Saturday, November 3, 2007

Mobile Phones In Thailand

Many travelers will be able to use the mobile phones from their home countries. However, its a bit more tricky for Americans. There are a lot of differences between US cellular networks and the rest of the world. Thailand primarily uses GSM based cell phones. If your cell provider in the US is Sprint, Nextel, or Verizon, you are out of luck. These networks use a cellular technology known as CDMA. However, if your phone is on the Cingular, AT&T, T-Mobile, or other networks, you may be in luck. The first thing to check is whether your cell phone requires a SIM card to operate. If your US cell phone requires a SIM card, most likely it is a GSM based phone.

The next thing you will need to know, are the "bands" your phone supports. The US GSM networks operate on the 1900 MHz and the 850 MHz networks, while Thailand (like most of the world) uses 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. So, if you happen to have what is known as a "Tri-band", "Quad-Band" phone, that means in addition to the two US bands, your cell phone also supports one or both of the international bands as well. Sometimes these phones are also labeled as "world phones".

So, once you have determined that you A.) have a GSM-based phone with a SIM card, and B.) your phone supports international frequency bands, you now must unlock your phone. US cellular providers employ a dubious practice of "locking" your phone. This means that in addition to all the name branding they stamp and load all over your phone, they also prevent that phone from working on any other cell provider's network than theirs. The easiest way to get your phone unlocked is to call your provider and tell then that you are traveling overseas and will need to use a local SIM chip while there. Depending on how nicely you ask, the operators current mood, etc, they will provide you with a series of codes that you need to enter into your phone to unlock it. If for some reason they refuse, just hang up, call back later, and try your luck with another operator. Your other option is to Google search for somebody that can unlock it for you over the Internet. This service usually costs approximately $20-$30.

Now, when you arrive in Thailand, go to 7-11 or Jay-Mart and ask for a 1-2-Call SIM and also prepaid minutes. If you go when they aren't to busy and ask nicely, most of the time the store clerk will activate it for you and add the minutes for you. The phone minute rates are very reasonable... even for calling back to the US!

If you prefer to buy a cell phone in Thailand, the de facto place to visit is the 4th floor of the MBK mall. There are literally thousands of new and used cell phones for sell at very very reasonable prices. Most of the mobile phone vendors don't show up until after 11 AM, so don't show up too early. Also remember that bargaining is a way of life, so don't be scared to shop around and bargain for the phone that catches your eye. Another thing to bear in mind, is that the large majority of the phones for sell are Single or Dual-band only. This means that your new phone on your US cellular provider's network back home.

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