IP's a small, small world

WDW Small World ride throughNo, not Intellectual Property, rather Internet Protocol.

Preparing for my trip to Managua last week, I wondered what cell phone, Internet access and TV would be like at the hotel in Managua. Even more I wondered about the rural Nicaraguan areas, where I soon learned that sometimes the creek beds look better for driving than the roads.

I knew a couple of things in advance. (1) My CDMA cell phone from Sprint would likely be useless, since presumably all of the cell coverage would be GSM. (2) The hotel said they had WiFi throughout the property. Both of those were verified when I got to my room.

When I turned on my notebook, I had no trouble browsing, but my email wouldn’t work. Also, ssh wouldn’t work. It didn’t take long to figure out that the hotel was blocking most outgoing ports, apparently allowing only outgoing HTTP (80), HTTPS (443), POP3 (110) and SMTP (25). I normally use IMAP for mail, so I was temporarily stuck using Squirrelmail, but I figured I could get along OK with just 80 and 443. Probably not a lot different than a lot of office workers experience in larger businesses in the U.S.

I had planned on using Skype to call home. After sluggishness starting up, presumably figuring out how to tunnel through 80 or 443, Skype seemed to work just fine for audio and video calls. This was my first serious usage of Skype. The worst problem was with the echo cancellation at my wife’s end. The 2.8MHz P4 she was using wasn’t up to having the microphone so close to the speakers.

When later I went to the airport, literally across the street, to meet some traveling companions, I took my notebook and accessed the free WiFi there. They weren’t blocking ports, so I was able to ssh to a machine at home, tell Apache not to listen on 443, tell sshd that it needed to listen on 443, and the port blockage problems were resolved. Back in the hotel room I told PuTTY to login to 443, tunnel the ports I needed, and I was back in business with IMAP, etc.

TV in the hotel was very modern, about 100 channels, about 1/3 English and 2/3 Spanish. (My Spanish comprehension leaves a lot to be desired.) Most of the commercial U.S. networks were represented, with ABC/CBS/Fox/NBC coming from the NYC affiliates. PBS was all I really missed.

I didn’t try to use phones/Internet or TV in rural areas, but they were more accessible to the Nicaraguans than paved roads. Our Nicaraguan host used his cell almost everywhere we went. Even in the poorest homes there was often a TV set — I don’t know what channels they get. In some of the rural offices there was DSL. In one there was a Vonage phone with a Springfield, Missouri number. No more prohibitive long distance charges back to the States!

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