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Phuket Live Wire: Landing that special connection

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PHUKET: In the past five editions of Live Wire, I’ve been talking about the things you need to consider if you want to get a good internet connection in Phuket. Believe me, it ain’t easy. I’m moving to Kathu shortly, and the kinds of problems I’m having are no doubt indicative of the kinds you’ll have, the next time you need a new internet connection – or you get fed up with your current package.

Two weeks ago, I talked about getting a wireless “3G” service for phones, tablets, and even for your computer. I also talked about setting up most phones so that they hook into the 3G network, then let computers connect to the internet over the phone, using a standard WiFi connection. The process is called “tethering” and it’s very simple if your phone or tablet supports it.

The main problem? 3G connections have data caps – some allow you to download 4 or 5 GB of data in a month before they cut the speed way back. Some 3G packages cap out at 1 GB (roughly 1 GB = 1 hour of high definition TV or movies). While the packages are “unlimited” in the sense that you’ll always be able to get data, going over the limit will have you thinking you’re back in the 1990s.

Last week, I pontificated with six Laws of Land Lines: Use 3G instead of a land line if your data needs aren’t very great; never get one land line, get two; it’s impossible to predict if your land line is going to be fast and reliable; the price you pay for a land line may have no bearing whatsoever on the speed (or reliability) that you see; the technician won’t show up when you expect; and, quite demonstrably, times are changing.

Just this past week I discovered that 3BB is starting to build out its fiber network in Phuket.

4G is coming to Bangkok (but, no, that “4G” phone you have doesn’t run 4G, no matter what the salesman told you). A great line now may be tomorrow’s old news – both because existing lines get slower with age, and because newer technology is always just around the corner.

This week I talk about getting – or trying to get – a land line. If you rely on the internet to work, stay in touch with family and friends, look up TV or movie schedules, do schoolwork, just keep peace with the kids, or download movies (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln, Silver Linings) or TV shows (House of Cards, Community, Breaking Bad) that aren’t playing in Thailand, you should always get two landlines, from two completely different companies.

I tend to think of landline internet service in Thailand as falling into three major categories.

First, the ultra-premium internet services have the potential to work faster than the other services – with a price tag to match. TOT Fiber 2U is the original fiber optic service on the island. CAT also has a fiber service, that isn’t as widely known, called ON Net.

I was very surprised to discover last week that 3BB has also entered the fiber fray with a new FTTH service. (“FTTH” is geekspeak for “Fiber To The Home”), operated in conjunction with Jasmine’s JAS. The flyer for 3BB FTTH says it can run at 1,000 Mbps – about 200 times faster than the fastest fiber line I’ve ever tested in Phuket – although it’s comparable to the new fiber network built by Google in Kansas City. I suggest you take that 3BB speed claim with several truckloads of salt. The 30 Mbps rated 3BB FTTH service is currently only available in some condos in Phuket Town, but I put my name on a waiting list, to see when they expand the service to Kathu. I haven’t yet seen any speed reports for FTTH.

I would also place True’s DOCSIS system in the ultra-premium category. Since it’s based on coax cable – just like Cable TV – it has the potential to run very quickly, but it isn’t available all over the island. And that’s precisely the problem with the ultra-premium lines: the companies selling the services all tend to run lines to the same locations.

If you live in their catchment area, you have many choices. If you live in an older neighborhood, like mine, there’s very little chance, unless you can convince the
powers that be of the economic viability of stringing a line.

True’s Fiber 2U at a listed 10 Mbps (which currently runs about 1 to 1.5 Mbps or less; see phuketinternetspeed.com) costs 1,000 baht per month (all prices are plus VAT). CAT’s 20 Mbps runs 1,500 baht per month. 3BB’s nominal 30 Mbps is 1,200 baht per month. True’s DOCSIS 15 Mbps (I wouldn’t get the slower lines) is 899 baht per month.

Of the group, my first choice would be True DOCSIS 15 Mbps. I’ve used DOCSIS before – two of the Sandwich Shoppes run DOCSIS lines – and they’ve been reasonably fast and cheap. People I know who use True Fiber 2U are vocal in their complaints. CAT and 3BB are new to me, although CAT’s old Fiber line, years ago, wasn’t very impressive.

Second is a group that I would call Premium ADSL. All of the major ADSL providers – TOT, True, CAT, 3BB – offer packages that are deemed to be faster than the typical garden-variety ADSL. True’s nominal 16 Mbps line costs 1,399 baht per month. CAT’s HiNet 16 Mbps is 1,490 baht per month. TOT’s 8-10 Mbps line is 650 baht per month, and if you want a faster line, they point you to the 15 Mbps Fiber 2U package, at 1,290 baht per month. 3BB’s 16 Mbps runs at 1,490 baht per month. Premium ADSL packages are available just about everywhere on the island.

These packages are in a strange middle ground: the companies are trying to squeeze more baht out of the older ADSL technology, but it isn’t at all clear if they’re delivering speeds that are significantly faster than the cheap lines.

Which brings me to… the cheap ADSL lines. TOT’s 6-7 Mbps line, 3BB’s 10 Mbps line, CAT’s 10 Mbps line, and True’s 10 Mbps line all run at just under 600 baht per month. For the life of me, I haven’t found one to be particularly faster or more reliable than all the others – and none of them come close to 10 Mbps for international download speeds. Typically they all run one-tenth to one-twentieth of the rated speed.

There’s one little ‘gotcha’ that’s worth keeping in mind when you talk with friends about their internet lines, or look at the numbers at phuketinternetspeed.com: all of the internet service providers in Phuket will automatically, and with no notification, put customers in higher, faster packages, without raising the price.

For example, I have a True 10 Mbps line – which I started three years ago – which is now comparable to the True 16 Mbps line. I have a feeling they switched that package without telling me.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, there’s no reliable way to tell which package you’re really using, without visiting the service provider and asking. Even then, I wouldn’t bet that the answer you get is correct.

Starting this month, a German-language group will hold informal computer clinics at the Sandwich Shoppe in Patong on Sunday mornings, at 11am. Sehr gut!

Our regular weekly computer clinic roundtables continue every Sunday morning, 10am at the Sandwich Shoppe, Chalong. If you have a Windows problem that needs to be solved, or a question about internet service in Phuket, drop by and ask one of the assembled gurus. It’s always free. Sponsored by the Phuket Gazette and Khun Woody’s Sandwich Shoppes.

Live Wire is Woody Leonhard’s weekly s

— Woody Leonhard

 

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