Thailand’s Best Cellular Service Provider? It’s Not What You Think.

Truemove vs AIS vs DTAC

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:

Test Devices
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!

 

  16 comments for “Thailand’s Best Cellular Service Provider? It’s Not What You Think.

  1. gabi
    December 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks man, my vacation will start tomorrow and my biggest “fear” is to run out of internet connection for useful things like maps, translate or food recommendations.

  2. December 31, 2014 at 10:50 am

    thank you, this was very helpful.

  3. December 31, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Agree about AIS, i am since man years a so.called platinum serenaded.member which means not a lot more than free.coffee in ais shops, internet I pay for my package about.1020 baht a month which also includes 250 sms and 315 minutes calls , I complain every day with ais speed test tells me everywhere slow slow slow , boring , the 3 G speed is nothing.more than a word , it just not.works, thanks for the info on this website , I guess I will step to DTAC where.I have a.prepaid number.I am Dutch and to.inform.All the world.about a third number is to much, lousy internet AIS nothing more

  4. January 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for the tip. It was just as I suspected :) Going to head over to the nearest 7-11 now.

  5. Elizabeth Murphy
    January 26, 2015 at 2:48 am

    Very useful info- thanks
    When you say you have a 2gb subscription-is this pay as you go?

    E.g. 7/11s sell true tourist 3g data sim cards pay as you go.

    data is less important for me- want to be able to do calls.

    What would you suggest in terms of plans.subscriptions/cards.

    Also, I need to buy a phone -just have a 500 baht samsung for now.

    what would you suggest?
    I don’t want to pay over 4 or 5000 baht for the phone.

  6. Joe
    April 25, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Hi Ryan,

    Good info. I’ve just retired in Thailand and used AIS for almost a year. It seemed OK never great. Have a 799 per month with 12Gb internet plan that was sold as 3 months. Now find out it’s only one month.

    Just renewed yesterday. Not getting more than .43 to .47 up or down. I see Truemove hot spots that look like they have a strong signal from my condo in Samut Prakan 20 minutes outside Bangkok.

    Truemove is sounding pretty good right now. I’m wondering if it pays to get a data plan only then renew next time and keep the AIS for calls. Man it was much simpler in San Diego. However loving being retired here.

    Ciao,
    Joe

  7. May 4, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    Ryan,

    I hadn’t heard of Truemove before, but when I talked to local guy here in Chiang Mai, he confirmed what you’re saying, how that the city-wide wi-fi makes it the best choice. Thanks for the tips.

    R

  8. Kati
    July 5, 2015 at 8:13 am

    I believe True Move is the fastest. After many years of experience

    • Phongpanot
      October 10, 2015 at 6:08 am

      This network starts to be slower these days…

  9. Ben
    October 16, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    AIS sucks for data, True sucks for phone, DTAC offers the better balance now. I went from AIS to True, my wife dual SIM now, she uses DTAC for Internet and better phone coverage and dropped True

    • Ryan Kononoff
      November 26, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      Thanks for posting this Ben—this is a great update for our readers!

  10. kucingkura
    December 8, 2015 at 2:34 am

    Hi,
    Perhaps this link could give a more thorough comparison.

    http://beachmeter.com/guide-which-thai-mobile-phone-company-should-you-use/

    They have a map from http://opensignal.com/
    that show the strength of each operator in Thailand.

    cheers.

    • Ryan Kononoff
      December 8, 2015 at 8:04 am

      Thanks for sharing the link Kucingkura—that’s a very helpful guide and should assist some of our readers as well as myself on my next visit.

  11. Frank Goetz
    October 24, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    I agree on Truemove. I’ve had their card for about 6 years now, and there is always 3G coverage. The speed is good, although I did nottest it in an objective way, it’s just a feeling :-)
    My girlfriend uses AIS, and she has some issues when it comes to coverage.

  12. KhunSuk
    March 4, 2017 at 6:11 am

    AIS .. I could not be more happy.

    Wherever I go I have all time 4G (LTE)
    (fast internet is mandatory, till 3 years ago I had in parallel form other providers SIM cards with me)

    I’m living in Bkk, but very frequently I have to travel to the country side (mainly Korat, Prachin,etc) even on a deserted Rice field I have fast Internet.
    Furthermore every couple of month to the beaches … Rayong, Chanthabury and Koh Chang.

    About speed: in generell between 5-7Mbps

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