Unconnected, surprisingly, in Sri Lanka

Posted on September 9, 2010  /  0 Comments

For the perpetually connected, the experience of being unconnected is salutary; but not pleasant. The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a world heritage site about three hours driving distance from Colombo. I spent two days there and unexpectedly found myself unconnected, except for a single location in the hotel that allowed the sending and receiving of texts if the phone was held high!

It is not that the place is completely disconnected from electronic networks. I paid for the hotel using a credit card, which was processed through a fixed line. The signals of one mobile network covered the area, but for me that was little consolation because it happened to be a network other than the one my organization had subscribed to. I had a dongle from the network that did cover the area, but that did little good, because it appeared that the high connectivity rates promised in the ubiquitous ads had little relevance in the backwoods. I was lucky to maintain a connection; luckier still to see download or upload speeds in the double digits (kbps). No HSDPA here for sure!

The lack of connectivity is not limited to the Forest Reserve. The hotel was a good 7-8 km from the entrance to the reserve. Nothing there. Until we crossed a ridge into the next valley more than 30 km away, there was no signal.

10 years ago, this was commonplace. But now? In a country where you can get 3G signals, but not electricity?

My G1 was trying to say something to me. Weirdly, I have recently begun to receive policy advice (or at least indications of policy solutions) from handsets. In this instance, my GI was showing that I was roaming on the network that actually had signal. It was just a weird indication since the two operators did not have domestic roaming agreements and my call would not go through, but it suggests a simple solution to the problem of giving connectivity to the visitors to this beautiful part of Sri Lanka: enter into domestic roaming agreements. Or spend a little more and hang a BTS on the amply proportioned mobile towers that do exist.

And a word to both companies: upgrade to 3G. Eco tourism is the future. Tourists spend 2 weeks looking for an elusive kingfisher here. Is it not reasonable to think they’d like to have Internet access?

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