattended. While going through the Security/Customs screening keep a close view of your laptop if you are required to set it down for any reason.
7. Fact or Fiction - The Airport Laptop Scam
While there have been no recorded incidents of this type of theft it’s still wise to keep this scenario in mind. Two people will get in line ahead of you at the security area. You have placed your laptop on the conveyor belt and it has moved ahead. The first person goes through with no problems but the second has many difficulties. While you and Security/Customs are distracted, the first takes off with your laptop. Always wait until the last moment to put your laptop on the conveyor belt.
8. Keep Your Laptop Case Locked
Until little over a decade ago people away from home wrote letters and postcards and made the occasional phone call, but today’s expatriates depend almost exclusively on the Internet to communicate with friends and family. They also use the Internet to upload and share their digital photos and videos, publish their journals and blogs, visit their favorite chat rooms, and do their banking online. Although the Internet has made it easier to stay in touch and pay bills, there are also several drawbacks that people should be aware off. In some remote locations, Internet Cafés are not easy to find, and security and access speed are often far behind of what you might be used to.
As the importance of the Internet has grown worldwide, so have the number of Internet Cafés. They are today a familiar sight at almost every destination. In many countries, people cannot easily afford a computer and Internet Cafés also serve the local population, which explains why even small towns may have several Internet Cafés that are always crowded.
In Europe, many Internet Cafés are actual cafés that sell drinks and snacks, or even alcoholic beverages, but in most other parts of the world Internet Cafés are mostly an extension of an existing business, such as a photo store, print shop, or convenience store, with a few computers set up in a back room. The spaces may be dark, small, and they are often crowded.
What to Bring With You
In addition to portable external drives you can also store files on secure online data storage services. You can access your files from any computer by signing in, which is a secure way of having access to important files, documents, and addresses, without carrying an external drive or disk.
You can also leave your important files at home and retrieve them through remote access by connecting to your home computer via its IP address. All you need to do is configure your home computer to allow remote access and set up a user name and password to access it from anywhere in the world. Check your computer’s manual and help function to find out the details about how to connect to your computer remotely.
Finding an Internet Café
Find out what the Internet café is primarily used for; that way you know if you can get the desired silence and privacy. In Brazil, many Internet Cafés equipped with microphones and headsets, and people were using the computers mostly for phone calls via the Internet. Other Internet Cafés may cater to a teenage crowd playing online video games—not the best environment if you need to concentrate. Other Internet Cafés may be near a university and may be crowded in the afternoon after classes. A growing number of hostels and budget hotels are also providing Internet access, usually by offering one or two computers set up in a common area. While they are conveniently located, the computers are often outdated, and security is very poor. A growing number of higher end hotels also provide computers with Internet access for their guests, especially hotels that cater to business travelers.
There are a few options for free Internet access as well. Public libraries often have computers with Internet access, and regional or city governments in some countries fund free Internet centers to promote the use of the Internet among the local population. To provide equal access to all users are usually not allowed more than one hour of free Internet use.
Quality of Services
At some Internet Cafés, you are allowed to burn CDs yourself, but at others you need to hand your pictures/files to an employee, who then burns the CD for you. It is better burning your own CDs, because mistakes are easily made. Before paying make sure you check the CDs to see if they contain all your files. If you have a lot of pictures to burn, consider getting a DVD instead of a CD but DVD burners are not common at small Internet Cafés.
If you have problems with Internet access or your computer is unresponsive, it is best to switch computers. Few employees at Internet Cafés who are computer experts and can quickly troubleshoot problems. The most common response to problems is to simply turn the computer off and post an "out of order" sign on it.
Connection speeds vary greatly and you should be prepared for very slow access speeds depending upon where you are. Many Internet Cafés -- especially in developing countries -- still use dial-up telephone modems to connect to the Internet. Depending on the Internet infrastructure of your destinations, the ISP servers might be far away, which further slows down connection speeds. You may have to pay long distance telephone charges to connect to the server from the nearest city a few hundred miles away. Internet access may also be intermittent as servers are often down. These factors make Internet access somewhat difficult and slow and unreliable, so if you are traveling to remote areas you should not count on reliable access. The fasted Internet connections you will find are computers with a DSL connection, which is the case primarily in urban areas.
Wi-Fi access is very hard to find outside airports and major international hotel chains, so if you are bringing your own computer you are better off with bringing a cable modem or using public computers for Internet access altogether.
The Cost Factor
The most secure Internet Cafés are those where the computer is reset to its default settings whenever someone logs off from an Internet session. That way all records of your browsing history are deleted when you sign off. This is the case in some countries where chains of Internet Cafés operate with a prepaid card system.
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