Using mobile internet in Africa can be a frustrating experience. 3G networks are very limited, speeds often low, networks may get down, and lastly, data bundles can be expensive and tend to have small data caps. Unlimited plans are handy as one does not have to constantly worry about exceeding data limits, but hardly any operators dare to offer them. However, in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania some operators provide affordably priced prepaid unlimited data plans. These are are my experiences how they work, and whether are worth the money.
Vodafone entered the Ugandan market in late 2014 as a brand under a small operator Afrimax. Vodafone is the only operator in Uganda offering unlimited prepaid plans (AFAIK). The prices are 17900 Ugandan shilling (6 USD) for a one day plan, 69900 UGX (23 USD) for a weekly plan, or 149900 UGX (50 USD) for a monthly plan. There is also a (supposedly) faster monthly plan costing 199.900 UGX (65 USD).
Their 3G services are limited to Kampala and Entebbe, but I did not receive 3G signal at my accommodation in outskirts of Kampala (Butabika), or neither at Entebbe Airport. Trying to use internet on 2G was hopeless, the speed was so slow that even the simplest web page would often not load using Opera Mini browser. To make things worse either their entire mobile network or data service was down much of the time. Therefore with Vodacom I ended up paying for nothing, and certainly cannot recommend them. I haven’t experiences with other Ugandan operators so cannot say how good/bad they are, but MTN is the biggest operator in Uganda and probably a better choice, even if they offer only data-capped data plans.
Orange in Kenya offers daily, weekly and monthly unlimited bundles. According to their website, the daily bundle costs 50 Kenyan Shillings (Ksh) (0.5 USD), weekly 249 Ksh (2.5 USD), and monthly 990 Ksh (10 USD). The bundle will automatically be renewed upon expiration, providing there is enough credit, but the subscription can be cancelled at any time. They have a strict Fair Usage Policy (FUP), which means after certain amount of data usage the connection speed will be greatly reduced. I don’t know what these FUP quotas are, but on one day plan the quota may be consumed after a mere hour of normal web surfing. Similarly on one week plan the quota will be easily on the very first day, and that does not even require heavy use. After the FUP quota has been used the speed is reduced to such extent that simple web surfing becomes painfully slow. Their network was reliable though, if there were any interruptions in service they would be short. The 3G network covers many towns, but is rather limited based on the coverage map on their website.
These data plans are cheap on paper, but low FUP quotas are the real cost. Thus Orange should refrain from marketing them as unlimited plans. A data capped plan probably makes more value for money. If going outside big towns, Safaricom will be a better operator due to more extensive coverage (both 2G and 3G).
Vodacom, the biggest mobile operator in Tanzania, does offer unlimited prepaid data plans. A daily plan costs 1000 Tsh (0.5 USD), a week 7000 Tsh (3.5 USD) Tsh one month 25000 Tsh (12 USD), so the pricing is very similar to Orange in Kenya. Vodacom’s 3G network covers big towns and some smaller ones too. 3G speeds were fast enough and there haven’t been problems with the network in any town where using the service (Dar, Arusha, Tanga, Zanzibar town). 2G speed are naturally much slower, but still surprisingly fast at least in some areas. Vodacom also has Fair Usage Policy terms, but unlike Orange in Kenya, it seems not to be strictly enforced. Just once I got a text message from the operator warning about high data usage, this was after some serious downloading, but did not notice any repercussions.
Overall I was very impressed with the service, and it is by far the best data plan in East Africa I’ve used. At 1000 shillings a day that’s really cheap too! Definitely recommended to anyone living or visiting Tanzania.