Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Internet in Ukraine

I have an "open mic", so to speak, for you to ask me any questions you want about adopting from Ukraine.

Dave Baldacchino asks:
I read that you did work while there so I suppose you had reliable internet access. What did you use? Is wireless affordable & reliable? I guess that really depends where you are but thought of asking about your experience in general. I'd like to stay connected and perhaps keep writing on my other blog and do some extra work too/respond to work emails.

Yes, depending on where you go in Ukraine, it is easy to stay connected, at least with mail and blogging/surfing. What I had trouble with, though, was the VPN connection to our office back home. On our first trip, we stayed with a friend at her apartment in Odessa, which had broadband internet. Unfortunately, the service was intermittent. It would be up for 3 min. then down for 2. Up for 2 down for 3, etc. When you're web surfing or doing email, that's just annoying, but it works. However, to use a VPN, I had to log in to the VPN, then start up Remote Desktop, then log in to my computer, which takes a couple of minutes to do. Then the connection would go down and I would have to start over. That just didn't work at all. Another interesting thing that happened was that there was a power surge that destroyed their wireless router and the power supplies for two laptops (not ours, we weren't home at the time). I bought them a new router, they bought new power supplies for their computers and surge protectors! Lesson: Bring a surge protector along rated for 220V.

Using our two computers at our friend's apartment in Odessa.

On our second trip, we stayed at the Odessa Executive Suites, which had excellent internet. Except for about a 4 day period when it didn't work at all because someone stole some equipment at the ISP. I got a lot of work done while I was passing time during the waiting period after court, then early in the morning after I had the kids. When I was alone, there were several days that I never left the apartment, putting in 12-14 hour work days. Since we had two computers, I also had along a little $25 4-port hub that would allow up to 4 computers to share one network cable, in the event there was no WiFi. I did set it up at OES and gave it a try, and it worked, but in practice we didn't really need it because Nancy was only with me at OES for a couple of days before she went back home again. But if you are going to have two or more computers along, taking a hub or router with you is a must in case your internet access is through a network cable only. If you are in a larger city you could buy this there, but it is a hassle and will definitely be more expensive (for example, 20% tax on it).

Kids using the computer at OES. OES supplies a computer in the apartment complimentary, but I used my own. Just plugged the network cable in to mine.

We also had rented a cell phone while we were there from Lonnie Roland, which had internet capability. The phone plugged into my laptop computer with a USB cable and acted as a modem. This actually worked everywhere I tried it - from the car, the train, even from the Andreyevo orphanage when I stayed there overnight. The only drawback was the speed was slow - 56k, and it cost about 1 grivna/minute. So I used it sparingly. I could have used that for our VPN but it would have been very slow. I did, in fact, a couple of times, but only when I was desparate for internet because I had a timesheet due and it was the only way. Lonnie also had a 3G phone available but it was expensive and he couldn't guarantee that we would have 3G service available everywhere we would be going in Ukraine.

Installing the cell phone's modem software on my laptop after we arrived in Kiev and got the phone.

Nancy using the internet in Kiev through the cell phone.

I used the cell phone in the car to post to our blog on long boring trips to Andreyevo. You can see the phone on my leg.

Some have used a Blackberry or other phone to blog and email with. I guess that works but not for a VPN kind of thing. You'd also have to make sure your plan works in eastern Europe before you leave. I say eastern because a lot of times when companies say "Europe" what they mean is western Europe.

There are many internet cafe's in Europe, including Ukraine. We weren't able to find one, though, that let us use our own laptops, which we would have preferred. Also, sometimes they won't let you plug in your own flash drive or camera so that you can upload pictures. They are not very convenient sometimes but they do work when you absolutely have to have internet.

Wherever you will be staying in Ukraine, be sure to make it clear to your facilitator that you want internet access in your apartment. Sometimes they will get you the cheapest place if they don't know that you want internet.

One other thing I noted is that no airport we were in in Europe had WiFi. We were in airports in Kiev, Odessa, Budapest, Warsaw, and Frankfurt (I think London had it but we were in a hurry to get to our plane so I wasn't able to try it). Kind of a bummer when you have a bit of time to pass. One time in Kiev, my flight to Odessa was canceled on account of fog and the airport personnel were no help at all as to whether I would get a flight that day. I would have loved to have had internet then. I had forgotten my phone in the apartment on that trip.

I suggest that you get yourself a little scanner to scan in documents as souvenirs. You won't have them in your possession for very long and once they're given to the next official, you'll never see them again.

The largest "billboard" I've ever seen for a cell phone. This is an ad for Samsung cell phones on the highway from Kiev to the Borispil airport.


Diana said...

If you end up in a small or remote area like we did, you may not have any public internet access, especially during the summer months when everyone is on vacation. Especially if you are traveling blind, definately make other plans that don't include relying on public internet cafes or having internet access in your accomodations.

We were in Ukraine for 6 weeks. The only time we had reliable internet access was at our first flat in Kyiv. Also, before plugging in your own computer, make sure it has EXCELLENT virus protection on it. We had some good stuff, but it wasn't enough and our laptop crashed about 1/2 way through our trip with no way to repair it until we got home.

Matthew Nasekos said...

Alan- In the Kyiv airport there is a cafe on the 2nd floor that has WIFI. It was great to be able to eat and pass the time there. It was in the international terminal.

Alan said...

Sheila thanks. Also I would add that on the MAIN floor of the Borispil's International Terminal (Terminal B), there is also an internet cafe, over by the departure ticket booths. But unfortunately, there is no WiFi or internet cafe over in the Domestic Terminal (Terminal A). I needed to hang over there to be ready in case they announced the flight to Odessa. It was a real drag.

Dave Baldacchino said...

Thanks for that detailed account Alan, it was very helpful. I read those stories about internet cafes not letting people download their photos or plugging their laptops. I'm not being expected to be connected and working, but since I do a lot of support work, I'd like to keep up and respond to some questions, and quench the thirst brought by information addiction! These days if I don't keep up with my daily reading for more than a few weeks, I start feeling dumb!

Sheryl said...

Can you buy a cell phone there with minutes? Do you suggest doing so or did you use your own that you took with you?