Laos digital communications: 2G 3G 4G providers for voice, data, lao internet, isp, fax, phone, prepaid mobile, ussd, sms, satellite, broadband, wire and optic cable, adsl, gprs, edge, umts, unlimited data rates, hspa+, hsdpa, wifi, air cards, tablets, wimax. Some 4G/LTE in Vientiane. Main operators LaoTel, ETL, Beeline, Unitel, Planet.
Please note that to try to stay up to date we appreciate feedback from internet and mobile users in Laos. Please write your comments here. See also our Lao-related blog posts and comments.
Although Lao PDR Internet services improved after 2010, by 2020 they still suffer from bandwidth limitations and congestion - as in many other countries. Tourists and others on the move are likely to be unimpressed as faster, more reliable connections are available mainly to those living near (but not necessarily in) Vientiane Capital. Decent connections are 'hit-and-miss'. A new user wanting internet access in most areas of Laos might consider one of Unitel's plans or visit their website.
Overseas Calls to and from Laos by land line or mobile cell network
Remember there is probably a time zone difference from yours; Laos is GMT+7 hours. Without daylight saving, from the US West Coast, Laos is 15 hours ahead and 12 hours ahead of EST. So 3 p.m. in New York is 3 a.m. the next day in the Lao PDR (and much of SE Asia) when most Lao residents are sound asleep! Europe is 6-7 hours behind Laos, while countries to the east are ahead – most of China 1 hour, NSW Australia 3 hours, New Zealand 5 hours.
CALL LAOS, DIAL OUT FROM LAOS. The IDD code for calling the Lao PDR is 856. For a SMS text to Laos, send +85620 xxxx xxxx. From a fixed line phone, first find your local country international dialout or exit code. In the USA it's 011. The UK, Europe and many other countries use 00. From the USA to Laos dial 011 856 then the area code – 20 for all Lao cell phones, 21 for Vientiane, 71 for Luang Prabang, followed by 8 digits for mobiles or a 6 digits for land lines in Laos. See below for full list of Lao provincial exchange codes. From a UK phone to a Vientiane land line (home phone) dial 00 856 21 xxxxxx. For any Lao mobile dial 00 (or + from another mobile) 856 20 xxxx xxxx.
LAO PROVINCIAL AREA PHONE CODES: 021-Vientiane; 031-Champassack-Saravan-Attapeu-Pakse; 038-Sekong; 041-Savannakhet; 051-Khammouane-Thakhek-Hinboun; 054-Borikhamsay-Paksan; 061-Xiengkhouang-Phonsavan; 064-Houaphan; 071-Luangprabang; 074-Xayaboury; 081-Oudomxay; 084-Bokeo; 086-Luangnamtha; 088-Phongsaly. Remember to remove the zero when calling or sending an SMS (text message) from outside Laos.
CALLING WITHIN LAOS. When dialing another Lao phone number, use the 3-digit code above unless you are calling between landlines with the same area code or when calling another cellphone/mobile from your mobile. Adding the area code when not required has no effect.
CHECK BALANCE, OWN NUMBER. Call 122 (voice; 2 for English) or send *122# for display of kip balance with expiry date. Send *110# to identify the Lao SIM number. This responds with the MSISDN which begins with the country 856 and mobile prefix 20 followed by the eight digit subscriber number e.g. 8562012345678.
LAOS MOBILE GSM, UMTS NETWORKS 900, 1800/2100MHz; LTE 2600MHz (same as UK and some EU countries). A mobile cell phone or 3G modem for use within and outside North America needs to be capable of using the 4 common worldwide frequency bands and not locked or tied to a particular service provider contract). Quad-band "SIM-free" mobiles and unlocked USB 3G modems can be used anywhere in the world, using a local cellular operator's voice+data or data-only SIM. Mobile phones are used by 80% of the Lao population (2011).
PHONING ANYWHERE FROM LAOS (find exit and dial-in codes for any country)
Lao mobile (cellphone/cellular) operators should charge 2,000 kip/min (US$0.25) for all international calls. Lao Telecom/WinPhone uses the standard code: 00 plus country, area code and number. Two operators offer international codes (rates unknown) from mobiles: Beeline key 177 followed by country code and number. For ETL key 188. Unitel and LaoTel do not use special codes. Key 00 or +. Check your balance before and after making an overseas call so you know what you were charged. It should not be more than 2,000 kips (US 25 cents) per minute to any country.
Outside main cities and in remoter regions of Laos, operators have different areas of coverage for basic, GPRS or 3G service. It's wise to carry several SIMs (cheap to buy) especially for the northern provinces. Buy refill cards for Lao mobiles in phone or roadside shops throughout the country; they display signs or banners for M-Phone, ETL, Beeline (ex Tigo) and Unitel. Validity usually equates to one day per 1,000 kip e.g. 10,000 kip refill extends expiry date by 10 days. Various plans for voice and data are available from the telcos. See plans.
Mobile recharge is possible also by ATM, and Beeline SIMs can now be refilled from overseas (with credit card or PayPal) using Ezetop. See related blog post.
Exit code plus 7 or 8 are alternative dial out codes that can be used to make calls between Thailand, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia for less than the normal international rate, but it may be more expensive than the 2000 kip/min general international rate from Lao mobiles.
Phones & Internet in the Lao PDR – dial-up, broadband, satellite, optic fiber, ADSL, 4G WiMax, LTE, 3G UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, HSDPA, 2G GPRS, EDGE, voice and data communications, USB air cards, fixed data, unlimited data cost, plans, ussd, sms
Main operators are Lao Telecom, ETL, Beeline and Unitel who supply various phone and internet services (mostly prepaid) including leased line, ADSL, CDMA, WiFi, WiMax and GPRS/EDGE/3G, 3.5G, HSPA or HSDPA for GSM and 4G WiMax and also LTE networks. Laos may now have an operating 4G/LTE network (2.6GHz band) from LTC. See relevant blog post. Beeline recently introduced fibre optic internet to some Vientiane homes and businesses.
All four mobile telecom operators are partly or fully owned by the Lao government; call and data rates are similar and within agreed criteria to allow equitable revenue share between them.
While Laos ISP 3G data cost per MB is similar for 1 GB and 3GB monthly data usage, various plans (daily, weekly, monthly, unlimited) accommodate short and longer term internet access by mobile phone, tablet or USB dongle. Compare Lao data plans and prices per MB. There may be reduced prices or promotions such as free SIM and/or free airtime or data or a free microSD card included when buying an air card or SIM from one of the 4 Lao mobile operators.
Visit our page that lists common terminology, definitions and mobile internet acronyms.
Planet Online Laos has a 4G Mobile WiMax (2.5 GHz) and fibre services in and around Vientiane only. 3-7 Mbps possible. See data plans.
Lao Telecom 4G LTE appeared first in November 2013 and is now available in limited areas of Vientiane Capital only, with 20 base stations covering the city and adjacent suburbs. Speed is unknown. Call 131 from a LaoTel phone, but don't expect much useful information.
To visit the website direct, click the image, then the third tab under the grey bar on the LaoTel promotions page. Choose one of the internet services and plans. The LTC site including home page is in Lao language only. Or see our data plans page.
LTC 3G data plans 5,000 kips per day, up to 250,000 unlimited per month; WiFi 4,000 kips/day. See all LTC data plans. Cost of HSPA modem 280,000 kips inc SIM and 200 MB data. Data SIM 5,000 kips?
Beeline also offers home/office WiMax in certain areas of the capital with a range of speeds and prices. See Beeline WiMax plan upgrades. In 2012 Beeline introduced HSPA+ in the capital Vientiane, with Luang Prabang and Savannakhet cities added since. With a high speed modem, performance is better than LTC, ETL or Unitel, depending on location and local traffic. Limited daily, monthly plans. See all Beeline data plans.
For GSM 900/1800/2100 MHz mobile networks, some areas of Laos only have coverage from a single provider. Travellers are advised to carry SIMs for more than one provider. ETL may be best, followed by LTC. GPRS data transfer cost is 1000 kips ($0.12) per megabyte. 3G cost varies depending on whether phone or data SIMs are used. All providers offer various cost-saving promotions and plans. Here are Unitel's 'Sabaidee' plans.
User details are now required for registration of Lao SIMs. They can be used in any unlocked device. Refill/recharge cards are sold everywhere for LaoTel (M-Phone, Ah Lo 3G Win Phone), ETL P-Phone, 3G Net, Beeline and Unitel StarPhone. Some shops sell refill cards for Thai network SIMs which may be within signal range of Thai mobile network cells along the Mekong River border with Thailand. Areas of Vientiane city centre are opposite Nongkhai provincial town of Sri Chiangmai. Conversely, Lao mobiles also work in much of Nong Khai itself as well as other towns and villages along the Mekong River opposite Thai mobile coverage areas.
For mobile internet access, Beeline, LTC, ETL and Unitel all offer some UMTS HSDPA 3G services in Vientiane and Lao provincial cities, with 2G EDGE and GPRS as a fallback in less-populated areas. Unitel downloads up to 5 Mbps – faster in some areas than LaoTel and ETL. See all Laos ISP data plans and rates. Also 4G/LTE blog post.
For travel around Laos, there are still areas where one or two ISPs are better than others; it's as well to carry phone and/or data SIMs from more than one operator. More on Laotel, Unitel, ETL below. Planet 4G WiMax is available in Vientiane and suburbs only, with speeds up to 10 Mbps, (much less in practice) with prices from 200,000 kips per month. See Planet data plans.
Lao mobile phone SIMs from major operators are cheap to buy and some of the cost is given as free airtime. Local voice calls (including 3G video calls within Laos) are about 800 kips ($0.10) a minute, although cheaper packages are available. All international calls from Laos cost 2000 kips ($0.25) or less per minute. Other services include text messaging (SMS), MMS, video calling and internet. GPRS data 1000 kip per MB. 3G data cost is higher for phones than for air cards with data SIMs.
VoIP services such as Skype (iPhone/Android apps available) are not blocked in Laos; data charges apply unless you have an unlimited data package, free WiFi or use low-cost internet shops.
To check kip balance on a Lao mobile call 122 or send (USSD) *122#. To identify a mobile phone SIM number, send *110# from the phone to display its MSISDN number – useful for giving friends outside Laos your full international code to dial or send. Add the + sign before the number to dial/SMS from overseas. See common mobile network definitions and acronyms.
USB MODEMS, AIRCARDS, SOFTWARE, DRIVERS
To check account credit or data balance on a USB 3G modem, look for USSD on the menu interface (dashboard). This is also one way to refill a 3G account. SMS is the other. Lao providers have different codes to cancel or deactivate a data plan.
USB MODEM DASHBOARD & DRIVERS: After installation of a proprietary air card, copy its embedded software to another location; in case of un-installation or subsequent failure of the device's built-in NAND flash memory drive which can occur after unlocking, most users won't be able to reinstall or use the modem on the same or different computers.
Download Lao ISP USB 3G and GPRS software (zip) for ETL, LTC (Windows, Linux, Mac) or the Unitel MF190 or 190S from our server. Tigo Beeline uses locked ZTE MF656A (14.4 Mbps) and MF668A (21 Mbps) USB modems. Lao MF668A software for PC and Mac. Generic software and drivers for ZTE and Huawei USB 3G modems are free downloads for Windows or Mac OS X. Modem unlock codes are available too, some free. For 4G LTE, a device with the 2,600MHz band will be needed; e.g. Huawei E392 (LTC) or ZTE MF820.
If a USB connection fails unexpectedly, check Settings/Preference is set on Automatic mode. If the UMTS/HSPA/WCDMA (3G) signal is too weak or unavailable, it allows fallback to GPRS/EDGE (2G) without breaking the connection. Also check your balances for kip or data and plan expiry time for validity – especially with daily or weekly plans. However, WCDMA (H or H+) may not work unless it is set exclusively. Try both options.
Android tablet computers do not work with all USB 3G modems; specific drivers must be already embedded. Huawei modems are more compatible than other brands, especially for Chinese-made devices. Check the user manual for compatible USB modems for your tablet.
Laos ISPs, Mobile Internet Service Providers
Mobile frequency bands in Laos (and much of Asia) are GSM/UMTS 900, 1800/2100 MHz; 4G LTE 2600MHz. Other countries: Thailand 850, 900, 1900/2100 MHz; UK, Europe 900/2100 MHz; US, Canada 850, 1900/850, 1700, 1900 MHz; Australia 900,1800/850, 900, 2100. All countries.
Prices below are quoted in Lao Kips LAK. 2014 Exchange Rate LAK 8,000 = USD 1; LAK 250 = THB 1 (baht). Our Lao Banking page has current rates for main convertible currencies.
Lao Telecom – LTC 3G & 4G Air Card, UMTS, GSM, GPRS, EDGE, WiFi, WiMax
LaoTel offers 3G access in most provinces' main towns. Use a USB modem or HSPA SIM slot or buy their current package of 7.2 Mbps HSPA USB Dongle Modem + 4 GB SD, data SIM, unlimited data for 30 days for 320,000 kip ($40). For the 2,600MHz FDD/TDD LTE service they were supplying the Huawei E392 multi-mode Surfstick for about $125. See LTC 4G LTE data plans and 4G related blog posts. 4G/LTE, announced in 2011 and again in 2012 and 2013, is apparently in service in 2014. Beeline also promised 4G LTE; in 2013 they began a fibre to home service around areas of the capital as also has Lao Telecom.
Data SIMs are available separately for use with any unlocked modem, 30,000 kips and 40,000 for MicroSIM. Only LTC has these; both SIMs are required as refilling the data Micro Sim is done using a LaoTel mobile phone number.
WARNING. An English version of the Lao Telecom website (this link now leads to the promotions page) no longer exists. Many previous pages will come up '404 - not found'. If in Vientiane you visit LaoTel's Namphou office on Chanthakoummane Road or Saylom Head Office, you'll find (or can ask for) staff with reasonable English and technical skills and be able to get service details and subscription costs, test a 3G or 4G USB modem or buy one cheaply. However, LTC local and provincial office visits can be difficult for non-Lao speakers – much like the company's web site.
Laotel 3G data SIM kip refill can be carried out by mobile phone: *121*[3G SIM Number]*[Card PIN Number]# then call/send. For the 3G air card, use the program to 'refill money' with required amount of kips from Mphone cards e.g. 100,000 for 3GB data in/out for the next 30 days, then 'send query' (SMS) using one of the following code sequences.
LaoTel APN: ltcnet, dialup *99# auto IP/DNS. LaoTel 3G plans. Auto configuration and refill is via the software on the ZTE MF 190S USB modem sold by LTC. LaoTel USB software.
Both limited and unlimited 3G data plans; no known issues other than max 1-2 Mbps.
Phone+data and data MicroSIM.
Lao Telecom also offers WiFi at hotspots in Vientiane and some other areas. Speed claims up to 5MBps. A 5-minute free demo (once per device) is available to check or locate wifi signal availability. LaoTel WiFi plans.
Lao Telecom 4G. LTC WiMax may both be in operation. See LTC WiMax plans and 4G/LTE blog post.
Laotel's ADSL 2.0 service (Unitel ADSL is similar but with limited areas of coverage), 512/256K for 130,000 kips per month upwards.
ETL 3G NET Air Card – ZTE MF 180 (3.6 MB/s) Package
Simple to use, limited-only data plans for days up to month. Speeds similar to Lao Telecom. Phone+data or data Net SIM.
Currently the ZTE MF 180 USB modem (unlockable) costs 250,000 kips ($31/940 baht) with data SIM (no voice calls) and 1.5GB free data over 3 months. Download the ETL USB software supplied with the ETL modem. Up to 2MB/s download. ETL APN: etlnet – Dialup number *99***1#. Recharge with P-phone cards then send the code as an SMS to 333 (USSD query may not work) e.g. D1 or M1 (valid for 1 day). DX or MX to cancel. ETL settings
ETL Data SIMs (SIM2 Teen) can be used with any unlocked modem or phone, cost 20,000 kips. Call cost across operators 800 kips/min, unlimited 3G data 4,000 kips/day. See also ETL 3G data plans for air cards and mobile phones.
Easy to lose credit and/or connection if you don't understand Unitel 3G data plans. See below. Faster than LTC, ETL.
Phone+data, data-only SIMs available.
Unitel 3G Phone, Air Card package
Unitel is a joint venture between the Ministries of Defence of Vietnam via Viettel and the Lao PDR via Lao Asia Telecom/LAT /Star Telecom /StarPhone) with Unitel as the brand name. See data plans or visit their website.
Unitel supplies a 3G/3.5G HSPA/HSDPA modem (not unlockable) and sold with their 3G data SIM (SIM alone is 30,000 kip) plus 1.5GB free over 3 months for 250,000 kips ($31). UMTS, HSPA+, HSPA, HSDPA, WCDMA, GPRS, EDGE GSM network SIMs for data and SMS. Unitel download speeds have decreased in the past few months and are sometimes as slow as LTC or ETL at 1-2Mbps, but 3-4Mbps or more is still possible. Unitel/StarPhone refill cards are available from phone and small shops, while the USB data SIMs (need to be activated) are usually only sold at Unitel offices around the country.
Unitel HQ in Vientiane is on Rue Nongbone, a km or so outside the city. Monday-Friday only. Some local offices may open on Saturdays. Customer service 109 or 021 901234 or 999888, but there may be congestion. Wait for someone to answer and ask if they speak English. Some do.
Understanding Unitel data plans. More complicated than LTC and ETL, a Unitel monthly USB plan (LT...) runs from the 1st to last day of the calendar month. A monthly plan can be started on any day, but it will end at midnight on the last day of that month. Cost and data is proportional e.g. start on 15th, cost and data allowance will be 50% of the full rate. 50% credit balance stays in the account and can be used for a new plan or to renew the same one (50% top-up would be needed to pay for a new full month). Note that an MI phone data plan can begin on any day. Free data remaining at the end of a plan period is removed.
Note: At the end of the period, you need to (1) recharge; (2) send SMS LT0 (zero) to cancel the old plan; (3) send SMS LT[code] to start or renew the service.
If you have a problem, call Unitel customer service 109 or 021 999888; ask for someone who speaks English; some delay or difficulty getting the USB 3G service restored can be expected. In extreme cases, with written complaint lodged and persistence, you may get some free data.
If a plan expires and is not cancelled, future refill credit may be lost. At the beginning of a new period the account will show a debit balance until refilled with sufficient credit. The current plan will then continue. If for example it is a weekly plan and is not used in that week (perhaps the user left Laos temporarily), new credit will first be allocated to an expired period and effectively lost. This should not happen if you always send LT0 to cancel a plan when it has expired or the data has been used before the validity period ends.
With no USB 3G data LT plan set or if the free data has been used before the expiry date, as long as there is credit in the account, internet connection can be maintained at a flat rate of 90 kips/MB. Without an MI plan, the rate for mobile phone 3G data is 350 kips/MB. Unitel data plans.
3G air card credit refill can also be done using a Unitel SIM mobile phone: *121*[3G SIM Number]*[Card PIN Number]# then call/send.
Unitel 3G APN: unitel3g. Dialup *99#, settings auto. Data cost is much higher (350 kip/MB) for a Unitel activated 3G phone SIM than for the USB stick/dongle modem service with 3G data SIM. ZTE USB drivers for the original MF190 or newer MF190S as supplied by Unitel Lao with their air cards.
Unitel 3G data cost for mobiles: Phone SIM cost 20,000 kips. 3G Activation: SMS [phone model] 3G to 209 for auto install, confirm activation and receive plan codes. No plan 350 kips/MB. Monthly 100MB/15,000 kip; 500MB/40,000; 2GB/150,000; daily 50MB/5,000.
Unitel 2G GPRS/EDGE APN: startelecom. SMS 'GPRS [handset model]' to 113 for automatic setup; if not successful, call 108 or 109 for support. The Unitel Laos site also has local office addresses. Data SIMs cost 30,000 kips.
Beeline 3G Air Cards: ZTE 656A, MF 668A – HSPA+ up to 21Mbps (a fraction of that in reality)
New SIM for phone+data or data-only. Current plan must be cancelled after expiry, before renewal or when changing – or lose phone credit. Highest Lao mobile telco speeds, depending on area, time of day.
Beeline Lao has countrywide 2G GPRS mobile phone and data services. 3G HSPA+ are available in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet. For 3.5G Beeline sells locked ZTE sticks, the MF 656A (14.4Mbps) for 300,000 kips ($37.50) and an (unlockable for £9.95) MF 668A (21Mbps) for 350,000 kips ($44). In reality, expect up to 5 Mbps; with lower speed phones or modems, downloads may be similar to LTC or ETL's 1-2 Mbps. A Beeline 4G/LTE network has been announced. See blog post.
New Beeline SIMs have been introduced with the option of data-only use for USB modems. Cheap unlimited daily and monthly data plans were also added, but limits have since been imposed. SIM cost 10,000 kips with 5,000 kips credit. See Beeline data plans and our blog post on using the new SIM in an air card. Performance has decreased since launch, partly due to the activities of some greedy 'unlimited' plan users.
Beeline APN: beelinenet. You can download the Beeline GPRS/3G setup direct to your phone, see the settings on the SIM menu or website. For mobile phone tethering it's a similar procedure to ETL, but an initialisation string: AT+CGDCONT=,,"beelinenet" may be needed in modem advanced settings. Dialup is *99#. Download Beeline Lao ZTE MF 668A software.
For mobile devices, Beeline offers various data plans up to 1.2GB per month, and also unlimited data (limits have since been placed due to a few greedy users – see plans) using a USB modem data SIM. Send SMS to 234 from mobile phone or modem e.g. D1 to activate daily plan, DER D1 to cancel it, C to check the balance.
Without a Beeline data plan for mobile or USB, data cost is 300 kips/MB; this will quickly use up any remaining phone credit if the plan expires and there is not sufficient kip credit to renew it, so best to recharge before expiry. Send DER [plan] to cancel the current plan before changing to a different one or if a data plan is no longer required. Then any credit or refill will be available for phone calls plus GPRS data at 100 kips/Mb or 3G HSPA+ at 300 kips/Mb.
Note that a Beeline SIM that has been converted to data-only for use with AD1 or AM1 plans cannot be changed back and used to make calls. Buy another SIM (10,000 kips inc 5,000 credit).
Planet Online Laos, possibly of more interest to Vientiane residents than visitors, has its own ISP network providing broadband, WiFi and 4G mobile WiMAX (2.5GHz). Download speeds ~5-8 Mbps. Their older 1-2 Mbps wireless broadband service in Vientiane continues with increased data allowance but may become obsolete as Planet's WiMax coverage extends to a wider area around the capital and in future to other provinces. Various proprietary hardware options and Planet WiMax data plans to cater for indoor or outdoor personal and business use. Faster downloads than most 3G services, but usually well below the WiMax mobile maximum of 10 Mbps as more users subscribe and traffic increases. Speed tests show up to 8 Mbps from Hanoi and Bangkok, depending on time of day.
GPRS/EDGE for ETL, LaoTel & Unitel CDMA Mobile Phones
ETL GPRS: Before August 31 when ETL 3G NET became available, ETL had only 2G via mobile or ZTE MF180 USB modem. ETL APN: etlnet. Get ETL GPRS setup settings. EDGE requires no extra settings. If it is available the connection will show as E, otherwise it will remain at G for GPRS. To use your phone as a modem with an ETL SIM, connect it to the computer by USB cable or Bluetooth and Windows should detect it. In Control Panel, Phones & Modem, go to Advanced Settings and add AT+CGDCONT=1,"ip","etlnet","",0,0 .
In Windows Network Connections, create a dialup connection and set the phone number as *99***1# Set/change the connection speed to 570K or higher. TCP/IP & DNS addresses should be allocated automatically.
LaoTel Win Phone, Unitel UniHome portable CDMA phones. WinPhone can connect to the internet with a special Huawei USB cable (if you can find one). Drivers are on a supplied CD or LaoTel's website. Set up a new dialup connection. Phone number: #777, Username: email@example.com, Password: win. To top up a Win Phone account, follow the instructions on a LaoTel refill card. For a balance check call 122. When a Lao voice asks you to choose a language (pasaa) press 2 for English and continue. You can also key the code in without voice.
Unitel's UniHome Phone is similar to Win Phone but is a voice-only service with SMS.
Digital Communication Development in Lao PDR
Rich and poor alike in Laos use mobile phones now that prices have dropped to below $30 for basic brand name as well as Chinese and Korean unlocked handsets bought locally or in Thailand. Internet usage is increasing rapidly as Lao youth discovers social networking, chatting and wireless broadband coverage widens. Cell phones are seen everywhere. By 2011 there were an estimated 3.5 million cell phone users in Laos, about 60% of the population. This is still quite low by world standards, but many homes in rural, mountainous areas are still without electricity. Mobile handsets are seen almost permanently clamped to a Lao ear, whether the user is on foot, riding a motorcycle (or buffalo!) and of course while driving.
Android Phones and Tablets in Laos
Genuine Samsung, iPad and other brand name mobiles and tablets are available in stores like K Plaza, LaoMobile, Jiro Computer and MacinLao. See more below under shops. A Lao Language Pack for Android Market-enabled devices is available free at AndroidZoom.com. Cheaper brands as well as Chinese copies are also available, but they rarely have all the features or reliability of the real thing.
Using a Thai SIM in Laos
Thai mobile operators like AIS, DTAC, Orange or True cells will be within signal range in Mekong River and Thai/Lao border areas, so Thai SIMs can be used for both telephone calls and internet access. Many Lao residents have dual SIMs or separate mobiles for Laos and Thailand. In Vientiane a Thai SIM can be used near the Mekong River; Vientiane city is opposite the Thai town of Sri-chiangmai (Nongkhai Province); other Lao locations near the Thai border such as Paksane and Pakse using Thai 3G or 2G (GPRS) internet from AIS, DTAC and True.
Similarly, Lao mobiles can be used around country border areas like Nongkhai, Thailand which is near Vientiane. There are many areas where Lao borders Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Note that buying a mobile phone in Laos, some brands including Nokia may not have Thai characters on the keypad, whereas in Thailand, all computers and phones are supplied for Thai/English use, also suitable for most Lao. Lao or Thai keyboard stickers are available.
Thai SIM refill cards can also be bought in some Vientiane convenience stores and mobile phone shops. International Roaming is also available on several of the Thai and Lao cell phone networks but due to the expense of this service it is better to purchase Lao SIMs.
Laos telecommunications and IT improvements result from joint ventures between Thai, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Australian private enterprise and the Lao Government. Lao Telecom, Tigo (now Beeline), ETL and Unitel (StarPhone) are the main Lao mobile phone operators offering a variety of services including internet access via GPRS/EDGE, 3G, CDMA, WiFi, 4G WiMax and possibly 4G LTE wireless broadband and ADSL in some areas. You can connect direct from a suitable phone or use the phone for tethering a modem to your laptop or PC.
In cities and provincial towns, apart from 3G phone and modem service, there are internet shops with dialup, ADSL, broadband or wi-fi connections, free or paid from $0.50 an hour;; also satellite in outlying areas, WiFi hotspots are increasing especially in popular foreign tourist places like Vangvieng, either free or about 300 kip/min ($2 per hour) in internet shops.
Lao residents of main towns have options for internet connection by landline dialup, ADSL or fiber-optic cable, wireless broadband, wifi, WiMax from the main telecom operators.
Laos is still well behind many of its neighbours in terms of speed and price, although 3G is more widely available than in NE Thailand. Most internet communication outside the country via links to Thailand, Vietnam, China and Cambodia now pass through the Lao National Information Centre (NIC Gateway). However, there are very few website restrictions imposed by the government.
Home or Business Telephone (PSTN) Lines in Lao PDR
Depending on physical location, Lao Telecom, ETL or Unitel can provide regular phone, fax or dialup (even ADSL and leased lines for internet) for home or office. Application should be made to their respective offices. They will do an area inspection and advise you of cost and time for installation (maybe several weeks).
For conventional fax service, if you don't have a fixed phone line, an alternative is a the LaoTel Win Phone CDMA terminal version, which doesn't have a handset, but has inputs for a standard handset, fax machine and PC. In certain areas outside the city, an external antenna may be required.
Significant expansion of terrestrial telephone networks (land lines or fiber-optic cables) for eventual nationwide coverage is unlikely in Laos, due to the large rural and mountainous areas and low population density. Wireless systems for communications and data transfer cost less and are relatively cheap to install and maintain, in developing countries especially.
Unlocking USB Modems and Mobile Cell Phones
There are local shops capable of unlocking imported phones.
If you need Laos USB modem software, here are ETL, LaoTel (Windows/Linux/Mac), Unitel 190 or 190S and Beeline 668A zip files; also ZTE generic drivers and programs.
Satellite Broadband Internet in Laos
This is available through Lao Telecom who have a gateway to the Thaicom IPSTAR satellite. Some Lao organisations and businesses including hotels and guesthouses use this to offer WiFi to their clients and, for example, guests at the Zen Namkhan Boutique Resort which is only 20 km from the centre of Luang Prabang, but outside the main broadband services in Lao's built-up areas. However, for the subscriber, iPStar from LaoTel is expensive and slow at $70 or more per month for a 256/128K connection; that's according to a leaflet, but the LaoTel website showed in August 2010, $360 per month plus equipment deposit. The LTC website is all but useless for English speakers.
TIP: Google Mail is an easy way to manage email on laptops, tablets and GPRS/3G phones. If you have a free Google Account you can download the GMail Mobile application to your phone or tablet (genuine ones may already have it installed) or access it via browser. Send and receive mail from all your accounts through POP/forwarding settings in your Google Mail account. There are also Apple and Android Apps available for GMail and Google Calendar sync.
Lao and Thai language and script for PCs and mobile phones
Lao Script for Windows is a commercial product available for Lao keyboard input (usually standard US or US/Thai keyboards with Lao key stickers). Google.la has Lao and English language options. Mobile phones sold in Laos have English, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and other language options. Few if any have Lao but most local users select Thai language for phone menus and SMS text messaging, although more users such as students are becoming proficient in English too.
Lao Phone Shops, Mobile, Electrical/Electronic Dealers, Sales, Service
See warning above regarding copy phones. If you have a Nokia or other mobile phone or camera and are having memory or file copy protection problems when upgrading a TransFlash or MicroSD card in your device, then visit our MicroSD page. There are many solutions. Unfortunately, one of them is to replace the SD card with a new one.
The Laos Nokia distributor has a Vientiane shop and service centre in Dong Palane Road, a short distance from the traffic lights behind the Morning Market, near the K Plaza Shopping Mall (part of Kolao) a reliable dealer in leading-brand Korean and Japanese consumer goods, TVs, cameras, air conditioners etc like Samsung, Panasonic, Sanyo. Lao Mobile Group has outlets in Vientiane (Dong Palane), Luang Prabang and Pakse, offering main brands Nokia, Apple, Samsung, LG and HTC, as do Kouang Telecom (Kwang, Kuang) 021-216078 on LP Road near Fuji Restaurant or KT Sihom, near TMB corner; also Jiro Computer near Lao-ITECC. MacinLao by ME specialises in Apple sales and service near the corner of Setthathirath and Khunbolum Roads. The Morning Market (Talat Sao Shopping Mall) has outlets selling mainly cheap Chinese copy phones and tablets. Beware the limited features of these ripoff devices and don't expect warranties, after sales support or service. If it breaks, throw it away and buy another!
Television, Cable and Satellite TV Online
The Lao National Television service provides a limited amount of government-originated content Most viewers in Laos have access to national and commercial Thai TV channels either by cable or satellite. Most 'lowland' Lao can understand Thai and the cultures are similar, so Thai movies, soap operas, talk and game shows are very popular. Outlying districts rely on a satellite service of mixed Lao, Chinese, Vietnamese or Cambodian origin.
Several satellite-based services exist; Thailand's True (formerly UBC) offers the most, but costs about $60 per month plus equipment deposit. Lao Cable TV (joint Lao/Chinese) is the largest local cable provider. Available in Vientiane city and surrounding villages, the service costs around $100 for installation and the first 3 months viewing, then about $3 per month. Several language groups are catered for besides Lao. There's English from the UK (BBC), USA (CNN, CNBC), Australia (ABC Australia Network), S Korea (Arirang) and China (CCTV); all Thai TV channels including several True (UBC), Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan (Chinese language), Japanese, Russian, French and German channels are all shown. Thai movies, Star or Fox Movies, HBO, and several Asian (Indian/Chinese/Singapore) movie, music and several sports channels including Star Sport and ESPN are there too. About 35 channels in all. There is also a digital terrestrial service in Vientiane, with fewer channels. Several other cable operators service cities and towns in Laos. Most are Chinese or Vietnamese owned and operated, so English language channels are few.
Viewing & Downloading Foreign TV Broadcasts while Overseas
UK or US citizens and others living abroad can see their favorite shows on computer, phone or tablet by using a Virtual Private Network or VPN service such as Private Internet Access (recommended and can be switched between 10 country IP addresses on the same account from $3.50 a month), HotSpotVPN (security and anonymous browsing while connected to a public wifi network); also StrongVPN. Apart from anonymous browsing, bypassing national site blocking etc, you can get free access to BBC iPlayer, ITV, Channel 4, 5 On Demand plus main US network channels and sites like Hulu. Very easy to set up or change server country location. Many different country IP addresses available.
Logistics – freight transport, postal services by road, rail and air. Thailand to Laos Railroad Service – see Lao Travel Page
Thai Air Cargo has an office near Wattay Airport. Freight forwarding agencies and couriers like DHL, FedEx, EMS have offices or representatives in the Lao PDR. They are able to pick up and deliver goods globally. Shipments from Vientiane are sent via Thailand, by air to Bangkok or by road and rail via Nongkhai. Online tracking is available for couriers including EMS.
Lao PDR Postcodes
Zone 1 Vientiane Urban
01000 Chanthabouly (Central)
01010 Sikhottabong District
01030 Sisattanak District
01120 Hatxaifong District
01140 Naxaythong District
01160 Xaysettha District
01170 Xaythany District
Zone 2 Other Provinces
10000 Vientiane (Province)
Zone 3 Outer Provinces
Post Office Parcels (.pdf)
Laos does have post codes, but they are hardly used and the town/province name suffices. Although there are letter collection boxes, there is no postal delivery service in Laos. Post Office Boxes are available for mail collection at main and some district post offices; also Post Restante. Packages are held for collection at main post offices, with a notification slip left in a local PO Box. Vientiane main post office is near the Morning Market Mall. Online tracking is highly recommended for an expected consignment from abroad. Passport or ID is required to collect packages. Some items may attract customs duty.
Electronic Banking in Laos
It's only about 6 years since the first Lao ATM appeared in Vientiane. Now they are in all provinces, but some outer towns may have a single machine that uses the PLUS and Cirrus networks (VISA and MasterCard). Local credit card merchant and customer accounts are available, although online banking services are limited. See our Lao Banking page for further details.
You can help Lao youngsters learn to read books in their own language and also in English; the government education system is badly under-resourced.