getting connected to phone and internet

The telecomms in Thailand is a bit of an oxymoron. Almost all Thais have a mobile phone and calls are dirt cheap, with a widespread and mostly reliable network. The former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra made is fortune through a neo-monopoly in the nineties. On the other hand the country is dragging its feet with more cutting edge technology such as 3G and Wimax. Broadband is widely available in urban areas but its reliabilty and speeds leave a lot to be desired.

Mobile phones in Thailand

Thailand has an obsession with mobile phones, and to almost all urban Thai people, their phone is an important status symbol and essential accessory. Many foreigners come here to escape and opt not to carry a phone. But getting one is easy, they are cheap and pre-paid cards are widely available, meaning you can get connected in less than an hour of shopping.

Even short-term visitors find it practical to buy a SIM card and slip it into their existing phone, making it convenient for making bookings and enquiries while travelling in Thailand. A mobile phone is also useful for contacting other travellers and SMSing home to let your mum know you're still alive. For 1000 baht you can get the card for free and airtime equal to the value of your purchase.

Phones are found everywhere and a compact, reliable phone can be had for as little as 2000 baht. Even new models are cheap since they are manufactured in Asia. There is also a thriving second-hand phone market. Calls cost about 2-5 baht a minute, depending on your plan.

Internet and broadband

The ubiquitous internet café is very much a part of the tourist infrastructure here and no matter where you are there will be a means to get online for as little as 30 baht an hour. Speeds, and quality of the terminal vary tremendously and hotels tend to charge a lot more. Wi-fi is also offered in many coffee shops (free with a purchase) and available in most hotels and even many guesthouses, but their rates vary and can be poor value.

You can also buy pre-paid cards and use dial-up from your hotel telephone jack, these are available at all 7-Elevens for about 180 baht for 10 hours. If you are staying in a condo they might offer this under their own packages via their switchboard. You can also subscribe to a GPRS service, with USB receiver, for about 1000 baht a month, for speeds of 100kbs wherever there is a phone signal.

Broadband is available in all urban areas, with the exception of a few outlying suburbs, and is offered generally by a single company operating in that area. Typically packages start from 700 baht a month for 3mb but they seldom deliver the promised speeds and can be quite unreliable outside of Bangkok’s CBD, certainly after 3:30pm when the kids get home from school and go online to play games.

It depends where you are, with Bangkok being the smoothest. Choosing a slightly more expensive package is advisable. There is also a satellite service offered by IP star, with a 15,000 baht equipment outlay as an option if cable broadband is unavailable where you plan to stay.

As for Wimax and 3G, Thailand is lagging behind even Cambodia and Laos in rolling this out and even though some limited trials are underway, commercial mobile connectivity is not expected until 2010. An incoherent plan, bickering between the regulator and telcos, corruption, economic slowdown and an incompetent ministry are all factors in this delay.

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