Staying connected in the jungle

Posted: April 15, 2010 in Thailand

Moving to Thailand was a bit stressful when it came to getting a good internet connection. When I first got here I lived in Bangkok and even in that huge metropolis dial-up was the only widely available option. International calls on our land line were pretty expensive at 24 baht (about 60 cents) per minute to the U.S. Cell phones were ridiculously expensive and they were locked to the carrier.  There was a funny little cellular-like system they called PCT that was operated by TOT (Telephone Organization of Thailand) that was based on microcells powered by small transceivers handing from the telephone poles – coverage and call quality was lousy but it was cheap.

Fast forward a couple of years and I have ADSL at home and cell phones are all unlocked and getting cheap fast. International calls are still pretty expensive but some call-around cards are starting to appear and prices are coming down. So that’s when I decided to make life difficult again and move out of the city and up-country. Bangkok is an exciting place but the noise, traffic and pollution are too much to live in every day. Problem was, there were almost no services where we moved.

There was no telephone service in the village. There was no cell phone signal at our land – we had to walk up the hill a little ways to get enough signal from a distant tower. To get internet access I had to got to a friend’s place at a neighboring village and use their dial-up. I wasn’t doing a lot of web development business at that time, obviously. The lack of modern conveniences plus the overgrown trees and vines made it feel like we were really living in the jungle.

Things slightly improved when an internet shop opened next door to a hotel on the main road and they actually had an ADSL connection and set up a WiFi hotspot. So every evening I would drive over with my laptop, park outside the shop and do my web surfing. Not so convenient, but speed was pretty good.

Then one day we noticed the abandoned golf course across the street was undergoing reconstruction. Months later a new high end resort opened and soon after that telephone service became available in the village. It seems the owners had some pull and got land lines pulled in. So we ordered a telephone number…had to pay for the wiring since we were outside the free distance but it was an investment I needed to make. So then I had a land line, great, but still only dial-up, not great.

Some time later a new cell phone tower appeared, a blot on our beautiful view, but we suddenly had great cell phone reception. I started thinking I could get an air card and get a bit of an improvement over dial-up but no such luck because only GPRS was available. EDGE was still in the future and 3G, well, they didn’t know how to spell that yet in Thailand. About that time I happened upon IPStar, a satellite based internet service. Big promises, bad service. Peak speeds were pretty good but it didn’t even work a significant fraction of the time, no connection at all, then a burst of speed, then crawling, then nothing again. It was infuriating sometimes when I was in the middle of doing a banking transaction and it would cutout.

It seemed like over time the IPStar connection improved somewhat. Nevertheless, it was a mostly painful experience using it every day. And due to the high latency with geosynchronous communication satellites it was next to impossible to have a Skype conversation, the delay was just too great. Regardless, I suffered for several years with that. Then one day the LAN post on the satellite modem died. Contacting TOT revealed it might be sometime before they could do anything about it and it seemed unclear whether or not I would be charged for a new modem, after all those years of paying for an expensive and substandard service they would have the nerve to charge me. I canceled, then went and bought an air card because EDGE had finally come to the local cell phone infrastructure.

And that’s what I’m on now as of the date of this post. It’s slow, but I have lived with worse. And my air card is 3G ready in case that ever makes out here. They have it in Bangkok already in some places and all the kids are running around with 3G capable PDAs. I see all the Thai TV stars are flashing Blackberry Curves – that’s the hot gadget at the moment. Does that do 3G? Not sure if the Blackberry Storm has made it to Thailand. iPhone is here but Apple doesn’t have the same cachet in Thailand as it does in the U.S. so nobody is impressed. The Thais want what the stars are carrying and that is the Blackberry.

Rumor is that ADSL now passes through my village. But they didn’t install a DSLAM near me, passed right on by to a big resort farther out. Gotta figure out how to get it here.


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