HOOKED UP TO THE NET

by Galina Ganeva

Getting on-line connection in more remote areas can be tricky but it’s not impossible

“All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others.” These words spring to mind when appraising the Bulgarian Internet. For big city dwellers and Sofianites, complete and unlimited access is only a click away. For others, it's cumbersome, expensive or simply impracticable.

Superficially, you have many choices but delve a little and you'll find that few are suitable for people in more isolated, smaller communities unless they're prepared to spend a fortune. Yet if you wish to work occasionally – during a well-deserved holiday for example – why should you be deprived of your favourite information source?

Until recently, options were limited to the familiar dial-up modems with their infuriatingly slow transfer speeds, seemingly set up only to work with BBS and IRC. Now technology has provided us with some viable solutions for convenient Internet use irrespective of location.

MOBILE INTERNET
Price from 0.019 leva to 6 leva/mb
Providers M-Tel, Globul, Vivatel
Speed up to 7.2/1.45 mbps (download/upload) depending on the device and mobile operator
Coverage that of the mobile network
Advantages
– mobility
– stable connection
Drawbacks
– maximum speed available only in certain cities
– a separate data SIM card is required in some cases

This is the most universal method of Internet connection, because you can dispense with a telephone, especially if you use a data SIM card and special hardware that acts as a modem for your notebook or desktop computer. When choosing the device for such access, you have to note the standards it supports, as its speed is contingent on this. The more there are, the better: the device automatically switches to the fastest mobile data transfer standard (GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA, HSUPA) available at the time.

Generally, as long as you are in the range of your mobile operator's network, you can rely on the speed provided by the GPRS technology – about 84 kbps. Hence you can be completely mobile and have a connection almost anywhere. Obviously this is particularly convenient if you are travelling.

All three Bulgarian mobile networks support the new generation of 3G technologies, but only in certain areas – normally district centres and larger towns. Using them, thanks to the HSDPA and HSUPA standards, you can download data at a speed of up to 7.2 mbps and upload at up to 1.45 mbps, depending on the operator. At present, M-Tel provides the fastest speeds, though in very few places: Sofia, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Stara Zagora and Blagoevgrad as well as most of the Black Sea coast. Globul apparently has the best developed 3G coverage, although their priorities are Sofia, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Pleven, Ruse, Shumen, Bansko and a relatively wide perimeter around Varna and Burgas.

Billing is per transferred data bundles. Prices vary between six and 1.20 leva per mb for the standard graded charging scheme. Vivatel and M-Tel also offer monthly subscription packages, where the price drops to 0.035 and 0.019 leva/mb respectively.

If you are an infrequent Internet user and not keen on paying extra for additional hardware, you can simply connect your computer to your GPRS or 3G phone, which will act as a modem. If surfing the web is an essential part of your daily routine, you should buy a PCMCIA card and plug it into your laptop. This will cost between 89 and 499 leva, depending on the operator, the supported speed and subscription type. You can also buy a separate data SIM card with one of the subscription packages.

Vivatel also offers another type of 3G modem, compatible with the widely used USB interface, making it suitable for both portable and desktop computers.

When it comes to sharing mobile Internet between two PCs in your home or office network, M-Tel has an offer which includes a router, a PCMCIA and a data SIM card. The router can be used for a cable (LAN) or DSL connectiontoo.

WiMAX
Price about 40 to 130 leva/month
Providers Nexcom, M-Tel, Max Telecom, TransTelecom
Speed 256-2,048 kbps
Coverage limited
Advantages
– portable
– wireless
– symmetrical
– additional services
Drawbacks
– limited coverage
– price

The new wireless technology, which is a cable-free alternative for the ADSL, only arrived in Bulgaria recently. It's billed as the perfect solution for symmetrical voice and data transfer over long distances, as well as access to the Internet and other multimedia applications in remote or isolated areas. Yet this is still to be proven.

Currently, M-Tel provides this technology only to its business clients and Nexcom's offer (speed between 256 and 2,048 kbps) only applies in larger cities as well as summer and winter resorts: Sofia, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Sliven, Varna, Burgas, Veliko Tarnovo, Bansko, Nesebar, Sunny Beach and Sveti Vlas. The company also provides free equipment for the duration of the contract.

Max Telecom offers WiMAX for home use with unlimited monthly traffic but only in certain places: Sofia – including Simeonovo and Dragalevtsi – Pernik, Dupnitsa, Sandanski, Petrich, Pazardzhik, Plovdiv, Sliven and Burgas. The monthly fee depends on the chosen speed, the length of subscription and the options of paying for the device. For example, when buying a portable modem and choosing the fastest option – 1,024 kbps upload and 1,536 kbps download – you pay between 84 and 123 leva a month, depending on the length of your subscription. It's also possible to hire the modem for an additional monthly fee. Alternatively, you can purchase a PCMCIA card for 378 leva, which is more compact and a convenient solution for busy people who need wireless broadband Internet access from their laptop when travelling.

The last of the companies licensed to offer WiMAX services in this country, TransTelecom, operates in Stara Zagora, Plovdiv, Burgas, Ruse and Kardzhali.


LAN
Price from 20 to 60 leva/month
Providers many
Speed 5-30 mbps
Coverage local
Advantages
– high speed
– affordable prices
Drawbacks
– limited coverage
– susceptibility to atmospheric conditions

The most popular Internet access, mainly in larger towns. It comprises local computer networks covering the territory of one or several neighbourhoods. It also requires the smallest initial investment: you only need a LAN card and it's reasonably priced. The quality of the service depends on the supplier. If they use aerial cables to your home, as often happens, the Internet may crash during thunderstorms for varying periods depending on the efficiency of the company's emergency teams. Furthermore, the electrical charges running through the cable can damage your LAN card and even your whole computer. A better option is to have an underground cable. For 20-30 leva a month you have a speed of up to 15 mbps plus access to the typically Bulgarian phenomenon called “international Internet”. The speed to foreign websites is usually several times lower.

Some LAN operators offer their clients the additional benefit of exchanging files with other clients of their network. Thus, by sharing a certain amount of data, you can access movies, music and other files uploaded on the supplier's server.

ADSL
Price
from 31 to 72 leva/month (for home users)
Providers BTC
Speed from 2,048 to 4,096/256 kbps (download/upload)
Coverage over 300 towns and cities
Advantages
– coverage even in small settlements
– no susceptibility to atmospheric conditions
– reasonable price and speed
– easy installation
Drawbacks
– asymmetrical connection

After the modem age, this is probably the most influential technology in expanding Internet use in Bulgaria. Additionally, in a number of small or even big towns, it's the one alternative for fast and quality access to the global network at a reasonable price but only if you buy the two-year subscription package.

The faster of BTC's two current offers for home users (4,096 unlimited) allows you to download an unlimited amount of data at about 4 mbps and upload at 256 kbps, because of the unsymmetrical character of the connection.

If you need to send large amounts, you can subscribe to the business versions of the 2,048 and 4,096 unlimited packages, which provide an upload speed of about 512 kbps. With the fastest, 8,192 BIZ package, this speed goes up to 1 mbps, but it is rather costly: between 95 and 144 leva a month depending on the length of your subscription.

With ADSL, the information passes through the wires of your telephone line, which you can still use while surfing the Internet. You install the necessary modem yourself and configuration is completely trouble-free: it takes about 10 minutes in all.

For several months now, users have been able to secure wireless access to their broadband Internet via a Wi-Fi modem for an additional monthly fee of 2.40 or 4.80 leva. Wi-Fi ADSL is a suitable solution for home users who have a portable computer and want to move it freely around their living space or need a local network at home or in the office.


CABLE INTERNET
Price from about 20 to 55 leva/month
Providers CableTEL, Vestitel, etc
Speed 512–2,048 kbps
Coverage many bigger towns
Advantages
– option to combine Internet with television and/or telephone in attractively priced packages
Drawbacks
– installation fee

The advent of cable Internet has triggered a rise in popularity of “triple play” services, combining television, Internet and telephone. One of the pioneers in this field, CableTEL, currently offers this package in only 12 cities. There are three packages, all priced at 39.90 leva. The main distinction is the destinations of outgoing calls.

Another company offering the “triple play” service is the Overgas owned Vestitel. It has its own optical network, but only in certain cities so far. The monthly fee depends on the chosen speed, TV programmes included in the package and the duration of free calls. Of course, you can subscribe just to the Internet at fees starting from 19 leva.

If you decide to use cable access, you should inquire with your local cable TV provider to see if it offers such services.


DIAL-UP
Price
free
Providers BTC, Spectrum NET, BOL.BG, Orbitel
Speed up to 56.6 kbps
Coverage everywhere using a fixed phone line
Advantages
– universal
– unlimited
Drawbacks
– slow
– time-charged

Though rather antiquated, dial-up modems have their charms. If you have no other means to access the Internet, it may be your last resort. It's also quite reliable. There are several national phone numbers for free and unlimited access, which you can call regardless of your location. You will be only charged for the length of the call. This solution is suitable for individual users or as a back-up connection and is viable from all types of telephone lines: analogue, digital or ISDN.

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