I met up with Digicel project manager Ruairi Sparks yesterday. He was kind enough to set me up with a Digicel 4G Internet connection, which I’m using right now to type this post. The modem, as I showed yesterday, is a Nokia CS-11. You can read the CS-11 specs here and that immediately brings me to the first question: are we talking about 3G, 3.5G or 4G?
Let’s start with what Digicel mentions in their FAQ section…
What kind of 4G network is it?
The world of mobile technology is currently pursuing three different modules of fourth generation wireless telephony. Currently 4G can be described as any one of Long Term Evolution (LTE), WiMax and Advanced HSPA+ systems. The Digicel 4G network is an advanced HSPA+ system.
The Nokia website talks about connecting to a 3G network, while this website says the following….
It’s not a 4G device, but it does support GPRS, EDGE and WCDMA (3G).
The funny thing is that the connection software says ‘3G’ at the bottom. I’ve also seen it show 3.5G, but no 4G.
What does all this mean? I guess we’ll find out Friday at the launch party, when, according to Digicel, all of the questions will be answered. Mr. Sparks did add that the network has been ‘future proofed for LTE’, so if you’re slightly confused by now, join the club. I’m just going to pretend I don’t see that and follow Digicel for now in calling it 4G.
So how does it work?
Well, just like the UTS 3G, you have a little USB modem with a Sim card in it. You connect the device to a USB port on your computer and it will automatically start installing the drivers.
The driver installation takes about a minute, after which you will be prompted to restart your system.
Setting up your account
Once you have restarted, you can click the Nokia Internet Modem shortcut on your desktop to launch the modem utility. Here’s where you can set up your account and connect to the Internet.
This is the main screen of the modem utility. As you can see, you can set up a connection, send and receive messages and manage your mobile device contacts.
The next step is to click on ‘Internet Connection’ and set up a new connection profile.
When you click on ‘Connection profiles’ you will get to a screen where you can choose your country. Curacao is not listed, but that doesn’t seem to matter. You just click on ‘New’ and put in the profile name and APN settings (Digicel will provide these).
Connecting to the Internet
After you’ve created your profile, you can go ahead and connect.
If the APN was entered correctly, you should be connected within a few seconds.
Now that you’re online, you should go to the digicelabc.com website to register and select your 4G plan. Once you’re done, you will receive and SMS with your password and with the message that your account has been activated. Now you can start using your 4G Internet. You can also log into the Digicel ‘Self Care’ area, where you can see your subscription details, renew or upgrade your subscription.
* Yes, I have amazing MS Paint skills
Digicel gave me ’30 days 4G Internet Silver’ package, meaning that I’ll be connected for the next 30 days. You can choose between 1 day Internet, 7 days Internet, 14 days Internet and 30 days Internet. The 30 day package consists of a Bronze, Silver and Gold package. What does this mean, you ask? Well, Bronze has a 4GB quota, Silver has an 8GB quota and Gold has a 10GB quota. I wasn’t allowed to say anything about the pricing yet, but that will be revealed Friday.
Besides Internet, there are also a number of Blackberry and Handset offers. With the Blackberry, you’re looking at Social (access to Facebook, MySpace, Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and BlackBerry Messenger), Messaging (email, Instant messaging (IM) services, third-party email accounts such as Yahoo! Mail and Gmail, download attachments, Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and BlackBerry Messenger) and Internet options.
Ok, so, what about the speed?
So, enough stalling. You want to know about the speed right? Well, Mr. Sparks was getting about 5 Mbps around the Pietermaai area, but I haven’t been nearly as lucky. I’ve been getting between the 130 and 250 kbps, while doing tests on servers on Curacao, Miami, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. As you can imagine, not the greatest surfing experience.
Those are obviously disappointing results, but I’ve only been using this connection for 2 hours now and I’d obviously have to test it during other hours of the day and at other locations on the island to get more accurate results. I’m currently in Sun Valley and as you can see on the map below, there’s a nice grey area over there.
Why did it take so long to get the network up and running?
Mr. Sparks told me that the problems that customers were experiencing had to do with the two networks, the old one and the new one, conflicting with each other. He compared it to an organ donor who’s body rejects the new organ. A lot of code had to be rewritten so that the networks could co-exist and now you have a HSPA+ network working on top of a GSM network.
Can I roam?
With this connection you should also be able to roam on Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, without any additional costs. So, you should be able to go to Bonaire, plug in the modem to your laptop and have the same connection as you would on Curacao. Digicel hopes to have all 3 islands covered 100%, so that’s what’s being worked on right now.
That’s cool and all, but I want compensation
Mr. Sparks couldn’t say anything with regard to compensation, because that’s a financial matter and it’s a decision that the higher-ups would have to make. In other words, don’t hold your breath.
So, what happends next
Well, the launch party is Friday and most questions should be answered then. I have gotten an invite, so hopefully I will be able to fill you guys in. Like I said before, Mr. Sparks could not go into pricing details, but he did tell me that Digicel will be selling Android devices down the road. Apple however is a whole different story. He’s also going to try to get me a meeting with the head of tech at Digicel, which would give us a more inside look at the network.
As for now, I’ll continue testing during different times of the day and I’ll do my best to see how the connection fares at different spots on the island. Hopefully the results will be better….