Ubuntu and choosing your Zim ISP

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Choosing an ISPThis article is part of a series of guest posts by Garikai Dzoma on helping new users migrate successfully to the Ubuntu operating system. Garikai started using Ubuntu Linux in 2007 andis an active member of the Zimbabwe Ubuntu LoCo team.

In my previous article I mentioned the fact that Ubuntu is not much fun without the Internet. It has been my experience that not all Internet Service Providers (ISP) are the same and that there are some caveats for a Zimbabwean Ubuntu user/administrator when it comes to either choosing an ISP or administering his system especially in the matter of upgrades and downloads and indeed sometimes this is critical if your system will get connected to the internet at all.

To limit the scope of this article our discourse will be on the best practices to follow when updating, upgrading and downloading Ubuntu on per ISP basis. I have used a lot of ISPs I may add but I have not used them all. So please feel free to correct me where there is need. I must also explicitly state that I do not work for any ISP nor am I affiliated to one except only in my capacity as a customer.

Choosing repositories

Those who use the following ISPs must choose the local repository which can be found at www.ubuntu.org.zw/node/6

  • ZOL
  • YoAfrica
  • Ecoweb
  • Telco

The reason being that these have very good connection speeds to the local repository.

However those who use the following Internet Access Providers (IAP) should use South African mirrors instead. The mirrors are; http://zw.ubuntu.com (this normally resolves to http://mirror.ubuntu.ac.za), and www.leg.uct.ac.za/mirrors/linux/ubuntu. Other repositories can be found using synaptic.

The ISPs are:

  • PowerTel
  • TelOne
  • Other IAPs

As can be seen above the general rule of thumb is that when you are using an ISP you should choose the local repository but when you are using an IAP you should choose the South African repositories. Choosing the local repositories when using an IAP such as TelOne and PowerTel you will get very low speeds and the download will break frequently. It appears these use a VSAT terminal such that a local download is done through a roundabout route outside Zimbabwe. For example PowerTel and TelOne seemingly do not maintain local routes so instead a request for archive.ubuntu.org.zw is routed through Botswana for PowerTel and South Africa for TelOne. The local repository is just that for Zimbabweans only hence the bad speed.

There are other ways to test to see if your ISP maintains a local route i.e. if the route packets from your system requesting Zimbabwean files leave Zimbabwe or not. I will now outline two viz the novice and expert way:

Novice way: Visit www.yo.co.zw and attempt to visit the downloads page. If you are told that the downloads are available to Zimbabweans only then your ISP does not maintain a local route in their tables.

Expert way: In Ubuntu, open the terminal and type the command: traceroute archive.ubuntu.org.zw and do a reverse lookup of the IP addresses if need be. This will give you the exact route followed by the packets. If you can see IP addresses or domains outside Zimbabwe then your IP is using an indirect route and you should therefore use the South African repositories.

Bandwith Issues

In addition to choosing the correct ISP there is always the bandwidth issues. Updates can eat up your 1GB allotment in no time if you are not careful. Indeed executing the command: apt-get install gnome-desktop for those of us with little love for the Unity-Desktop will use up to 350mb. It is important therefore that you know your Broadband charging plan. For all it is worth, please stay away from Ecoweb and Africom if you are doing updates. These ISPs do not care whether you are using local or international bandwidth and they will charge you all the same. To them a megabyte from YoAfrica is the same as a megabyte from http://ppa.launchpad.net/gnome3.

Secondly you have to be aware of the exact location of the repository or ppa you are using. For example the Gnome3 ppa above is hosted by Canonical and therefore is outside Zimbabwe whilst the YoAfrica repository is in Zimbabwe. To ISPs like ZOL and YoAfrica this means the latter is free whilst the former is not.

Thirdly one has to know whether their ISP’s package has a cap or not. An ISP who does not cap usage to a set limit is preferable to one that does. For individual Ubuntu users the PowerTel package is probably the best if you can stomach the downtime. On the other hand because of the free local bandwidth rule with ZOL you can use it without prejudice to your costs. In addition even if it is international bandwidth, ZOL only charges for usage during office hours so if you are up to it you can use a special cron job using say python or bash scripts to do an update or install during the free usage periods.

 

Choosing an ISP.

To repeat what I have just said above, not all ISPs are the same and without prejudice to the foregoing here are some of the questions you will need to ask your ISP.

Do they distinguish between local and international bandwidth?

  • Do they have data cap?
  • Do they offer Linux support?

Please take time to ask the third point if you feel like you will not be able to get by on your own. Nevertheless even if your ISPs does not offer Ubuntu support you can always get it from the Zim LoCo team or Ubuntu forums please visit any of these pages http://www.ubuntu.org.zw , http://ubuntuforums.org or http://ask.ubuntu.com or just Google it!

 



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10 Comments

  1. Masimba

    great howto and very relevant to our market. helped me understand a lot of stuff I usually can’t get answers on. 
    one thing though: it’s written by a geek for geeks. mere mortals won’t understand this.

    Reply
  2. kthaker

    it is worth noting too, that http://archive.ubuntu.org.zw is firewalled to allow only ISP connections that peer through ZINX. If you are on Powertel for example, you will not be able to access that local repository.

    Our local repository server is not officially certified by Canonical, so it requires manual installation as a software source. When installing Ubuntu, you will be provided with a list of official Ubuntu package repository mirrors. On that list, you will see a Zimbabwean mirror which is actually an alias of the South African based mirror (as pointed out in the above article) which requires international bandwidth to download from. 

    At the moment, the only way to connect to our repository, is to follow the guidelines posted on http://www.ubuntu.org.zw

    Linuxmint is fully compatible with the local repository server as well.It can be used to update your Linuxmint installation and can be used to install additional software.

    Reply
  3. promise

    i think that ALL ISP/IAP that connect to ZINX( Zimbabwe Internet Exchange) will offer great download speeds to the local repository. i use ubuntu , and work At Africom. i have good download speeds when doing updates and so on. i get up to 2Mbps, and that’s fast. going forward, i think we as the internet community should bring in more repositories for other Linux distros, eg fedora, opensuse. so that others using these distros can update and download software from local repositories.

    Reply
    1. kthaker

      excellent! we’ve been trying to get other people to follow our lead with linux repositories for years now! end of the day, its a community service that benefits alot of people. unfortunately, new players tend to look at the amount of dollar signs it will bring them first, before they even consider hosting servers like this. sad… but very true.

      Reply
  4. Nospam

    I’ll take NetBSD over Ubuntu GnuLinux any day! On the server side, anyway. How about NetBSD CVS Repositories in Zim? As a desktop , Ubuntu seems to have an advantage over the *BSD’s though. For now, anyway.

    Reply
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