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DSL and ADSL internet rock Thailand, mates. Phone service from AIS, DTAC, True, Hutch,TOT, and TT&T make Thailand a diverse phone rocking community, eh?

Phone System Of Thailand
The Key To Blabbering Your Mouth Off

"On the pathway to success, having the right connections cannot be overestimated.  In Thailand, like everywhere else, connections are king, the right hookups paramount.  For example, if you have the wrong cellular phone charger or wireless router cable, you won't be able to communicate."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

If humans couldn't communicate lucidly with an oral language that could be transcribed, then we'd be no better than dogs, cats, or elephants.  Some argue we are no better than dogs, cat, or elephants.  We'll leave that debate for another day.

The Thais communicate . . . a lot.  Everyone has a mobile phone nowadays.  I've seen Thai toddlers with them.  There are more mobile numbers in circulation than the population of Thailand itself.  Are Thais talkaholics or is there some other explanation?

More so than many other countries, Thailand avoids the mandatory free-or-cheap-phone-giveaway in exchange for locking you into a long-term plan.  For instance, the latest 32 GB Apple iPhone can be purchased in the United States for under USD 300.  In the UK and Australia, the phones are 'free.'  In Thailand, a new one will cost USD 900.  The catch is that the cheaper U.S. phone involves a mandatory 2-yr plan with AT & T.  At USD 50-60 per month, over two years this adds USD 1,200-1,400 to the cost.  The Thai phone, on the other hand, does not obligate you to sign up for a plan, and if you do, plans are available, month-to-month, for less than USD 20 per month, from two different phone operators.  The ever popular Blackberry is also more expensive in Thailand.  The higher Thai price is recouped from what you save on plans costing approximately USD 30 per month.    

Thailand mobile phone companies

Communicating in Thai mobile style
Types Of Cellular Phone Usage

Pre-paid cellular phone usage is very, very common in Thailand in a country where a basic cellular phone model can be purchased for as little as USD 22 and a SIM card for USD 1.50 to 5.00.  What's more, you don't (as in the US) require a special type of pre-paid phone.  Any GSM phone that works in Thailand will function with both contract plans and prepaid.

As discussed here, Thailand broadly has three different economic segments.  The middle-class and hi-so segments are likely to be on some kind of contract plan.  A contract plan winds up cheaper per minute for those using their phones a lot or for business.  The poorer Thais aren't using their phones as a dictation device or for business.  A prepaid plan makes sense for this economic group, and they've embraced it.   It also makes sense for foreign travelers to Thailand here for a short time.  A user can recharge his phone credit with as little as USD 3 at a time. Phone credit vouchers are available at any ubiquitous 7-11 outlet, Family Mart, or pharmacy.

Advanced Info Service AIS
Could recharging be any more fun?

Phone credit doesn't last forever.   When you first use your SIM card, depending upon the vendor, you will have about two weeks to a month to use up credit.  Every instance you recharge the SIM card, the expiration date gets pushed back a week.  It doesn't matter whether you purchase 100B or 300B of recharge credit.  Each recharging, whatever the amount, earns you another week until expiration.  If you're living in Thailand or staying for awhile, you'll eventually find that you'll have 6 months or 9 months or a year for your credits to expire.  In other words, you'll have no pressing expiration date on the horizon.  This fact alone can make prepaid seem very attractive to those who aren't constantly on the phone blabbering to all their buds, acquaintances, and endless dating possibilities.  

Expiration of credit isn't as dire as it sounds.  Let's say your phone indicates your credit will expire on June 1 unless you recharge, extending the expiration date until June 8.  If you don't recharge on June 1, you'll find that you can no longer make outgoing calls but that incoming calls can be received like before.  You actually have about two weeks from the expiration date to add more credit before your SIM card becomes inactive.  Once the credit is recharged, any unused credit from before becomes usable again.

It'd be nice if the initial expiration dates were 6 months into the future, the way it works in Indonesia.  Otherwise, the expiration system is sound.  Thailand never has a lot of dead numbers floating around, and numbers that expire get recycled back into the pool of available numbers.   

Contract plans in Thailand work much like they do in other countries, except they're cheaper in Thailand and don't demand the user sign up for the long term.  The second biggest mobile operator recently offered a USD 8/month plan that includes unlimited free 1-hr calls and text messages to other users on the network between 10 PM and 5 PM.   The biggest provider offered similarly competitive plans which could be paid for by the week.  

Mobile Phone Service Providers In The Kingdom

There are only four real players.  The original player and still the largest is Advanced Info Service, otherwise known as AIS or 1-2-Call when you attempt to buy recharge cards at 7-11.  AIS was founded in 1986 and, as of 2010, had almost 29m customers. Former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the one who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and subsequently exiled, founded the operation.  DTAC is the second largest and has 20.2m subscribers.  Those two players dominate the pre-paid market.  Number three is True with its True Move service.   True has around 16m subscribers.  The number four provider, Hutchison, has barely over 1m subscribers and isn't a serious competitor.  Its phone offerings are CDMA-oriented, not what most Thais are using.

Who offers the best service?  From personal experience with both DTAC and AIS pre-paid, it's a toss up.  Better quality communications are not detectable on one service over the other.  There are those on forums who debate one company's connections are superior to the other in a given area.  I've not experienced this.  The major advantage of AIS over DTAC, as of this writing, is the text message confirmation:  with AIS, you get notice that your message was sent.  With DTAC, you do not. The best bet is to go with the network that the person(s) you'll be calling the most are on, a piece of advice I would've been wise to heed.   My girlfriend's number is the one I dial the most, and she was originally on the same network as I purely by coincidence.   We'd setup our respective numbers before we'd met each other.  After her first phone was stolen, she purchased a SIM card from another operator.  It was a reasonable move at the time.  She had no idea what network I was on or gave any consideration about cheaper intra-network calls.  Now that each of us has had our numbers for a number of years, it's difficult for either of us to give up our number to join the other's network.  It is this single obstacle that has stopped me from signing up for a phone plan. 

True's focus is mobile phone plans and internet access.  3G has finally come to Thailand, and True wants to dominate in that segment.  True originally had the sole concession for the plans offered for the iPhone.  Since then, DTAC has been able to offer its own plans for the iPhone. (Warning: by the time you read this, the types of plans and prices will have surely changed.  Do not sue us!)  

Long Distance Calls

Before the computer revolution, we were conditioned to believe that the longer a call 'traveled', the more expensive the call. Distance has nothing to do with it.   Long distance rates are set in concert by the originating and receiving areas' telephone carriers.  Each makes money off the call.  The less competitive the carriers or equivalently, the less competition, the more costly the call, regardless of distance.

Long distance calls from a Thai phone, dialed directly, are not competitively priced.  Normally, from a mobile, you dial + followed by the country code (44 = UK, 1 = USA and Canada, 65 = Singapore, 61 = Australia), and then the number without the leading 0.   This is the most expensive way to call.   Substituting 008 for the + ends up cheaper.  However, if you send an sms, you'll have to use the +.

Even cheaper is to use a Voice Over IP service to make your long distance calls.  Leading Thai VOIP providers are Cat2Call, TrueNetTalk, MouthMun, and DeeDial.    

Land Line Service Providers

In richer industrialized countries, landline phone service was fully entrenched before mobile phones became affordable.  Thailand does not fall into this category.  Most Thai residences are not already wired up with a landline connection.  It can cost 1,500-2,000B to set one up.  Waiting times stretch from 10 days all the way to a month. After a landline has been installed, it costs another 100-200B month for maintenance and then several baht a minute to make (unlimited length) calls in one's local region and up to 9 baht a minute in other regions. For those prices it's cheaper to just buy a mobile phone.  Facts bear this out.   Mobile phone ownership has grown at higher rates than landline usage.  There are five times as many cellular phones than landlines. 

Your ticket to landing a landline

The two nationwide kingpins in charge of setting up landline service are the Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT) and the Thailand Telephone and Telegraph (TT&T).   True, as of this writing, is installing fixed lines in parts of Bangkok.  Commitments are for at least a year and incur penalty charges if cancellation of the landline is made before that time.  I don't know how much they're charging for telegraph connections at the home.  With so few people signing up for this service, I'm sure it costs a fortune.

Given the cost of setting up a landline, the one-year commitment a customer must make to keep it, and the less-than-ideal charges for making local calls (international VOIP calls are cheaper to make per minute than local Thailand calls), why would anyone set one up?  The answer lies below.   

Surfing The Wonderful Internet

How do people in the rich world surf the internet at glorious speeds?  Using satellite, cable, or DSL or ADSL connections.  Increasingly, the services are bundled together.   A customer is able to score significant discounts if he purchases, say, cable internet and cable television together or a complete phone service system along with DSL internet. 

Thailand isn't bundling services together . . . not yet.  It is quite common to buy cable from one provider, internet from another, and phone service from yet another.  Cable and satellite internet haven't caught on in a big way for residential use.  True offers cable internet in limited areas in Bangkok at present, and satellite internet was notoriously unreliable.  DSL and ADSL are the prevalent broadband method.  When you visit an internet cafe in Thailand, it's likely some kind of DSL.

But to obtain DSL you need a landline phone line installed.  There are ways in the West, so I've heard, to get what's called naked DSL -- DSL internet without having to pay for phone service.  It stands to reason that with both phone and internet signals traveling down the same wire, it's unnecessary to have phone service in order to provide the DSL service.  While one may not have to be paying for phone service in order to get DSL, one must have a phone line to begin with for the DSL signal to travel through.  

Take our situation.  We live in a house that had a landline previously installed.  The landline phone service comes from TOT.  The internet access is provided by TT&T.  There have been instances where our phone bill to TOT was unintentionally paid late and the landline service terminated.  Our internet continued to function.  We hardly ever use our landline for any calls besides take-out restaurant orders, as it's more economical to use our cellular phones.  But since the telephone maintenance charges are so little and the phone line has already been installed, we keep it. 

If one lives in an apartment building, DSL internet is usually provided at no extra charge.  If the building does not offer DSL to all tenants, it can be difficult to get the phone company to install a line in just your apartment because setting up the wiring can be tricky, particularly in older buildings.  In the West, such tenants would opt for cable or satellite.  Tough breaks for those in Thailand.

Providers vary by locale.  TOT is everwhere.  So is TT&T with their Maxnet service.  KSC offers DSL and ISDN in certain areas of the country like Chiangmai, Ayuthaya, Chonburi, Phuket, and Songkhla to name a few.  CS Loxinfo and True also offer high speed plans.  Prices are disproportionately expensive compared to the cost of living for many other items in Thailand but reasonable all the same since you don't have to pay for the services in expensive bundled form in order to get a deal.

Be prepared to not get the speeds you're paying for.   We currently pay USD 26 per month, with no long term commitment necessary, for what's supposed to be download speeds of 5,120 Kbps and upload speeds of 512 Kbps.  For two years we weren't consistently getting even the speeds the USD 19 plan is supposed to offer.  On the bright side, a neighbor once had a private line dragged to his home and was paying USD 77/month for speeds only about 10% faster than our own.  On a recent speed test though, we got close to the promised speeds.  Feels good to get what you pay for for a change.  

Be prepared to also have your service go down.   Ill weather or rats can mutilate your DSL wires.   Calls to customer service are likely to get blown off and you may have to wait a few days before a repairman comes over to deal with your problem. 

Dial up still exists, but I have yet to meet anyone who uses it.  It's more convenient to pay 30B/hour to use an internet cafe's computers that get onto the internet via DSL.


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Voltaire Brown's Don't Travel Europe

 DSL or ADSL internet are so divine. But you need a landline phone line for 'em. How about great mobile service from AIS, DTAC, True,o or Hutch. If you want a landline, give TOT or TT&T a ring in Thailand