How The Internet Works In Ethiopia…

Until recently, almost all internet connection in Ethiopia was through dial-up via a normal telephone line. Apparantly it was very slow and tiresome.

Fortunately, in the last year or so, another option has become available. We are a using CDMA device, also known as a dongle in the UK. It was quite hard to find information about this on the internet before we came here so I’ll explain here how it works. You need the following…
First you need a CDMA device. Looks like a pen drive. Cost in Addis Ababa was 1300 birr (£52) . I tried looking in the UK for one before we came here but there were all fixed to a UK network, and sealed devices, which is important for the next point…
You also need a CDMA SIM card which is bought separately and inserted into the device. Cost 300 birr (£12) . You need to register your details and provide 2 passports photos with ETC (Ethiopian Telecommuncations Corporation) before you get one. ETC is the only telecommucations company in Ethiopia.

Insert your CDMA into your computer using a USB connection and after you have set it up once at the beginning you can then press dial to get an internet connection. So in a way it is very much like a mobile phone that connects to your computer. It uses the mobile network which ETC have apparantly been investing heavily in recently. We can see many mobile masts around our small town for instance.
To pay for the time spent on the internet you have to buy mobile phone credits which look like this. They come in 15 birr (60p), 25 birr (£1), 50 birr (£2) and 100 birr (£4) denominations. You just scratch the back to get a unique PIN number. To load the credit to your CDMA you then call a number on your mobile, enter your CDMA number and then the credit PIN. And that’s it. So far we seem to be spending 100 birr a week and you get a good few hours for that. Also we were told that it is cheaper to connect after 8pm.
So for future volunteers or visitors to Ethiopia, don’t worry as you can get everything here quite easily, even in the smaller regional towns. Using the CDMA is actually very convenient (you can use it anywhere really), quite cheap and in fact can be quite fast. Faster than using dial-up at least. Uploading and downloading things is a bit slower and uses more credit, but overall it works just fine. We can even do Skype on it, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s also a step up for us as we didn’t have internet at home in the UK!!

PS. This was written during a power-cut… so you don’t even need electricity!!

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17 Responses to How The Internet Works In Ethiopia…

  1. Crissy says:

    Hey, that’s brilliant. Amazing development in the last 16 months since I was there. What I wouldn’t have done for a decent internet connection! I had to endure the snail’s dial-up system, which invariably didn’t work!

  2. Tebeb Ayele says:

    What is the updated cost of the CDMA card is it 300 birr stil…and thank u for the explanation i found it really helpful……

  3. Hi Tebeb,
    Thanks for the comment. Not sure what the current price is. You can always look at:
    They have some prices for services on this page:
    Thanks and good luck!

  4. Larry says:

    Thank you, thank you! Exactly what I’ve been trying to find out about.

    But please explain… you say “To load the credit to your CDMA you then call a number on your mobile, …” But in my case, I won’t have a mobile phone, just the laptop. So how does one get the purchased credit applied?

    I could wait and ask that when I get there, but I don’t like surprises and would hate to get there and find the whole thing doesn’t work because I have no way of getting the credit applied.

    Thanks for any further comments.


  5. Hi Larry, I think one way of doing it would be to borrow someone else’s mobile to call the number. I think it is free to call the number so the other person wouldn’t mind doing it that way.

    Things might well have changed in this area (or will probably change a lot in the future) so for anyone reading this now it’s best to get the latest information about it all on the Ethio Telecom website…

    Good luck!

    • vineet rai says:

      sir, i am dr. vineet rai, from india very soon i am joining jimma university ethiopia. i want yo know that can i bring cdma device from india, is this device can worked in ethiopia using their sim? please reply me.

  6. Hello Dr Rai,
    It might work. I am not sure but it is worth trying I think. I am sure you will be able to get something working when you get to Ethiopia, either your own device or one bought locally.
    Good luck!

    • vineet rai says:

      sir thanks for your reply. i am coming to join jimma university in last week of september sir i want to know how is this city? what is living expense there? i will get 175 dollar for accomadation either i will take university furnished room or i will take outside the university,then they will pay me including they provide me furniture. what will be the food expense monthly? they will give me 1875 dollar, is this sufficient? thanks waiting for your reply

  7. Noel says:

    I only one question to ask, If I would like to load an amount to a different Simpak card, say, I would like to load my friend for an amount of 25 birr to his mobile phone simpak, how would I do it? is there an option for this? what I only know is loading an amount to my own personal mobile sim card in my phone. I try the 903 but it is exclusive to CDMA I think. I bought a sim card for 25 birr and I would like to load it through my mobile phone for my friend, so that when I have done it, my friend will receive the mobile load by me, so how would I do it? Thanks…

    • Hi Noel,
      I’m not sure. Sorry!
      Can’t really remember if there is any way of doing it.
      You may find the answer by asking around…
      Anyway… Good luck!

  8. Ermias says:

    Thanks for all advice but i want to know how i can use skype like video call and so on by CDMA. when i open my skype account video call it ask credit how i can get this?

  9. abiyot says:

    i bought a new sim card and want to use mobile internet but it is not working

    • Perhaps you can take it back to the shop where you bought it.
      Or ask someone with technical knowledge to help you.
      Sorry I can’t help anymore, being so far away.
      Good luck

  10. Eshetu says:

    Hey Gareth I found this information is very helpful for me. I will come Ethiopia in the next week. Is there any new update information about how to use internate in ethiopia?
    Thank you so much.

    • Hello Eshetu,
      Thanks for the message. I don’t have any up to date information about the internet in Ethiopia. Sorry!
      Maybe things have changed since I was there.
      But have a good trip!
      Best wishes,

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