Making calls and going online in the Philippines

If you’re coming to the Philippines, which is widely regarded as the country with the slowest internet, for any period of time do not rely on your ‘home-sim’. Roaming charges are too expensive and any deals your provider at home may have with most countries probably do not exist in the Philippines.

For a few Euros/Dollars you can get decent 3g/4g internet in the Philippines.
I spend about $20-30 USD per month on mobile internet these days. Depending on what I’m doing and how good coverage is. But you can make it as expensive and crazy as you want.

This page is useful for people coming on a vacation/holiday. Or for people staying for a longer period of time, like me. You’re gonna need internet at some point. Better to get it right the first time 🙂

Internet on your smartphone

If you’re just bringing your smartphone then things are very easy. Grab a local sim card from any outlet and activate it. Buy some credits (commonly called “Load”) and activate a promo code for whatever you need. I prefer a sim card from the Smart network. I find that coverage overall is a little better than Globe. But for Internet I generally prefer Globe as they have more 4g coverage.

smart

All providers have a whole bunch of promo codes for bundles of megabytes, voice minutes and text/sms. I mainly use data and don’t bother so much with voice and text anymore. To get internet on your phone you need a sim card and some cash. The two larger providers who control all the networking in the Philippines are Smart and Globe. I use both in various capacities.

My smartphone has a prepaid Smart simcard and a prepaid Globe simcard. Both are capable of Voice/Text and data (there are Data-Only sims too). Currently I only use data. I activate Promos worth about $2 for internet once or twice a month.

Good Promos are:

  • MEGA250 for p250 (~$5 USD)
    180 minutes to Smart/TNT users, Unlimited SMS, 100MB 3g/4g data for 30 days.
  • SAKTODATA99 for p99 (~$2 USD)
    70 minutes to Smart/TNT, 500MB 3g/4g data for 30 days.
  • BIG99 for p99 (~$2 USD)
    200MB 3g/4g data for 30 days
  • BIG299 for p299 (~$6 USD)
    1700MB 3g/4g data for 30 days

Currently I mainly use the SAKTODATA99 promo just because I primarily use data and do not make calls. I got something like 500+ free SMS which are still valid from earlier promos. But I rarely use those. If you need to make some calls I’d recommend using the MEGA250 and BIG99 promo’s as a combination.

Globe has similar promos, I have the sim in my phone and sometimes use data on it. Generally I use it as a backup number for SMS only. Both Smart and Globe are direct competitors. So whatever one is offering, the other will have a counter offer to compete. Pick whichever network has better coverage in the area you’ll be in. If you have a dual sim phone then you can of-course use both, like I do. My girlfriend uses TM (A subsidiary from Globe). So I need at least some SMS to reach her from time to time.

Some smartphones can share the internet they get to laptops and tablets via wifi. This feature is called “Personal Hotspot”. This works fine in my experience, but drains the phone battery very quickly so I prefer to use dedicated hotspots for that.

Pocket Wifi

A Pocket Wifi is a small device meant for converting 2g/3g/4g/LTE internet of various signal types into Wifi for your other devices such as laptops, tablets, phones etc..

If you have a bunch of devices such as a laptop or tablet and want to connect those to the internet as well It’s a good idea to get a Pocket Wifi. This is a big thing in the Philippines. Available almost everywhere and it’s cheap, too. You can share the Wifi with your friend and family which makes it a good choice for any group of people who want to go online for only a few dollars.

pocket-wifi

Because of geographic difficulties in this country, building a proper wired network is quite a task. So all providers rely on wireless technologies. From my understanding there are some cables to larger/prominent islands which then distribute signals from tower to tower wirelessly to local networks.

From my experience there usually is decent 3g internet available in most areas of the Philippines (where I’ve been anyway). 4g connectivity is a bit more spotty but is available in a bunch of urban areas, progressive municipalities and popular tourist spots. Both my Pocket Wifi devices are 4g capable. 4g access costs nothing extra compared to 3g internet.

I have a Pocket Wifi from both Smart and Globe, both work very well with speeds ranging from 5ish up to 20-25MB depending on where I am. Sometimes the one from Globe has no reception and Smart is the better choice. Other times it’s reversed. Hence why I have both 😉

Where to get a Pocket Wifi

Most cellphone shops sell at least one of the networks. Often both. Outlets are pretty much everywhere. You can buy credit (called “Load”) pretty much everywhere too. Just look for a big Smart or Globe sign/banner outside or a sign saying “Load na Dito”, which means “Load available here”.

If you want a Smart Pocket Wifi ask for a “SmartBro”, if you want a Globe Pocket Wifi ask for a “Globe Tattoo” or “Globe Pocket Wifi”.

You buy the device for p888 (~$15 USD), this usually includes a free sim card. If there is no sim card included make sure it’s a Data-Only sim card. A sim card costs something around p40-70. Most sim cards come with a bit of free data. For both of mine I got 1GB free for 7 days or so. This is a one-time-use promo for the sim card. usually printed on a sticker on the packaging.

After that, you add more load and activate promo’s like on a phone.
The Promo’s I usually use when going on a trip are either of the following.

SmartBro:

  • SURFMAX995 for p995 (~$20 USD)
    Unlimited data (800mb per day) for 30 days.
  • SURFMAX299 for p299 (~$6 USD)
    Unlimited data (800mb per day) for 7 days.

Globe Tattoo:

  • SUPERSURF999 for p999 + p20 (~$20 USD)
    Unlimited data (800mb per day) for 30 days.
  • SUPERSURF200 for p200 + p20 (~$4 USD)
    Unlimited data (800mb per day) for 5 days.

Of-course the more expensive promo is more cheap in the long run… But I let the length of the trip and my hunger for internet decide which is more useful at the time.

A annoying cave-at with globe; Since their pocket wifi for some reason always uses a few kilobytes when you enable it. You may use a few kilobytes of data outside your promo (if you didn’t activate one yet) this may have you waste up to p15. Which then results in you not having enough money to activate the promo. Hence the extra p20. This ensures you can safely use a few kilobytes and use up p15 but ALSO the activation SMS is not free and costs p1.

I ran into this issue a few times, the guys at Globe know about this and their solution is to top up and activate the promo from a phone that has no internet option. Most shops selling load have such phones. So you may want to bring the device with the simcard there and have them set things up for you.

Using the Pocket Wifi

Pocket Wifi devices create a small Wifi network for up to 8 or 10 devices. The signal range is usually around 10-15 meters (30 feet). Enough for a hotel room. The battery should last 4 to 8 hours (depending on signal strength and how much you use it).

Every wifi capable devices can log in and use it. To make your Pocket Wifi more personal and user friendly in terms of wifi and security check out this post: Personalize your mobile hotspot.

As for positioning the thing so it has good reception. Near a window is a good place but be careful if the window frames are made of metal/aluminium. Conductive materials suck up the signal like an antenna, not good.

pocket-wifi-cables

In that event, make sure the device is not touching the frame and is not within 10-ish centimeters (4 inches). A trick I use to prevent signal loss like that is to use a USB Extension cable and hang it in the middle of the glass pane, down from a curtain rod. Or if you have panel windows, open it slightly and just slip the modem outside on a slat in the middle of the window. Obviously, if at all possible pick a window on the side of your accommodation where you know there is a cell tower.

I have a bunch of USB extension cables for the Pocket wifis to connect them pretty much anywhere in the room. Sometimes it’s a bit fidgety or annoying, and often it requires some moving around the room to find a good spot. But I think it’s worth spending a few minutes to test things out and get a good signal.