My deep condolences to all those who receive lame April Fool’s Day jokes today. It’s an unfortunate side effect of data being delivered at the speed of light.
When at regular speed, I found the internet connections in Mali to be generally quite good. They are after all linked up via Senegal and thus they are drinking from the top of the data hose for the connections that wrap around West Africa and go down to South Africa. But while the speed and general latency were quite good, getting online was quite hit and miss.
It was typically the case that when arriving at a hotel in the various places I stayed and finishing filling out my passport information, I would ask about wifi and what the password to it was. Then, in some kind of Mission:Impossible fashion, I would be slipped a piece of paper that had something like the following written on it:

121kja98889akka237asaaak9887aasm2

Sure, I’m big on security and having strong passwords, but this is a bit ridiculous, especially given that it’s a basic WEP (and thus easily hackable) connection. At first I thought this was a one-off situation, but found it to be the case time and again anywhere I stayed that had an Orange internet connection, which was everywhere.
It also happened that I would try to connect and when the router was assigning an IP address to my machine, it would sit and think, give and address, reject it, and then assign it again. From my days as an IT manager, it looked like the DHCP had run out of leases or that there was no way for a new computer to sit on the network at that hotel, which was weird given that are 255 available addresses in any basic network setup.
Near the end of my trip, I stayed at a hotel where the owner was a web developer. I asked him what the problem was to which he told me one simple word: “Livebox”. The way things are set up is that in Bamako (and I assume in most of Mali), they’re now running all the new phone lines and internet over WiMax. The terrain of Bamako lends itself to this extremely well as the town somewhat sits in a bowl around which antennas can be placed for excellent line of site from homes.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Livebox is the device people get in-home to gain access to all of their data goodness. The Livebox has a multitude of problems, the first being that the passwords for wifi are ludicrous. The second being that the PPPoE system built in to it is worthless. The third is that the DHCP is by default set up to only hand out three addresses. Yes, only three local addresses are available, which is asinine, and why I was getting bounced as it does this for both wifi and LAN connections. Even 10 would be nuts, but still doable. The fourth big problem is that they don’t give users access to any of the configuration settings for the Livebox so people are stuck with these dumb passwords and lousy DHCP setups.
I am now going to let you in on a secret. If you want to access these configuration settings which should be at 192.168.0.1 (or .1.1 as I can’t remember), the username is your account username and the password is that same username. That’s it. Type that in there and go wild or set things up to bypass most of the Livebox altogether. I have no idea what Orange was thinking when they decided to deploy devices in this manner as I’m sure it must give them more service calls than just relaxing the restrictions.
The secrets of Orange internet in Mali