Tele-communications in Asia: computer, internet access, fax, cell- line- sat-phone calling, tablets, unlock mobile, broadband, wifi, wimax, gprs, edge, hspa, hsdpa, satellite radio, cable, ipstar, tv, pal, ntsc in Southeast Asia, IP cloaking, relocating, vpn.

Whether for business, pleasure, leisure or retirement, electronic and digital communications are now one of the most important aspects to consider when taking up residence in any foreign country. Increasing numbers of people globally are earning their living by doing business solely by email and internet, in preference to conventional telephone or fax.

Telephone Lines and Mobile Networks

 

Mobile network frequency bands in most of Asia are GSM/UMTS: 900, 1800/2100 MHz; Thailand 850, 900, 1900/2100 MHz; UK, Europe 900, 1800/2100 MHz; US, Canada 850,  1900/850, 1700, 1900 MHz; Australia 900,1800/850, 900, 2100. All countries.

Mobile networks and phone services are expanding rapidly in most Asian countries now, due to the relative simplicity of establishing wireless networks in comparison to laying thousands of miles of cable across areas which have never had any form of communication before. This has created high consumer demand everywhere not only in Asia. As with other communications especially the internet, costs, facilities and coverage vary greatly between countries, as well as in different areas within those countries.

To make phone calls between your country and another, you need to know the exit code for your current country location and the country code for the country you are calling. e.g. to call from the USA to China, dial 011 86, then the city code and number. Note that prepaid phone card rates are usually much cheaper than calling direct. You use a PIN number before the code.

Terms like GPRS, EDGE, HSPA, HSDPA, 3G, 3.5G etc. are confusing to most, but they are related mainly to the speed at which data can be uploaded to and downloaded from a mobile operator's servers. We have tried to sort some of these acronyms and definitions on our mobile acronyms page which explains terms such as MSISDN, IMEI and USSD.

3G and 4G wireless internet services are expanding rapidly in Asia, with many countries offering connection via a small USB dongle and a prepaid SIM. These use the same transmission of signals as the mobile phone networks. Laos is a typical example and you can get an idea how these services work and how much you pay on our Lao Communications page. Other SE Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines offer similar 3G services.

 

Unlocked quad band phones and unlocked USB 3G modems can be used in any country. The picture shows an unlocked quad band cell phone for under $35 and sold in the USA.

Unlocking a Mobile cellphone for prepaid SIM use worldwide

Providing it's not locked to a network by the original provider, your mobile can be used with a local prepaid SIM in any country in the world. This saves the considerable cost of international roaming or paying for call divert.

A cell phone for use within and outside most of America needs to be capable of using the 4 common worldwide frequency bands and not locked or tied to a particular service provider contract). Learn more about  quad band unlocked mobiles.

 

Internet and VoIP (Voice over IP)

Where the internet is available, alternative services like Skype for Business (except for mainland China) have made phone calls using a PC very cheap or even free. The web is being used for ordering, payment and shipment by international logistics companies (the couriers like FedEx, UPS, DHL and TNT to name a few) who are able to deliver goods to locations all over the world. You can also purchase and use a telephone number for many different countries via your Skype account.

Skypet is a new convenience service from Skype which allows travellers to access WiFi HotSpots worldwide including SE Asia, on a 'pay-per minute' service using Skype Credit. It comes with the latest 4.2 version of their free software for PC

Cable and satellite communications for phone, internet, navigation, radio, tv and internet in Asia or worldwide

Satellite Broadband Internet is available via the Thaicom iPStar satellite. It's used in 15 Asia/Pacific countries including China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, India, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. Local organisations and businesses including hotels and guesthouses outside the range of 'mainstream' IPs can provide internet access to themselves, customers and guests by routing the satellite signal to a WiFi network. Leading mobile phone operator AIS in Thailand uses the iPStar satellite to extend their coverage to outlying areas.

Possibly the 'ultimate handheld global communicator' is the Iridium 9575 Extreme satellite phone or 'satphone' with GPS and SOS shown here. You wouldn't expect the best (there is a range of devices for most pockets) to be cheap, either to buy or use, but if you have the means and feel your ability to call someone (or be called) anytime, anywhere is of enough importance, then a satellite phone is an essential accessory, especially if you are out of range of the usual mobile phone services. You might be airborne, at sea, in the mountains or desert and need urgent medical assistance or evacuation if you are in an emergency or distress situation.

All you need is your trusty satphone and a view of the sky. You could also be indoors and still receive notification of an incoming call via the pager feature. See also the Thuraya XT Satellite phone available from Amazon UK.

SATELLITE RADIO IN ASIA:  Reception by direct satellite signal for Sirius|XM Radio is now available only in the USA and Canada. Outside North America, WorldSpace Inc used to operate their AsiaStar and AfriStar satellite network to cover most of Asia including India as well as Africa. In June 2010, WorldSpace services ended. Assets have been acquired by a South African company, but no new satellite radio services have been announced so far.

There's little reason to bother with a paid subscription to Satellite Radio when free Internet Radio is available on PC and smart phones with apps like TuneIn Radio which even lets you listen and record sessions from thousands of stations (and also transfer the files to your computer or mp3 player).

Apart from national TV networks and services in all countries, local residents and ex-pats can also watch television in their home language by cable or satellite paid subscriptions in most of the Asia region's countries. Note that different TV broadcast systems are in use worldwide. Most of SE Asia uses PAL, the same as the UK and most of Europe. But Burma, Philippines and Vietnam use NTSC as does the USA, Canada, Japan, Taiwan and S Korea. A compatible receiver will be needed; some TVs and recorder/players can be used with both PAL and NTSC.

SCAM WARNING Free TV on your PC, laptop or mobile phone. It is possible to watch programs from around the world from a computer or phone screen. These include news, sports, series, cartoons, movies and music from streaming radio and televison stations etc. That is quite true. However, be on your guard and don't bother with software programs that claim to allow you to watch 3,000 or 5,000 channels free on your computer or cellphone without paying any form of subscription. They are scam products designed to relieve you of $30 - $50 or more; you cannot watch live TV from countries like the US or UK. Read more on our Scams page and see below for an efficient and cheap way to do this.

Changing or re-Locating Your Country IP Address (Cloaking, Proxy, VPN) to Watch or Download TV Shows and Video from USA, UK etc

There are many reasons for wanting or needing to change the country IP address for the computer you are using to access the internet when you are in a foreign country. Anonymity may be important to you while you surf the web. Not wanting others to be able to identify your current location. Apart from  access to websites which are banned or prohibited where you are, you may simply want to watch TV programs from your home country. National broadcasters can prevent 'outsiders' watching or downloading their programs by identifying the country where the IP is registered. The easiest way around this problem is being able to cloak or disguise your real IP address by replacing it with one from another country. This is known as a VPN or Virtual Private Network.

Private Internet Access VPN

Expats and travellers can watch their home country shows using a  VPN such as Private Internet Access to connect through a USA, UK/European or any of 10 countries IP addresses (and switch between them) for less than $3.50 a month while HotSpotVPN offers security and anonymous browsing while connected to a public wifi network.

Apart from anonymous browsing, bypassing national site blocking etc, you can access sites like BBC iPlayer and get iTV, Channel 4 and 5 On Demand as well as all US network channels and streaming sites like Hulu or NetFlix. Easy to install and use on a smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

Netbooks, laptops, tablets for travellers

Asus Aspire netbook from AmazonA netbook is a portable computer positioned between a smart mobile phone or PDA and a notebook or laptop computer. It is smaller and lighter than a notebook, but has very similar features, but because it is designed primarily for internet access it requires less power (up to 8 hours on battery) and is considerably cheaper than a laptop.

Netbooks are excellent portable devices for global travelers for whom access to the web is important. 'Smart' phones have their place, but small screens and tiny keyboards are frustrating to use and there are limitations. 

Use your mobile as a modem by 'tethering' it by cable or Bluetooth.A netbook can connect to the internet by WiFi, LAN, modem, USB 3G dongle or by connecting it to your mobile phone by cable or Bluetooth (known as tethering), making it a great device for web browsing, downloads, email or website page updates, watching downloaded movies or listening to music. You can see popular netbooks from HP, Acer, Asus, Samsung and more at Amazon.com or for British travellers at Amazon.co.UK.

 

One thing to note is the usual lack of a built-in CDROM drive, omitted to reduce weight and cost. However, an external CD/DVD recorder connected and powered by USB is small and quite inexpensive.

7-10" touchscreen tablets are now seen everywhere; notably the Apple iPad with its 'Apps'. Most others, like Samsung's Galaxy use the Google Android free operating system and applications for phones and smart devices. Tablets perform many of the functions of a computer at usually lower prices. Chinese-copy tablets known as Chi-Pads are often under $100. BUT... you get what you pay for, so don't be surprised if they don't work well or in some cases, at all! Tablets with multi-touch screens with Android 2.3 or higher are preferable; version 3.0 when it becomes available, will be better still.

Use a computer, laptop, notebook, netbook as a TV via co-ax cable signal

Connecting your PC or laptop to a tiny, inexpensive USB TV Tuner Dongle it even has a remote control allows you to view and record to hard drive from a tv/cable service by co-ax cable. The advantages are numerous: unattended recording, manual editing, and permanent storage of pre-recorded programs or music on VCD or DVD are possible at virtually no cost. This is easier and cheaper than TIVO!

Many developing countries (especially those relying on tourist dollars) are expanding their 3G cellphone networks as there are far more mobile and PDA users than laptop or PC owners.

By the way, if you have memory or file copy protection problems when upgrading a TransFlash or MicroSD card in your mobile phone or camera, then visit our MicroSD page.

Online Access, Internet Web Browsing, Email services

Google Mail is an easy way to manage email on any web-enabled phone, wherever you happen to be. If you have a free Google Account you can download the GMail Mobile application. Send and receive all your mail by first changing the POP/forwarding settings in your Google Mail account.

Internet access is still a problem in a few countries in the SE Asian region. In some, development has been slow, with poor quality services and maintenance, often due to corrupt government and business practices, for the benefit of very few (and not the end user). Affordable broadband internet is increasing in some countries.

The Philippines for example has many attractive features for foreign or expat living or business, but from what we can gather, communications and infrastructure much beyond Metro Manila are not among them.

The same can be said for Indonesia outside Jakarta or possibly Surabaya where there is a greater Indo-Chinese technology presence. In Bali outside Denpasar, internet is slow and unreliable and quite expensive. Even in the Denpasar area where most foreigners live and do business, many would say the same.

Singapore is much more 'internet-friendly' now with WiFi hotspots in larger hotels and at Changi Airport. Internet shops are not so easy to find. Home connections are available for residents. Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia have similar facilities. Several Southeast Asian countries manufacture a whole range of electrical and electronic equipment and communications systems, but most of it is exported to the USA and Europe. Local residential requirements for internet communication are still low it seems.

Thailand on the other hand, has one of the best and most accessible communications in the region; much of the improvement in prices, speed and availability has only been since 2009.

Lao PDR's main towns and cities have benefited through joint ventures between Thai, Chinese, Korean and Australian private enterprise and the Lao Government. Lao Telecom, ETL, Tigo and UniTel are the main Lao mobile phone and internet operators, offer web browsing and email using 4G WiMax, 3G and GPRS/EDGE technology, direct from a suitable mobile phone or by tethering using your mobile as a PC or laptop modem via wireless connection such as infra-red and Bluetooth or USB cable. Data transfer charges are reasonable at about $0.10 per Mb. WiFi broadband, dialup and ADSL connections are also available in hotels and homes.

In Vientiane, near the Mekong River and Nongkhai, Thai operators like AIS, True and DTAC are within cell phone range, so Thai SIMs can also be used for phone and internet access in parts of Laos.

More about internet, 3G USB modems and settings on our Laos communications page.

Banking in SE Asia

We have a comprehensive page on this topic, as well as a separate one for Lao Banking, but banking services in the SE Asian region are generally good and improving. ATMs are appearing everywhere. In Cambodia they even spew out US dollars! Online banking is established in varying degrees in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines - maybe elsewhere, but still limited in Lao.

Regarding banking, it's several years since Vientiane got its first ATM cash dispensers from two local banks. Now ANZ Laos, BCEL and JDB have dozens of ATMs around the city (and other Lao towns) accepting VISA and MasterCard. See our Lao Banking page for further details. 
 

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