I've just got back from a week in Tunisia (hence the lack of posts). While I make a point of avoiding "work" as much as possible when I'm on holiday, I do keep an eye out for anything interesting mobile-wise.
I've spent most of the time in the coastal town of Hammamet, which attracts a mix of local North African (Tunisian & Algerian) & European tourists. I also spent a couple of days in the capital Tunis and elsewhere. For those that haven't visited the country, it's sort of "mid-table" in terms of economy and wealth - roughly on a par with emerging parts of Europe like Macedonia or Albania, or Latin American states like Peru and Ecuador, and a bit higher than China's average (but without quite the same urban/rural polarity).
The first thing to note is that both my phones (one on O2 and the other on 3) failed to access data roaming at all. Ordinary GSM voice & SMS worked fine, but with both steered towards the Tunisiana network, I couldn't even get GPRS access or WAP to work. Maybe there was some fiddling-about I could have done with APNs on the phones, but frankly I really wasn't that bothered to make the effort. In any case, the networks are only 2G - although the shops are full of 3G phones, as people seem to like high-end devices for other reasons.
As in much of the developing world, the main business model seems to be separate purchase of unlocked phones and SIM cards / top-ups. Phones are sold in air-conditioned & modern retail outlets (I saw a full range from basic $40 devices up to $1000+ smartphones), but SIMs/topups are sold everywhere from tiny grocery shops to travel agencies.
Apparently I could have got a prepaid data SIM, but that seemed like too much enthusiasm (and a temptation to remain "connected" when I'm supposed to be relaxing). Instead I turned my phones off, except for about 10 mins a day to check any personal SMS's and voicemails, and also made a 10-minute trip to one of the Internet shops to check my email on a proper screen. If you never switch your phone off except for when you're flying, you should try it sometime for a couple of days - highly therapeutic!
Interestingly, I didn't see any evidence at all of local people using mobile data. No people obviously using handset browsers. Apart from the airport, I saw no BlackBerries. All the numerous mobile advertising hoardings I saw focused on voice and SMS promotions. The Internet shops had a fair number of locals (young and old), and I saw a lot of advertising for ADSL services. In Tunisia at least, the oft-repeated concept of "first usage of Internet on a mobile phone" seems to be clearly untrue at the moment.
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