Telephones


Dialing rules (domestic and internat'l)

Getting an ordinary landline     Mobile Phones

EMERGENCY numbers     Commonly used #'s    

Phonebooks     Internet phonebook

Using public payphones
Placing international calls
Rates schedules
Free calls via Internet?
Pagers


Dialing Rules

All telephone numbers in Thailand are 9-digit for landlines and 10-digit for mobile phones, starting in late 2005, as they were previously 6, 7 or 8 digit.

Before 2001, all local phone numbers in Bangkok were 7-digit, XXX-XXXX, whereas most province phones were six-digit, usually in the format XXX-XXX. Starting in 2001, all numbers must be dialed with their area code in front, which means all numbers were 9-digit. (Mobiles were already 9-digit.) Then, in late 2005, all mobile phone numbers required an extra 8 be added, so that they started with 08-XXXX-XXXX (or many people write it as 08X-XXX-XXXX, same thing).

As part of this 21st century update, all domestic phone numbers start with a zero. It seems rather redundant, but it's just the way it is...

If you are outside Thailand and dialing into Thailand, then you drop the leading zero. For example, to all my office inside Thailand, you call 02-960-0556, but to call it from overseas you call +66-2-960-0556. (Before the + you just put your country's international direct dial prefix.)

Therefore, if you see old road signs or have an old personal phone book showing numbes with less than 9 digits, then you know that you need to figure out the translation to the new number.

You can still tell where someone is located, and whether landline or mobile, by the phone number. Bangkok numbers start with 02. Mobiles start with 08. All others are provincial numbers outside Bangkok.

... except some special emergency 3-digit numbers, and some commercial 4-digit numbers like when dialing for food delivery.

International calls are dialed using 001-country code or 008- or 009-country code. For example, to Australia, country code 65, it's 001-65-[city]-[local] and for the US it's 001-1-[areacode]-[number] ... or, more recently, you can dial 009-65-[city]-[local] for Australia, and for the US 009-1-[areacode]-[number]

There are different networks going out. Many years ago, you had only 001-. Later, with cost cutting technologies, came the 007-, 008- and 009- circuits. It has not been consistent which one works. Sometimes 008- works with my DTAC mobile phone, sometimes not, so I try another one and eventually one works.

True now encourages 006- for its international IDD calling service.

(Two exceptions might be Malaysia and Laos. I was told by an authoritative source that Malaysia is reached by dialing 09+ and Laos is reached by dialing 007-856+ (notably, 856 is the country code for Laos), but these have not worked for me, but 008- or another prefix above does work, as if dialing any other country.)

To get an international operator for assistance, dial 110.

In Bangkok, you are charged 3 baht per call to a local landline number, and allowed unlimited time for that flat fee. (Sometimes you are charged more by apartment buildings.) In the provinces, you pay by the minute, so don't be inconsiderate when you use the phone of a friend in the provinces. Calling some major Internet service providers in the province is an exception, whereby they just charge you for one 3 baht call.

Calling a mobile phone from a landline typically costs 3 baht per minute regardless of your location, and the minimum is 3 baht.

Mobile-to-mobile call charges vary depending on what plan you have, including 1 to 3 baht per minute, or a certain number of free minutes per month, and so on.

The lowest rates for domestic long distance landline calls are 10pm to 7am. You can get a lower rate than standard by dialing 1234+number in order to use a new data switching network.

International Calls

How to dial an international number is explained in the section above.

You may be billed separately for international vs. local calls, with a bill from CAT separate from your regular phone bill. There is a quasi-monopoly international call provider, the Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT), which provides the international links. There are three domestic phone companes -- the original monopoly TOT (Telephone Organization of Thailand) for Bangkok, TT&T for the provinces (shared with TOT), and True (formerly Telecom Asia) for Bangkok. This gets confusing when TOT and True share billing services whereby they bill for each other!

Then there are the four mobile phone operators.

Let me give you an example of my experiences. This is November 2007. I pick up my TOT phone in my Bangkok central business district office and try to make a call to the USA. I dial and after awhile, I get a busy signal. Same for several numbers. It's a normal busy signal, nothing that sounds unusual. Well, I know the old monopoly TOT has terrible service, but my new office building finished in 2006 has only TOT lines ... so I had no choice. It fails on 001+, on 008+, and on 009+.

Never mind, I just pick up my mobile phone, and all the phone numbers ring thru on my first try.

I have two mobile phones. One is with DTAC, whereby the only way I get a working outside line is 008+. They told me I could save with 007+ but it always gives me that aforementioned "normal" busy signal. Call again with 008+ and it goes thru to ring. If I call with the normal old 001+ then I get a message saying "international calls are not permitted" (which comes in English after a long message in Thai). However, I have a second phone using a new SIM card I just bought off the street, with the company AIS, a competitor to DTAC. I just dial the overseas number by 001- and it rings, no problem, no hassle, and the connection is fine. So, what works with one mobile phone doesn't necessarily work with another, and can be quite a different experience.

International calls are significantly more expensive when originated from Thailand than when originated from most industrialized countries, so if it's family or friends, then it's better if they call you (though, of course, I'm not sure the savings are worth the hassle to arrange that). Off-peak schedules vary by country, and are not the same as off-peak domestically. Thailand is in the +7 GMT time zone.

You make an international call by dialing 001-countrycode-etc. For example, to call Australia, country code 61, you would dial 001-61-phonenumber, and to call Washington, D.C., country code 1, area code 202, you dial 001-1-202-xxx-xxxx. Same for the alternative 007-, 008- or 009-.

"Domestic" calls include Malaysia and Laos. Since I've never called either one, I don't know the details of this and would appreciate user input.

If you cannot make an international call from your landline, then you may need to acquire access to international dialing, after putting down a sizeable deposit on your landline. To do so, contact the Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT), or better yet, get a calling card (see below).

In general, the Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT) handles local calls and the CAT handles international calls. In between, it gets complicated, and you should consult the phone books for details. Telecom Asia (TA) has also been given a concession, and can bring a phone line into your home or office.

[Old, maybe not current:] Australians can get a variety of discount services using Telstra. They're located near Shinawatra, at:

Telsta Corporation Limited
IBM Building, 16th Floor
388 Pahonyothin Rd.
Bangkok

Tel: 273-0663
Fax: 273-0662

[Old, probably no longer available:] Another way to make international calls is to buy phone cards, which you can get at 7-11 stores, bookstores and many other places. You scrape off the coating on the back which hides your secret code until after purchase. You can use this card from anyone's landline or mobile phone. It's good for the amount bought. For example, if you buy a 500 baht card, then you can continue to make calls until the 500 baht credit is used up. Rates vary by country and there is usually a rate sheet that comes with the card.

In fact, I disable international long distance capability on my telephones, so that nobody can possibly run up my bill on the sly. It also saves me the hassle of paying another bill.

However, the CAT calling cards are dreadful. They don't tell you anywhere on the card or in the voice instructions that you must dial 009 to get a line going out of the country. 009 is a new access code, as it was always 001 before. Therefore, many people buy these cards and end up in confusion, throwing them away unused, just money tossed. Adding insult to injury, the voice instructions quickly alternate between soft & difficult to hear and top volume blasting your eardrums out. The project manager and QA team should be fired.

Internet Phone

Internet phone is the cheapest for international calls, but it is technically illegal in Thailand. It's something people install themselves onto their computer, something called "Voice Over Internet Protocol", or VOIP. It's been openly advertised at internet cafes for years. For people who don't have a computer, some companies sell a VOIP box which goes in-between the telephone and the wall receptacle. There are all kinds of behind-the-scenes deals going on between VOIP businesspeople, internet service providers, and government officials, racing for this imminently huge market.

How can I get my own ordinary landline telephone or mobile phone?

In Thailand, there are only two companies that bring landlines to your home: The Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT) (www.tot.or.th) is a quasi-governmental, "privately owned" company that generally installs landline telephones and infrastructure in Bangkok and the provinces. It was the one and only telephone company in Thailand until the early 1990s when Telecom Asia was granted a concession. (Rumor has it that poor service from TOT led to the government introducing competition. However, I find TOT's quality of service to be better in key ways.)

Telecom Asia (TA), (a href="http://www.telecomasia.co.th">www.telecomasia.co.th) has around 2005 merged with a new entity, True, which also provides broadband and other services.

Some people have said that if you want a new phone line, then to go with Telecom Asia because they are better. This is not entirely accurate, from my experience. NEW phone lines brought out by either company are practically the same. Because TOT has been around for tens of years longer than TA, the existing phone lines of TOT are on average older and thus not as modern. That does not mean that new phone lines of either company are better than the other. If you move into an old place and need a new phone line, you can order from either entity.

As a computer communications consultant from day 1 of stepping in the Kingdom, I have had a lot of experiences with both companies. I've had good and bad experiences with both companies. However, I can say that in the early years, TOT service personnel treated me better, showed better expertise, and delivered more reliable phone lines. (When TA started operating in Thailand, they needed staff which TOT provided. Whether those staff were superachievers who strove for new horizons, or whether those staff were the runts which TOT wanted to get rid off by shifting them over to their competitors, is something which has been speculated about at various times.)

Since True took over from Telecom Asia, the quality of service dramatically improved, and I've usually had even better service from True than either company before. However, True has had its times of slow response time due to overloaded staff.

Both entities offer services such as remote call forwarding, caller ID, and other fancy things.

If you get caller ID, then buy either a TOT brand or a Solomon brand of phone, because the Caller ID works perfectly with those two. Do not buy a Fujitel, because I bought two and neither one worked well about caller ID.

Finally, I don't want to bore you with Thailand's telephone system history, but let me say that any advice you get about telephones should be up to date. Stories from just a few years ago are usually not valid any more.

(Going further back, to when I arrived in 1994, it took a long time to get a phone line installed. Now it's usually there in a few days. Secondly, in 1994, you often couldn't even call down the street because the circuits were overloaded. It was quicker to communicate by jumping on a motorcycle and going there in person. "Sneaker net". And don't even get me started about "internet" back then... (it was illegal to set up a competitor to CAT, but the CAT system didn't work...

(A guy named Thaksin Shinawatra started a mobile phone company called AIS in the early 1990s, and it was the solution for so many of us. "Forget landlines, get a mobile phone, it works well!" Mobile phones were big back then, and you had to wear them on your belt like guns because no way would they fit in a pocket. As mobile phones were not yet trendy, some of us looked like we were out of a SciFi movie. Thaksin was appreciated as Mr. Solutions. A decade later, he was Prime Minister. But then thrown out in a coup due to corruption.)

Domestic Calls

In Bangkok, the cost of making a local phone call is 3 baht per call. There is no per minute charge. Outside of Bangkok, there is a charge per minute, except when calling some provincial Internet service providers. Calling a mobile phone costs more, as discussed in another section above.

The authoritarian Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT)

The name of one of the most loathed organizations in Thailand is the Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT) (www.cat.or.th). The CAT is a government body that authorizes all telephone infrastructure activity, as well as post offices. They are NOT the ones to call for installing local phone service. They simply set all the rules and regulations, as well as some of the rates, for the other companies and organizations, so that the latter are limited in negotiating prices and range of services.

Your long distance bill normally comes from CAT, since they are the authority on long distance.

The CAT also requires that all ISPs use the CAT's international link. Fortunately, the CAT seems to have finally figured out how to make it reliable and without too many lost packets.

Anytime that "deregulation" of the telecommunications industry is discussed, people will bemoan the CAT.

The wireless industry (mobile phones and pagers) is operated separately from the above landline organizations (except that they are all given concessions by the CAT to operate in Thailand), and are discussed in the next section.

Mobile phones in Thailand

Mobile Phones

There are four mobile phone companies which can operate in Thailand (i.e., have been granted a "concession" by the Communications Authority of Thailand):

Which one's better? It depends on what is important for you, but I will give you my experience and opinion. I and my wife kept the habit of holding multiple phones on the 4 networks for a long time. Also, we bought company phones for staff for use in our business on AIS and DTAC.

I previously preferred AIS, as the coverage and quality of service was much better for many years. However, things have varied over the years, sometimes DTAC is better, sometimes AIS is better.

In 2010, I am back to AIS. We had headaches on DTAC, whereby our phones would be unreachable even though the phone was free in our hand. I had to dial the number many times before it would get through. This was not just an occasional problem, this happened very often, no matter where in Bangkok the phone was. After a few minutes, we would get a "missed call" notice. This is a serious problem in business, missing calls, then calling back and saying "Hello, I have a missed call from you, this is ... and who are you?"

Hutch has very poor coverage, and even in the city center we had problems. Worst of all was all the spam advertising SMSes we received constantly on the Hutch phone. Also, we would get busy signals when calling other phones which were free at the time.

True's coverage is OK but not great. True is a lot better than Hutch but not quite up to the performance of AIS, more of a competitor to DTAC.

The quality of support on all these networks has varied over time from very good to horrible. AIS has usually been better at English language support.

AIS was the company founded around 1990 by the recent (now exiled) Prime Minister, Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown by a coup in September 2007. At the time, his was one of the first two quasi-monopoly companies which received a government concession, and the DTAC predecessor followed later. In the 1990s, AIS and DTAC competed closely, but the quality of service of AIS overall was usually significantly better than DTAC. There are also the allegations (including in court) that AIS benefited from preferential government concession rates ...

Thaksin sold his company to the Singapore telecom conglomerate Temasek in early 2007 when at the peak of his power (tax free, and in alleged violation of some laws), before he was ousted by the military, and complications in regard to that sale were part of the problem. Further, there are some real legal problems about that sale, especially restrictions on foreigner ownership of a domestic telecoms company. It appears Temasek believed Thaksin's hold on power in Thailand was permanent, as he got away with abusing his power and breaking the law often, and is so extremely wealthy ... but everything changed with the surprising military coup ... and Temasek looks like it will lose an awful lot of money ...

... and there was a lot of gossip about financial neglect and other changes which affected AIS significantly.

However, I do know this:

My DTAC and True phones worked better than my AIS phones for a while after that sale. SMSes via AIS started to fail or be greatly delayed, in contrast to DTAC and True. When I was on the road and want to connect to internet by mobile phone, I got faster speeds and better connections with my DTAC phone than my AIS, the opposite of the previous year. (I haven't tried True yet as regards mobile phone internet.)

Then, in early 2009, on one of my AIS bills, I got billed over 1000 baht for internet USAGE an AIS postpaid card which I had never used for internet. It's in a cheap phone which doesn't even have internet capability, as it had been for months. (The phone number is published on my website as the official office mobile and is used for receiving incoming calls from customers.) AIS wouldn't listen to me, and it took a lot of time and effort to deal with that problem, so I lost most of what little remaining confidence I had in AIS.

In 2009, we started getting problems on our DTAC phones, whereas our AIS phones improved, seemingly. This was across the board -- calls getting thru, internet connections, and telephone support. AIS rose back up over DTAC.

I have little experience with Hutchison, so I cannot comment much on them, and would like to hear others experiences. One of my staff had a Hutch phone and it is terrible. Often, we cannot get thru to her, and she cannot call us, so she also carried a DTAC and an AIS phone which worked fine at the same time the Hutch phone was failing. However, she bought into a cheap plan, and is stuck in a 1 year contract. She uses the Hutch phone when she can because it's cheaper. However, she is bombarded all the time with spam SMS advertisements. It's so bad that inside the office I tell her to turn off the sound. I guess that's partly how Hutch makes its money. You get what you pay for, so if a deal seems too good to be true, then there is probably a catch -- performance and/or advertisements.

AIS gives the best English support, is easiest to figure out, is easiest to use, and initially had features important to me (like verification that SMS is Delivered successfully).

I expected DTAC and True to catch up, but for years DTAC fell further behind by my set of values. True has always seemed on the up-and-up overall, but True is a roller coaster.

DTAC has always been more of a roller coaster, except during the time after AIS was sold off. This was especially true of calls getting thru vs. "Network Busy".

At times, DTAC's service has become unacceptable. DTAC sometimes runs some specials for ridiculously cheaper prices and more hours, and the result was an overload on their network. My wife and I both had DTAC phones which were NOT cheap plans, yet we often couldn't reach each other even though we are DTAC-to-DTAC and usually within the same cell region, with errors like "Network busy", or recordings saying the phone number is unreachable. Then, some time later, we get a message from DTAC saying we got a lot of missed calls. Often, I got "Network busy" when I tried to contact DTAC support, too!

Being unable to reach someone in business can mean loss of business (and money). Personally, it can sometimes be a major inconvenience and frustration to not be able to reach your wife or a close associate urgently. Who has time to waste, and who needs frustrations and a changed mindset?

So I got extra SIM cards again.

AIS always had very good service across the board until after AIS was sold by its founder, Thaksin Shinawatra, to the Singapore company Temasek, in early 2006, and all the political aftermath of that. AIS went downhill and became unacceptable overall. Over time, I discarded all my prepay AIS SIM cards and had only one phone on AIS, which accepts incoming calls from customers and seems reliable for that, but AIS has been ridiculously wrong in its billing, of course to their favor, so I did not get any more AIS SIM cards for quite awhile.

When AIS started tanking, I started to use True more, but DTAC seemed to have been revitalized and my old DTAC postpaid phone which I've had for so many years started performing almost flawlessly in 2007-2008. Further, the previously unreliable internet by USB to my notebook started to be the best and most reliable, so in early 2008 I started relying exclusively on DTAC for internet. Before, I used an AIS prepay SIM card, but that hit the trash after many competitions with DTAC over months in the same mobile phone, just swapping SIM cards to see which one worked the best -- or worked at all.

Now, in 2009-2010, it has flopped back the other way in AIS favor.

SMS:

As of mid-2005, I still did not get confirmation of SMS delivery on my DTAC phone. On my AIS and True phones, I always got notified whether an SMS is Delivered or Failed, and when. With DTAC, I got no feedback whatsoever, and the message just sits there saying "Pending". Occasionally, the SMSes fail to get delivered when I send them to my own other phone. With AIS and True, it starts as "Pending" and then usually switches to "Delivered" a few seconds later, or if the recipient has their phone turned off then I get notified at the time it is Delivered when they turn on their phone (which is convenient to find out). After a few days, I get a notification of Failed.

I also get spam SMSes from DTAC (advertisements), and calling customer service, they have been unable to turn them off. Since they are in Thai, not English, I often must interrupt someone in my office to ask them to translate the message, to see if it's serious or not -- usually a waste of time and an interruption. Sometimes, my phone rings and it's a recorded message ... in Thai (I hate unnecessary interruptions, especially in meetings). This is what SMS is for! (As of 2009, this has approximately evened out between DTAC and AIS, but AIS support is still more responsive in English.)

English support, and ease of use:

The AIS SIM card came pre-loaded with a number to request billing information by SMS, *121#. You just dial the number and you get an SMS message back with account balance and due date, in English (as per my settings). You can also call voice Customer Service at *122 and it is in English (as per my settings). AIS still clearly has the most user friendly system, and also the best English.

With DTAC, they provided only a billing numbers to call ... and get some verbal message in Thai, no message in English. No SMS option preloaded on the card, none listed on their website, and calling customer service reveals none. However, just trying the *121# copied from AIS, I get a balance message in English. As regards calling DTAC's various numbers, I often get Thai with no English option. I have called DTAC support before and requested that all my settings be for English. They have assured me that there is an English option for their menus, but there is not for the important ones I need. DTAC's telephone support representative was both clueless and had no solution -- they said they can do nothing further. There has been a lazy bureaucratic feel from my calls to DTAC customer support. DTAC is welcome to call me at 01-616-7903 to correct me if any of my information is wrong, and to please switch me to English only. With DTAC, you must rely on a Thai friend for some things.

For True, there is an SMS balance option, #123#, though it did not come pre-programmed on my SIM card bought around March 2005, but calling customer support I got this number. On the down side, while the SIM card did have a Check Balance number, it was in Thai only, with no English option, even though I set the phone for English. When I call the Customer Service number, I get English-only, but I am put on hold for a long time unless I call late at night. I do get thru reliably on the first call at all hours, not "Network Busy" as with DTAC. Calling Customer Service, I also get greeted in English by a Thai who speaks good English, and the support is nice and good.

Cost:

AIS is slightly more expensive, but if your time and state of mind are worth anything, then keep in mind that "There is no free lunch".

As phone performance tends to tank at the time of promotions (cheap rates), it's worth noting the promotions just to be able to anticipate problems. Sometimes, it's humorous. For example, DTAC had its "Hey Ha" promotion in June 2005. AIS countered with an advertising campaign with a more fitting name: "Sure Sure". True has chimed in with its "Just Talk" pro-rated fractional-minute billing.

Private number code for dialing:

Sometimes, you want to hide your number when you call somebody, for example when you are trying to collect a debt and they never answer their phone when they see your number calling. This is not free, but it's very cheap. I use AIS for this. It costs just 30 baht per month. You dial #31# before the number. For example, if you are calling the number 08-1234-5678 then you would call #31#0812345678. However, it works only if you are calling another phone on the same network. For example, if I have this service on AIS, then it works only if I'm calling another AIS phone number. This is due to regulations.

History:

AIS was the first mobile phone company. It was started back in the early 1990s, as one of Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra's companies, long before he entered politics (he is now the Prime Minister and head of the main political party, Thai Rak Thai). AIS was started long before mobile phones became trendy, and was an expensive and major financial risk at the time. Dr. Shinawatra was ahead of his time, as usual.

His main competitor was a guy named Sondhi, who would later lead the "yellow shirt" protesters. Sondhi became a poor loser, though Thaksin's business tactics were rather cut-throat and mercenary.

After mobile phones caught on and became a trend, DTAC entered the market around 1996 (I don't know the exact year).

DTAC complains about government favoritism because AIS doesn't pay as much of a tariff to the government, due to its pre-existing contracts negotiated with the two government monopolies -- the Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT) and the Telephone Organization of Thailand (ToT). These were negotiated long before Dr. Thaksin entered politics. In a well known court case, this tariff descrepancy was upheld, partly because it was negotiated before DTAC entered the scene.

I don't see this as a corruption case. AIS entered the mobile phone business before it was trendy, and indeed struggled financially for years because mobile phones were not trendy at the time. AIS paid the price of taking risks, and deserves the profits -- it's better to support pioneering entrepreneurs than copycats.

The networks are connected, so DTAC initially benefited from AIS's expensively established nationwide antenna system, to place and receive calls from AIS users.

Furthermore, I have usually been impressed with the quality of service of Dr. Shinawatra's companies, and those of his wife, compared to much of the competition. There are some fundamental reasons Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra and his business minded and modest wife are highly successful in society. The management and personnel of these companies have clearly been chosen carefully, and the leadership exemplary.

True formerly broke out after the year 2000 under the name Orange (with French origins), initially in a joint venture with Telecom Asia (TA). (Notably, I consulted with an engineering operation involved in deciding upon antenna sites and designing the antennas to be built, back when it was Orange coming to Thailand.) Later, out of parts of the TA Orange group, a new company called True has emerged, which is well known for its broadband services and rapid growth. This is an interesting combination of capabilities heading into the future.

Hutchison has been around since the 1990s when pagers were an economical alternative to mobile phones, and Hutchison has some unique and cool features for their mobiles, so Hutchison, too, should be watched as regards any potential wireless mobile device breakouts in the future. Hutchison is hanging in there for the Thai market's future.

The wireless industry is beyond the scope of this article on telephones, and is constantly changing and convoluted, so I can't really go into it here.

Thailand is different from some other countries like the U.S. (but Thailand is similar to many other countries) due to efforts to quasi-monopolize the industry by certain powers in Thailand.

As of July 2005, the carriers have:
AIS 15,600,000 users
DTAC 8,000,000 users
True 4,000,000 users
Hutchison 600,000+ users

What about international roaming service in Thailand?

If you already have a mobile phone with international roaming service, it will usually work here, but for other people to reach you, they may have to make an international call to your mobile phone number in the country in which you bought the phone. This varies from phone service to phone service, and over time as different mobile service companies negotiate with each other.

Buying a phone and a SIM card, billing, and paying:

In both Thailand and other countries, when you buy a mobile phone, you buy two things: the phone and a phone number. The phone number is embedded on a "SIM card" which is slid into the phone. The phone may be made by Nokia or Ericsson or Motorola or Siemens... but if you buy the phone in Thailand then the phone number is provided by a company in Thailand that provides wireless transmission/reception service as per the SIM card. They are generally sold together, though you can change phones later if you want another brand or model and just move the SIM card over to the new phone, or you can change phone numbers by buying a new SIM card.

Before May 2005, you did not need to register your telephone number. You could just buy a SIM card off the street, and buy prepaid cards as you go. Of course, many criminals did this ... and then terrorists in the south Thailand provinces. Due to the latter, new laws and procedures were passed requiring all new phone numbers to be registered, and all old unregistered phone numbers must be registered by November 2005. You can still buy prepaid cards, but someone must take responsibility for use of the phone number.

Foreigners who run their own company and use the phone for company business should register the phone in the company's name so that the expenses can be tax deducted.

You can pay your bill at your bank or at various places around town, such as in major shopping malls. Always get a stamped receipt, because occasionally there has been a mistake in the computer. There are convenience stores such as 7-11s which also accept bills, as noted in our section on paying bills but they don't take all bills. They also cannot accept bills past the due date.

Anyone can pay the bill.

In order to make international calls and be billed (and tax deduct the business calls), you must register your phone properly. Alternatively, you can buy prepaid international calling cards from convenience stores.

If you do the billing route for international calls, then check your bill for false calls. There are people who crack the codes and are able to make long distance phone calls look like they came from your phone. Out of all the people I know, only one had this happen to them. However, the sensational press sometimes makes it sound as if it's rampant.

The charges for placing a domestic call to or from a mobile phone varies according to which calling plan you bought into. It is usually around 3 baht per minute in Bangkok, but can range from 1 to 5 baht in Bangkok. Calling to/from outer provinces costs somewhat more, for example 6 baht per minute.

In Thailand, the caller pays all the fees, not the recipient.

Signal quality and coverage:

As noted above, the 4 mobile operators each have their own networks of antennas (transponders), but these 4 networks are interconnected so that you call any mobile phone from any other. If a call fails, you don't know for sure which network failed.

You may find that the signal quality varies considerably from place to place and from time to time in Bangkok and in Thailand. During "prime time", the bandwidth gets saturated in some places, and you may have difficulty establishing a connection to a friend or associate, or the connection may be lost or have dropouts. This is getting worse as some mobile phone companies have sales offering free service for a given period in exchange for the purchase of a phone. There are also cellular areas in Bangkok where the service is poor due to a faulty or chronically overloaded cellular transponder station. Around major crowd events such as concerts, carnivals, etc., expect jammed bandwidth. Finally, there are some naturally bad reception spots due to the layout of buildings and streets relative to the local transponder station. I compare signal among my 3 phones in various places.

When voice calls don't go thru, SMSes usually do.

Coverage along provincial highways is pretty good, but once you get off the beaten track, the signal might not go very far.

Register Your Phone Number!

If you are a businessperson, and if your Thailand mobile phone number is not registered (i.e., you bought a SIM card off the street and use prepay cards, not receive bills), then you should register your SIM card phone number to yourself. The reason: If you ever lose your phone, then you lose your phone number, and none of your customers can reach you. You cannot get your phone number back -- unless the phone number was registered to you. If it's unregistered, then you can only buy a new SIM card off the street with a new number.

So many times, I can't reach a customer, then find out they lost their mobile phone, and I ask them what about their customers, and they reply it's a big problem which might be costing them a lot of lost business because people can't reach them. Plus, they must contact and request everyone to change their phone listing. Their business cards are also wrong.

It's easy to register a mobile phone. Just go to any office of your carrier.

Back Up Your Phone Book

I know this isn't specific to Thailand ... but I see so much grief among businessmen that I feel impelled to include this advice:

I suggest you back up your phone book to your computer. Practically every mobile phone has the option of a data connection to your computer by USB cable. However, download the software from the mobile phone manufacturer's website and install it on your computer BEFORE you connect the data cable. (Believe me, before not after, or you might get a driver problem.) Many phones come with the cable and a CD in the box already.

In addition to being able to back up your phone book for in case your phone is lost, you can also mass delete Sent SMSes, back up SMSes for your archives, copy photos off your phone, and even use your phone for a wireless internet connection when on the road (but slower than a LAN or WiFi).

Stolen phones

Mobile phone theft is common in central Bangkok, especially the newer models.

If you lose your mobile phone or have it stolen, you should call your mobile phone company immediately before the thief runs up a phone bill. Remember who your mobile service company is.

Theoretically, you should be able to find your stolen phone if it's pressed into use by someone else with a different SIM card. Every mobile phone handset has a unique serial number. You can find it by keying in the following digits on your phone: * # 0 6 #. You will get a 15-digit code on your screen. Write it down and keep it somewhere safe. It's been reported that the mobile service company can deny the use of handsets brought into Thailand by a non-monopoly importer due to its serial number, as noted above. It's also been reported that the mobile service company can block use of a stolen phone by blocking the reported serial number (thus both discouraging theft and increasing sales of legitimate phones). By implementing these procedures, they should be able to find out which SIM card is being used with the serial number of your phone, and thus you could go to the billing address of that SIM card to find your handphone ... and require that the user give your phone back and go buy a legitimate handphone, noting that the phone will be disabled otherwise, you'll call the police, etc. Some big men and a little bit of money might help resolve the issue. You might be able to find your SIM card, too, instead of having to buy a new one. Let me know if you know anyone who ever has the unfortunate experience of losing their phone and who tries this, as others would be interested in knowing which mobile service companies are helpful in this regard.

Bringing a mobile phone in from outside Thailand

In the 1990s and early 2000s, if you brought a mobile phone into Thailand from outside Thailand, the phone usually would not work in Thailand. That has changed with newer models. The reason is that the mobile phone companies were sole distributors of phones, and the phones were "locked" so that they would work only with the service provider it was bought from (AIS or DTAC). Also, the same model of phone in Thailand cost significantly more in Thailand than if you bought it outside the country and carried it in. However, this policy changed a few years ago, and the mobile phone companies opened up their networks to all phones, so that all you needed to buy was the SIM card.

Nevertheless, you might experience a problem if you buy a phone separately from the SIM card, especially a cheap secondhand phone. You will know immediately because it will give you an error message or just won't connect. This can be fixed quickly and easily by bringing it to a shop which can connect a data cable and "unlock" it. These shops are easy to find and all over.

(In past years, phones brought into the country which worked with Thai SIM cards could be sold for a handsome profit, and many people funded their vacations in Thailand by bringing in phones from Europe in their suitcase and selling them here at the Thailand monopoly prices. This is no longer the situation.)

Internet SMS

SMS is very popular, and I usually prefer it because:

  • An SMS message does not interrupt someone like a phone call.
  • Notes such as phone numbers, bank account numbers, and memos are better done as SMS
  • SMS is more discreet

The big drawback of SMS is typing messages on a mobile device. You can send SMS messages to mobile handphones from the internet, typing from a keyboard.

The problem is billing. In Thailand, the caller pays all the fees, not the recipient.

  • Some people recommend www.ipipi.com for sending SMSes worldwide via internet. From browsing their website, they charge 6 baht (US$ 0.15) per message with volume discounts down to 4 baht. It also offers email gateways for sending and receiving. However, I don't see any reporting of SMS delivered (unlike my AIS phone).

  • DTAC has offered SMS by internet for many years now at www.dtac.co.th/en/customer/OnlineServices/indexOnlineservices.aspx

    I can't find anything about SMS by internet on the AIS or True websites, though I haven't gone thru them well. AIS offered SMS by web at least 5 years ago, because I used it. I'm awaiting a response from True. AIS's website is difficult to navigate -- lots of flashy show-off graphics that compromises practicality and usability, and their contact form failed. No email address.

    For many years, there have been websites which offer "Free SMS". From my experience, they have been unreliable. They try to pay for it from advertising on their website and/or publicity for their website. If you work out the numbers, they stand to lose money, especially by individuals who send many SMSes each.

    There are also some "free" and cheap pay-per-SMS websites which scam people, by collecting personal information (identity theft) as well as collecting email addresses for spam targetted at mobile device users. They might even make you billable for spam SMSes.

    As usual, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. I am amazed at how many people waste their time trying to proudly achieve the "status" of being the cheapest guy in town. I also don't believe a lot of what they say.

    Here are some websites:

    WARNING: THE INFORMATION BELOW IS OUTDATED BY ABOUT 5 YEARS

    • PremPree is a popular and well publicized site for sending SMS messages to AIS GSM and DTAC 1800 phones. It is unreliable at times (regardless of their success screen message after each SMS sent), so send messages to yourself to test. The unreliability is like this: At a given time, it either works with all phones or else no phones. It is mostly in the Thai language, though you just need to go to the page www.prempree.com/sms/?time=1021, choose AIS or DTAC from the pulldown menu, and the last three fields are telephone number, your name and your message.

    • 1800 WorldPhone via https://sonic2.dtac.co.th/bp3/bin/Index?lang=E but first you must register at www.dtac.co.th and click on "Registration". Only 50 pages per month are allowed to be sent per registered user (i.e., less than 2 per day), so I use DTAC when PremPree fails. You might want to stick to an 8-character password no matter what they say on the screen, as I had a problem when I first used a password of more than 8 characters.

    • GSM via http://202.183.251.250/gsmweb/ but the GSM recipient must first register and then give you their password in order to page them (!). Works on the following phone models: Nokia 3210, 3810, 5110, 6110, 8810, Motorola L708, StarTacC, V3688

    I'm sure the above links are terribly out of date, and there are much newer ones, but it gives you a general idea of what's out there. All these links keep changing. Why can't anyone keep a web URL the same?

    Emergency

    I'm sorry but for some reason this part of the page and everything below it was lost due to a technical error. It is on my list of things to add in the future.




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