No 3G for visitors this year

Travellers hoping to disembark at Krabi airport and immediately get online with their smart phones will be disappointed to learn that 3G mobile technology has yet to be rolled out in Thailand. Thus, searching for travel information and making bookings while on the move won’t be available this time around. The best that iphone and other  phone owners can hope for is wifi access in their hotels.

Krabi and the rest of the Thailand is now fairly well wired for internet and wifi, which is offered in most major hotels, as well as many coffeeshops, bars and restaurants. Gone are the days are popping into poorly maintained, crowded backpacker internet cafes. However, the country - which has a mobile phone obsession - remains the last country in Southeast Asia to issue licences for the development of 3G networks.

This new technology which brings high speed internet to handsets using existing mobile phone networks, is widely used in Europe and North America for mobile access and is particularly beneficial to travellers, who find themselves away from their usual internet access, but thirsting for information. From the back ofa  taxi you can choose and book a hotel or restaurant, use GPS mapping services to find your way there, and call up information on the city tourist site you might be at. Weather and currency updates are other useful functions.

In Thailand however none of this is available unless you subscribe to Edge/GPRS services from a local network company, and purchase one of their sim cards. The delay is mostly the result of political instability and changing governments over the past 18 months, resulting in unqualified leadership at the ICT Ministry, coupled with delaying tactics from the state owned telecomms company which is fearful of competition. Minister Ranongruk Suwanchawee recently announced her intention to indefinitely delay the auctioning of licences, set for December,  in order to redefine the terms of licencing. This has been met with an uproar from the industry and public. Although trial services are available in selected areas, it could be at least 12 more months before the country has a properly developed 3G network that will cover Krabi, the Andaman and other tourist areas of Thailand.

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