Notes From Hairenik
September 22, 2009
On Saturday I finally made the leap to invest in "fast" Internet access from home. As anyone who has worked in Yerevan knows, Internet can be painfully slow in Armenia and at times unreliable, although connectivity has become more stable of late.

For years I was using a Beeline dial-up connection, which has become progressively worse especially in the last six months. Simply opening the Notes From Hairenik blog could take three minutes or more, depending on the connection speed and traffic congestion. I've also been able to use fast wireless connections off and on during the last five years by picking up WiFi signals in Yerevan. An office across the street had an open wireless network that wasn't password protected and Anush and I were able to tap in successfully by placing our laptops on the window sill--until it went offline about two months ago. Many Yerevan cafes and restaurants offer free WiFi service but I've never tried it since I prefer not to lug my laptop around when walking across town.

The problem with home ADSL or even cable connections in Armenia has always been price. Costs vary depending on connection speed naturally and even download limitations--many services cap out download data transfers at 1GB per month, and if you go over that limit the Internet service provider adds an extraordinarily high price tag per downloaded megabyte.

Beeline (formerly ArmenTel) offers Internet access starting at 8000 dram ($22) for a 128 kbps download speed (upload is 64 kbps, something to do with server overload issues--I heard that uploads are conducted via a pricey satellite link), which is considered a very good rate. Compared with rates in the US where you can get a line with a speed of 1 mbps for the same price, their cost of service seems absurd--then again, this is Armenia. But because their network is so jammed and their resources are tied up, Beeline will not service homes or offices in Yerevan that have six-digit phone numbers starting with "54," so we were out of luck.

Another Internet service provider in Armenia named iCON Communications just started offering wireless Internet access at virtually the same rates for residences and offices alike. The only difference is that iCON employs a new revolutionary wireless technology called WiMAX as a long-distance data stream medium rather than relying on conventional telephone landlines, as DSL employs. WiMAX allows for "broadband" Internet access remotely from various districts in Yerevan where transmitters are situated. They gave us a wireless desktop modem to use--other alternatives include a PCMCIA slot modem for laptops or even a USB stick modem, which means you can access the Web from anywhere in the city where a signal is detected. The modem they lent us with a required deposit fee works like a DSL modem in that you need an Ethernet cable to connect to your desktop computer or laptop--mine being a MacBook Pro and Anush's an Acer.

When powering up the modem for the first time it takes about 10 minutes or so for it to hone in on the signal. Once the green LEDs tell you that you have a full reception, you're pretty much set to go. We had to activate the service on our end using a username and password via a Web browser and that was it.

The next step is to buy a wireless router to set up a WiFi network in our apartment so we can get online from any room. As things stand now we're taking turns checking e-mail, connecting to the modem with a 5-meter long cord that I am bound to trip on, klutz that I am. But seeing as routers sell for around $70 and up for discontinued models in Yerevan computer stores, I'm most likely going to purchase a current model at half the price and bring it back with me on the next trip to the States.

Web services are expensive in Armenia because Internet access is for the most part still a monopoly controlled by Arminco/Beeline. But Vivacell offers 3G Internet connectivity for compatible wireless devices, and it's just a matter of time before the French telecommunications company Orange starts to offer services in Armenia with its own 3G network. So Internet prices are bound to fall, but the question is how low.