My pre-trip planning routine always consists of determining who will be the carrier of choice for my voice and data needs during my travels. For short-term travel this is often roaming with my home carrier (Rogers Wireless) however for long-term travel it’s always a local carrier. This is often a reasonably quick process where I scour a few forums, read a few reviews, review coverage maps and network speeds then cross-check everything with the carriers website. I do this in advance for efficiency as trying to find an answer to these questions once on the ground is typically very [very] difficult. I’m currently in Thailand where the main carriers are: DTAC, AIS, and Truemove and my pre-trip research indicated AIS (the countries largest carrier) would be my best option—not so true. After traveling around the country for two weeks with devices on two of these carriers, my research (and multiple online resources) led me in the wrong direction. Here’s what I learned:
AIS Does Offer Superb Coverage—Just Horrible 3G
We have traveled from Bangkok up to the North and down to the South and the only time I recall spotty AIS signal was at the Elephant Nature Park just outside of Chiang Mai. Other than that, I’ve always had 2G Voice and Data services (meaning clear phone calls and slow Internet speeds). On tourist-centric Koh San Road in Bangkok, my phone would almost always revert to 2G even though I was supposed to have 3G service. Forcing 3G would often result in no data at all which is an indication of network congestion. AIS also seems to offer the lowest call rates in the country—a bonus for the locals and travellers alike. If you care about 3G coverage though, this is not the best choice as I found out.
Truemove Is Best For Data
One interesting observation from our travels around the country is that Public Wi-Fi is far more developed here than any other country I’ve visited. In fact, aside from Koh Tao, we have yet to visit a city where there was no Truemove (carrier) Wi-Fi. The benefit here is that you can subscribe to a 2GB data package, and receive unlimited data access through Truemove’s Wi-Fi access points which in some cases offered me speeds of 40-60Mbps (up and down). Without a plan through Truemove, I’d have no access to this network. This is the first reason that justifies choosing Truemove over the rest. The second is 3G coverage. Everywhere we have been—even in the middle of islands on a ferry—I have had fast 3G service through Truemove. While the data is a bit more expensive (900 Baht gives you 5GB vs 7GB through AIS), the Wi-Fi access and coverage makes up for that.
Locals Vote AIS, Internet Votes AIS, I Vote Truemove
The overwhelming consensus among locals is that AIS is best. One local, carrying an iPhone, went so far as to tell me that AIS was “faster” than the rest. I could only assume he meant data and Internet speeds however he couldn’t be more wrong. With two devices in hand, my tests show that Truemove 3G is far superior in terms of coverage and the added bonus of Wi-Fi access almost anywhere is huge. Next time I’d sooner have slightly more expensive voice services yet have Truemove 3G coverage on both devices. As I write this, I am in Koh Tao (only place we’ve been without Truemove Wi-Fi in range of our guest house) and have a phone on AIS with 2G service and a hotspot on Truemove with 3G service. It’s also worth noting that Truemove is one of the leading Internet Service Providers in Thailand which may help to explain why Truemove offers better data services.
For those that are interested in knowing what data-enabled devices I travel with:
Phone: Nexus 4 on AIS
Hotspot: ZTE-MF80 on True
Hotspot 2: ZTE-MF60 on True
Tablet: Nexus 7 3G on Wi-Fi
Laptop: Macbook Air 11″
Note: I did not test DTAC during my travels. My research led me to believe that service would be comparable to DTAC. If you have experience with DTAC, I’d love to hear about it.
What has your experience been with the Thai mobile carriers? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!