Which Is The Best Mobile Phone Operator in Laos ?

Which Is The Best Mobile Phone Operator in Laos ?
When providing our Relocation / Welcome Service, one of the first questions asked by our clients is: “Which mobile phone operator should I choose ?”

A tricky question to answer. It usually depends where in Laos someone spends most of their time and what requirements they have.

Let’s start with the basics:

The country code for Laos is 856. From outside Laos, dial +856 then the Lao number without a leading zero in order to connect.

If dialing from within Laos, to call from a fixed line phone to a mobile, dial 020 then the number, to call from a mobile to a fix line dial 021 and then the number.

To make international calls from Laos, the international code is 00 (or “+” on mobile phones) followed by the country code and then by the number without a leading zero.  Lao mobile operators charge around Kip 2,000 for most international calls. Two operators offer international codes from mobiles: Beeline key 177 (see their rates here) followed by country code and number, with ETL key 188 (rates unknown)

Mobile Phone SIM Cards:

Phone SIMs can be purchased easily at any phone shop. Previously bought and used anonymously, user details are now required for registration of Lao SIMs. All SIM cards work in any normal (unlocked) mobile phone.

The SIM’s purchase price is very low and mostly includes some free air time (aroundUS $4-7). Refill cards are easily available at any phone shop, minimart or side-of-the-road stall.

Microsims are now available from M-Phone (Lao Telecom) and Beeline

To check the balance on any Lao mobile phone, dial *122#. To identify your own Lao SIM number send *110#

Mobile Phone Operators in Laos:

The main operators are Lao Telecom, ETL, Beeline (ex Tigo) and Unitel. Each provider has different grades & priorities of coverage, but I think it’s fair to say that Lao Telecom offers the broadest & best coverage for the entire country. As some areas of Laos may only work with SIMs from one or the other provider, we recommend to use the SIMs of two different providers (for this a dual SIMcard mobile phone is required).

While previously the mobile operators were free to offer promotions, the Lao government recently stepped in (all four mobile telecom operators are partly or fully owned by the Lao government) and stipulated call and data rates, which are now similar and within agreed criteria to allow equitable revenue share between them. Local mobile calls are charged at around Kip 800 per minute

Mobile Internet Access in Laos:

For mobile internet access, Beeline, LaoTelecom, ETL and Unitel all offer some 3G services in Vientiane and Lao provincial cities, with 2G EDGE and GPRS as a fallback in less-populated areas. Beeline has the fastest 3G in Laos. Unlimted 3G packages are offered only by LaoTelecom (Kip 450,000/m) and Beeline (Kip 130,000/m).

Both Lao Telecom and Beeline are expected to open 4G/LTE FDD/TDD services in Vientiane early in 2013.

For travel around Laos, there are still areas where one or two ISPs are better than others; it’s as well to carry phone and/or data SIMs from more than one operator.

VoIP services such as Skype, Viper etc are not blocked in Laos; data charges apply unless you have an unlimited data package, free WiFi or use low-cost internet shops.

Which provider should I choose ?

It’s definitively not a cost based decision, as the price difference for air-time between the main operators is insignificant (prepaid cards).  I believe it comes all down to location: where you are versus the people you want to call, as operators provide different coverage levels within Laos and for international calls.  I often recommend to use two different providers (requires a mobile phone equipped with dual sim card) as their combined service will cover all needs.

Telecom Providers in Laos
Laos has 4 telecom providers: Unitel, Lao Telecom, TPlus (Beeline), and ETL. Unitel is the largest provider with close to 3 million subscribers. Lao Telecom has more than 1 million subscribers. Beeline has around 300 000 thousand customers. The numbers of ETL is not available at the moment.

What SIM card should you buy when visiting Laos? If you want to buy a SIM card in Laos, I would recommend going with Unitel because they cover most of Laos and is the fastest provider in Laos. However, speeds and coverage can vary greatly depending on the province you are, which is why many locals have SIM cards of multiple operators so that they can stay connected at all times.

In Laos, all providers are fully or partially owned by the Lao government. As a result, rates are almost the same among the providers. Moreover, unlike most Southeast Asian countries, you do not need to show your passport when buying a SIM card.

Data speeds are slow in Laos. With most providers, in excellent conditions, you can get up to 5 Mbps. It is fast enough to do most things with your phone but is embarrassingly slow compared to providers in other Southeast Asian countries, like Singapore.

Let’s see what Laos has to offer to us.

Unitel
Unitel is the largest provider in Laos, as established in the introduction. It is also the provider that suffers from the most congestion in the cities, meaning that your speeds or connection can be subpar at times. Unitel claims that it covers 97% of the population, and 4G/LTE can be found in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Champasak, Savannakhet, and other major towns and provinces.

Do note that you need to buy a 4G SIM card if you want to use Unitel’s 4G network, as they sell 3G SIM cards that, as the name implies, only works on their 3G network (and 2G too).
Unitel SIM cards are sold for 10 000 LAK ($1.60) and come with 5000 LAK in credit and 200 MB. You can choose to register yourself to get another 10000 LAK. Not sure if that would be worth it, though.

The following Unitel data packs are available:

2000 LAK: 60 MB for 24 hours
5000 LAK: 125 MB for 24 hours
10 000 LAK: 270 MB for 30 days
15 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 30 days
100 000 LAK: 3 GB for 30 days
120 000 LAK: 4 GB for 30 days
You can also buy Unitel’s data-only SIM card called Net SIM for 10 000 LAK at Unitel offices – it comes with 300 MB and allows you to SMS as well. No calls can be made with this SIM card. You can register yourself and get 300 MB for free. A handful of Unitel data-only packs are listed below:

10 000 LAK: 6 GB for 2 days
10 000 LAK: 5 GB for 3 days
10 000 LAK: 2 GB for 5 days
10 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 7 days
50 000 LAK:  5 GB for 30 days
120 000 LAK: 12 GB for 30 days

Do note that the 30-day plan expires at the end of the current month. If you start your plan on the 15th of November, for example, then your plan will expire on the 1st of December, 12 AM. Luckily, you do not have to pay the full price if you buy the plan in the middle of the month. In this example, you would pay 50% and get 50% of the listed data allowance.

Lao Telecom (LTC/LaoTel)
Lao Telecom is the second largest provider and offers 3G access in most provinces in Laos. They also offer 4G/LTE in Vientiane and some other cities. Lao Telecom’s SIM cards, called M phone, are sold for 5000 LAK and can be used for both 3G and 4G/LTE – you do not need to buy a 4G SIM card to use 4G/LTE.

Below are the M phone data packs:

5000 LAK: 125 MB for 24 hours
10 000 LAK: 250 MB for 30 days
50 000 LAK: 1.25 GB for 30 days
100 000 LAK: 2.5 GB for 30 days
You can also buy a Lao Telecom data-only SIM card called SIM Net for 10000 LAK. The following packages can be used for 3G and 4G/LTE access:

5000 LAK: 1 GB for 24 hours
10 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 7 days
50 000 LAK: 7 GB for 30 days
You can also get one of their “unlimited” packs, which get throttled to 512 Kbps after using your allowance. They are, however, expensive, and 512 kbps is slow:

150 000 LAK: 15 GB for 30 days
250 000 LAK: 30 GB for 30 days
50 000 LAK: Extra 5 GB of high-speed data
TPlus (Beeline)

TPlus, previously known as Beeline, is a small player in Laos. Depending on where you are, Beeline can be the fastest provider in the region. Even then, speeds are slow at up to 5 Mbps. TPlus SIM cards can be bought for 10000 LAK and come with 5000 LAK in credit. The following TPLus packages can be added:

1000 LAK: 50 MB for 1 day
6000 LAK: 200 MB for 3 days
10 000 LAK: 500 MB for 7 days
10 000 LAK: 300 MB for 30 days
50 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 30 days
80 000 LAK: 2 GB for 30 days
100 000 LAK: 3 GB for 30 days

Just like with the other providers, data-only SIM cards called Net SIM can be bought as well. The following TPlus data-only packages are available:

5000 LAK: 2 GB for per day
10 000 LAK: 3 GB for 7 days
50 000 LAK: 10 GB for 30 days
ETL
ETL, or Enterprise of Communications Laos, has a small 3G network in Laos, which makes them unsuitable for those who want to explore more of Laos instead of solely the capital. SIM cards are sold for 5000 LAK and their data packs, called eNet, can be added, which are listed below:
1000 LAK: 240 MB for 1 day
5000 LAK: 800 MB for 1 day
10 000 LAK: 1.5 GB for 7 days
50 000 LAK: 5.5 GB for 30 days
100 000 LAK: 12 GB for 30 days
200 000 LAK: 30 GB for 30 days
Looking for unlimited data? ETL sells eNet 2Teen data plans that come with unlimited data for a day for 4000 LAK.


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