Hacking Bangkok Blog

Tech and Living in Thailand's City of Angels

The Hacking Bangkok blog covers I.T. and technology in general, and my experiences working and living in the Kingdom of Thailand. Bangkok has a very long Thai name, which starts with Krung thep - City of Angels.
Bangkok sunset from my bedroom balcony

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Have 3G On My Diamond in Bangkok. Inside the Mall. Which Has WiFi Anway. Nevermind.

I'm not sure what it was that lured convinced me to buy a pre-paid AIS 3G SIM card, but much like the old guy on the right in this photo, I couldn't seem to help myself. In any case, after the leather-clad sales-girls let me use a "demo" sim card in my phone to make sure it worked - including a video-call made to another booth-girl on a different floor - I plunked down my 110 baht, plus 300 baht for 1.5 GB of data (over either EDGE or HSPA) for a pre-paid sim. AIS's 3G service runs on their 900 MHz spectrum, so definitely check with them to make sure your handset will work before signing up (I can confirm that HTC Diamonds do work!).

AIS's prepaid brand is 1-2-call, and the sim-package was sporting a very happy-looking frog wearing a crown. No, I have no idea. Based on the frog's smile, he never leaves Central World though (more on that in a sec). After slipping the sim into my Touch Diamond, and booting up, WinMo helpfully told me that it needed to configure my phone for AIS (I normally use DTAC), after which (this IS Windows) it had to reboot. I had to manually change the "band" selection from "auto" to "WCDMA" for some reason - according to the AIS guy, their mini-cell-tower's software needs to be upgraded.

In keeping with the green animal motif, the plastic card has a picture of a green mouse riding a cheese-mobile. The so-called "Freedom sim" works on AIS's regular GSM network, with all its EDGE mediocrity, wherever 3G isn't up and running yet. That would be practically everywhere. The only 3G coverage is provided by some sort of pico-cells, or mini-cells, in Central World Mall, Siam Paragon (another giant mall), and MBK (the grand-daddy of Bangkok malls), in addition to their original test network in Chiang Mai.

Oh - and the new airport (Suvarnabhumi), which is once again running after recently being the subject of a sit-in by protestors.

The stupid thing about the current state of AIS's mini-cell locations is that all of them have WiFi coverage anyway - True Move offers WiFi (not free) in all of these places, which cost me 250 baht/month on a promotion. I wrote about True recently when checking out a new store/cafe they opened. An AIS employee assured me, though, that the first "real" cell-towers will be upgraded to 3G starting next month, so I'll post back when there's any new info. Until then, though, if your phone has WiFi, you're better off with that.

The low-down on pricing is this: Video calls are 1 baht/minute. Not that therei s anybody to call, except the AIS demo-booth girls. Whether you sign up for a normal post-paid account, or get a pre-paid sim, you need to pick a data plan (since it's a baht per MB if you don't!). All the below are for monthly usage:
  • 100 baht for 500 MB
  • 300 baht for 1.5 GB
  • 500 baht for 2.5 GB
  • 900 baht for 15 GB
  • 1,500 baht for 30 GB
If you're sucking down 30 GB per month, you clearly have a bittorrent problem and should be running that on your DSL at home, but otherwise the prices are not bad! 500 baht (about $14) for 2.5 GB of data is enough for a lot of web-surfing, youtubing, emails and general syncing to Exchange/Zimbra/Gmail or whatever. Google maps is fabulous over 3G, as I discovered in Korea in September. I did a couple of speed-tests using DslReport's "iPhone browser Speed and Latency Test". Given that I'm in Thailand, and the server is likely in the U.S., I was pretty happy with the 491 Kbps and 467 Kbps results in my two tries. It's no 4G WiMax, but it beats EDGE.

So. I don't really want to change phone numbers (no mobile-number-portability-act here!), so sometime in February or March, I'll see what DTAC is up to - if there's less than a 90-day lag before they roll out their service, I'll wait. Otherwise, I'll be back to see the AIS girls!*

*Note - the girl who helped me with the demo admitted she was just hired part-time for this promotion. I asked her if she uses AIS, and she sheepishly admitted that no, she's using DTAC too. LOL.


Den said...

My Sony Ericsson P1i also works on 900Mhz and I sign up right after checking with Cnet Asia web, despite AIS telling me my phone may not work.

Kirk Davis said...

Hi Den - so how have you found the service overall? Any problems with voice-quality (on the normal GSM network)? Did you do any speed testing on your phone using 3G?

For some reason, when using the AIS sim, the voice-quality at my condo is horrible, even though my phone shows full signal strength.

I've only played with the 3G inside Paragon, although I'm hoping they roll it out across the city soon. Until then, I'm sticking with DTAC.

Den said...

Kirk, I'm not quite sure about the voice quality on your sim because mine seems to work well compared to DTAC or TRUE, guess it's because I'm in the CBD areas most of the time anyway.

Oh, by the way, my sim is the original sim I have used since I first signed up with AIS 8 years ago so I could tell that 3G works on old sims.

For 3G part, only 2 locations seem very silly for the whole service. However, it still works for me because I'm lucky to be visiting the places often and the change from my old plan that charges by minutes to the new one that charges by data doesn't materially cost me more.

I only use my mobile to read news, check emails and check sport scores, stuff like these don't really need blazing-speed internet.

In terms of speed, I don't have any testing applications on my mobile, just lazy to find one for my Symbian UIQ phone. But I could tell from my feeling that it's much faster than GPRS (2G) because I don't have EDGE (2.5G) on my phone so the jump is noticeable.

The obvious change from 2G to 3G can be seen from the lesser time it took to load and start showing pictures when I opened my Picasa web albums.

It's a pity I couldn't do that anywhere but the 2 places we already know.

Before I forget to mention, the transition from 2G to 3G on my P1i Symbian UIQ phone isn't as complicated as yours.
It works quite the same way as when it connects to the internet using GPRS with no setup required at all.

I could only tell that the phone makes the switch to 3G network when the speed of browsing increases.

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