Internet Access in South East Asia

14 Nov

Working at a cafe

Since 100% of our income comes through the internet, having access to it (the internet) has always been a huge priority for us on our travels.

Yes, there have been days where we have gone without it, but for the most part, we have had a “decent” connection wherever we went. Overall – in South East Asia – we found free “WiFi” to be more readily available than we did anywhere in the USA or Canada. Then again, most people in the West who would make use of it have overpriced data-plans that give them access to the internet everywhere anyway. So I guess, when it comes down to it, there isn’t a big demand for “free” internet in the West.

Talking to my friends back home, they always assume that the internet here in Asia must be terribly expensive. When I tell them that I paid $50 USD per month for a fiber-optic connection* in our rental house in Krabi, Thailand, they say things like “I bet it is insanely slow” or “You get what you pay for” etc, but nothing could be further from the truth.

*NOTE: As I write this, a fiber optic connection is probably one of the most advanced & most expensive internet connections in the world and is generally unavailable for personal use.

I paid $150 per month for my business connection in Canada (it was the best they had at the time) and though it was good, it was no fiber-optic (it was up to 100Mb/s download speed) and worst of all, they put a cap on how much bandwidth I was allowed to use per month. Of course I had to pay extra when/if I exceeded that limit.

None of that BS with my fiber-optic connection in Krabi. It was FAST, it was UNLIMITED, and it was AFFORDABLE.

I no longer care to have the “BEST” speeds and connections, because I really don’t need it anymore. My business has evolved enough over the years that I can run it through simple web pages which can be loaded even on a slow connection.

Anyway, here is my “internet” experience by country (in no particular order).

China:
We were in Beijing for a couple of days and though I cannot speak much for the availability of “free internet” in public areas (we weren’t there long enough), I will say that everything you do there goes through a SLOW government filter. Meaning, if you try to load a website, someone with a badge pre-checks the site to make sure it does not contain anything controversial towards their country, government, leaders, etc.

This means some sites will not work at all. Facebook being one of them. Blogger and Hotmail were among the many other ones that just did not load for us. This drastically limits what you can do online, but what is most annoying is that – as a result of the “censorship” going on – everything loads at an incredibly slow speed.

All in all, should I ever go back to China, I would do my best to stay away from the internet while there. Just not worth the headache and frustration!

Thailand:
When it comes to internet speeds, Thailand has some of the best we have seen. Sure, some places that offer “free WiFi”  have dozens of tourists taking advantage of it – which ends up dragging down the overall speed of that particular connection – but all in all, I find the internet pretty good in most towns and cities – even if it is a free connection.

If you have a mobile device (we have an iPhone and iPad), you have the option of purchasing a sim-card as well. You can buy these at most 7-Elevens and they give you an instant connection in places where free WiFi is not available. We have done that a time or two and it is fairly good and fairly cheap as well.

Working at Starbucks

We just sat down at Starbucks in Chiang Mai. Tried connecting like we had done before, but it told us we needed to buy a username and password to gain access. It would have cost us 150 Baht per day ($5 USD) or 300 Baht for 30 days ($10 USD). We can see ourselves coming back here often for the next few weeks so I purchased the 30 day option and hooked up all our devices to it. It works great – at great speeds too. I guess it helps when there are not too many freebie seekers leaching off of it 🙂

The only problem with it though is that we are limited to “Starbucks” coffee shops around the country to be able to tap in to that paid-for-network, but we both enjoy working at Starbucks so it really is not an issue for us.

Anyway, when it comes to internet connections (among other things), Thailand is an internet marketers dream come true.

Malaysia:
One of the great surprises in Penang, Malaysia, was how we had a free WiFi connection throughout most of the historic part of the city. Something like that is unheard of back in North America.
Free WiFi is also available in many coffee shops and all hotels and guesthouses we went to in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Cameron Highlands. The only thing we hated about the Malaysian internet connection, was the speed (or lack thereof).

If all you need internet for, is to check your emails once a day, you will do just fine in Malaysia as well.

Indonesia:
Similarly to Malaysia, our Indonesian internet experience was painful. All places we were at had decent WiFi,  but things just would not load.

We rented a villa in Bali, which was absolutely breathtaking, but the internet was SLOW – even though it was our own connection and wasn’t shared with anyone.

I attempted to upload a short 4 minute video I had made, and it took me 9 hours before it was finally uploaded all the way.

I would say it was worse even then Malaysia (for internet speed) but then again: who in the right mind would go to Bali to spend all their time there on the internet? No one I know 😀

Two adapters in one outlet charging three devices

How we charged 3 devices from 1 outlet at Singapore Airport

Laos:
We were in Luang Prabang for 2 weeks and in Vientiane for about one week. Both cities had plenty of places to get free internet from, but the frustrating thing there (for us) was not that the internet was slow (though it was at times), but more the fact that it would get interrupted every so often.

I think it would be safe to say that the speed was alright, but the connections overall were very unreliable.

In conclusion…
I will update this page as we travel to more countries in Asia (or as my findings change). From what I have gathered so far, internet is readily available in Asia, but don’t expect the world unless you are ready to pay for it as well.

Considering how much we have paid for internet while on the road, I will say: I really cannot complain. I have always gotten done what I needed to get done – even if it took a little longer then it would back home – or on my Thai fiber-optic connection 😉

7 thoughts on “Internet Access in South East Asia

  1. Hi, I’m moving to Krabi soon and would really appreciate some pointers on how to get the fiber optic connection set up; where to go and who to talk to?

    Thanks

    • Hi Ravi,

      Congrats. I’m jealous!

      We simply talked to the Landlord and he had it arranged for us. Trying to remember the name of the company it was through – I believe it was called CAT. Never had an issue with them and found them to be very reasonably priced.

      I hope the helps,

      Konrad

  2. Hi, can i ask you how did you rent your house? Did you find it on the internet or some agency in Krabi town? Im looking for some long term rentals with optic fibre internet in Krabi town. But all im finding out are expensive hotels and apartmans on Ao nang beach. Thank you ;]….btw whats the monthly prize of your house in Krabi, if you can tell me ;]

    • Hi Sarka,
      We tried looking on our own at first but because everything is in a “foreign to us” language, we couldn’t even recognize for rent signs. So we found a local agent (Rasamee) who helped us find the place. We looked at a bunch of different apartments etc but really liked the townhouse she showed us… which is the one we ended up renting for 11,000 THB/mth… which at the time worked out to be about $360 USD per month.
      I hope that helps,
      Konrad

  3. Awesome post, so helpful and I’m sure I will find it useful on my future trip to Asia! I am a “digital nomad” and will be needing a high-speed internet connection for a weekly Skype meeting with clients, do you know if it would be easy to purchase one for this use throughout SE Asia? I’m hoping that at least hotel rooms would have the option for this…Thanks in advance!

    Cheers.
    Lorena

    • Depending on where you go in Asia, Internet is readily available. Thailand has got to be the best/cheapest when it comes to getting highspeed data via SIM cards though.
      Personally, I tether my laptop off of my cellphone when coffee shop internet connections get overwhelmed. Cellphone data is incredibly cheap and yet incredibly fast. Should be more than enough to make your calls from.
      Konrad

  4. Speed INSIDE Malaysia is actually getting better. 100Mbps is easily to get. Even in the middle of the forest we have 4G with 100+ Mbps and with the optical internet being expanded into all territories home internet is getting fast as well.

    BUT all the internet goes to censorship servers in KL. They filter everything there which slows internet very much. To Europe, Japan, USA even with a 100+ Mbps you can get 20Mbps tops.

    To Russia it WAS even worse! Recently I’m getting 90+ Mbps to Russia. All of the sudden they changed the routing to Russia. Which is good.

    Basic problem is upstream. If you want to send data from Malaysia to the outside world 10Mbps is about the best you can get. So if you send videos to your family or want to start an internet business in Malaysia, you can forget about that.

    But it is getting better, much better. Every year progress is being made.

    And we have to be honest, Malaysia doesn’t have the population density and geography for fast internet rollout. It’s not like Singapore, Hong Kong, China etc where vast regions you can extend your internet and with every km you hit thousands of customers paying you back your investments.

    In Malaysia you extend your fiber internet by 10km and reach 100-500 more people.. So it’ll take time.

    Btw this also applies to the USA. And Russia and other countries where the population is located in small areas but 90% of the country has low density. It’s normal you can’t just build internet everywhere and get back the investment fast if there’s low population density.

    Investing 30km optical internet for example can cost between 1.5 and 5 million depending on geography. That’s just the main cable! The PoP and FTTB or FTTH can add another 5000 USD per household. So if you can reach let’s say 25.000 households with 50km cables that can add up to 40 Million of investments.On interests that’s easily 500.000 a year if you can get your investment capital extremely cheap. Usually 5% is more realistic thus 2.5 Million per year, or 200.000 a month. Consider the maintenance and upkeep costs of repairmen, power supply, etc. you’re easily talking 1.000.000 a year. By 25.000 households that’s 40 a year without paying back the investment.

    Of course we want to make profit with the investment meaning we gotta pay off the investment. Let’s say the break even point we set at 3 years, a lot of companies these days would consider 3 years already a medium risk investment. 1 year is a low risk investment with lower interests and 7 years a high risk investment usually either hard to find investors or at extreme interests rates.

    So let’s go for the medium 3 years. That’s 12 Million a year. by 25.000 households meaning 3.500 USD a year. Per month 300 USD

    So the total would be 340 USD a month for each household. Rest assured in Malaysia no one will pay that. In the USA maybe 10% of the households would pay that.

    If you put the real numbers into perspective you start to understand economy and investments.

    Now if you take Singapore, or a country like the Netherlands or the east coast of China or New York, yes there you invest 40.000.000 USD and easily reach 500.000 households with your investment.

    instead of 340 USD a month we’re now talking something around 20 USD a month. So I charge you 40USD a month and can pay off the investment quickly before new technology comes and ruins my investment.

    See how population density and geographic situation can make an investment worth or “won’t happen”

    For example the German Telekom in Germany says every investment that doesn’t make profit within 12 months isn’t worth it. That’s why they for many years refused to provide fiber internet to the people. Another company Deutsche Glasfaser was prepared for a long term investment 12 years as securing investment capital instead of making huge profit. Kinda like parking excess of money from investors for long term stable income from interest rates. So they could rollout fiber internet where Telekom couldn’t because Telekom belongs to the German government and they want quickly a lot of money for the social welfare state. ASAP & AMAP

    BUT, when DG started to rollout massively and everywhere they came over 80% of the population left Telekom and went to DG, Telekom ruled and run by socialist politicians had 2 options: Telekom and Socialist profit going bankrupt and 0 income for the welfare receivers OR raising taxes in a country where taxes already between 65% and 85% thus highly unpopular OR forget about the short sighted high profits and start rolling out FTTH and FTTB as well and accept the break even takes many years and not just 12 months.

    SO it’s also market situation of course. Population density & geography basically set the minimum pricing BUT market situation actually forces you, or not, to go for short term or long term investments.

    So it’s really complex and you can’t simply just compare countries. You have to factorize everything.

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