17 June 2011

Honduras and Cell Phones

I wrote a three page, convoluted post about phones here, and realized I could do better. The basics are that there are two major providers here, incoming calls are free, everyone is prepaid, the majority of internet access here is via USB cell modem (usually not 3G), and they have various promotions that can make it cheaper to do things. Like most promotions, if you don’t pay attention they wind up being more expensive. Now for a bit more detail about the Honduran cell phone system.

Tigo is the largest cell company in Honduras, followed by Claro, which is in the process of absorbing the third, Digicel. Sam and I use Tigo, which has strong coverage in our town. One of the major differences between the US and Honduran phone systems is that the caller pays all the costs of a call or text. That means when you call or text me, it is free for me! This makes calls look more expensive, but the whole cost is just shifted to the caller. This is great because I’ve got Facebook set up to text me when certain things happen, and they don’t cost me anything to receive. You do need to be careful though, there are many services that charge you when they send you a text and can be difficult to cancel.

The other main difference here is that (almost) everyone here has a prepaid phone, rather than getting a bill every month. You put credit on your phone, called saldo and then you use that saldo to make calls and send texts. When you run out of saldo, you need to buy more. You go to your local pulperia, buy a card with a scratch off hidden number that you send in a text, your saldo is automatically updated and you can make calls again! It is a really simple and easy system, no need to worry about going over your minutes for the month, you pay as you go.

However. If you want the best deal, you have the play the promotions game. It isn’t very difficult; it is just a bit confusing. The biggest one here is “Triple Days”, where you get triple the value of your saldo when you load your phone that day, but you don’t get regular saldo, you get in-network credit. Say I buy L10 of saldo on my triple day (which happens to be Thursday because my number ends in a 6). I get L10 of saldo, and the L20 worth of talk time that is used when I call other Tigo phones. To compound matters, this bonus time expires every week unless you get more while your regular saldo doesn’t expire. Sam forgot her day once and had over 4 hours of bonus time expire. This bonus time is why we have Tigo, because all the other PCVs have Tigo and no one wants to call outside the network, so everyone has Tigo to call the other PCVs.

The other two promotions that I use are Tigo Amigo and the International packet. Sam and I have Tigo Amigo, which is a friend plan. For L250, Sam can call me unlimited for a year, the catch being that only the first 10 minutes are free, after that it takes from our saldo. So if we want to talk for a long time, we hang up at 9 minutes and she calls me back. It is annoying, but WAY cheaper. The international packet I use lets me call the US for L0.5 a minute, or about 2.5 US cents. That is way cheaper than the 18 cents a minute Skype wants, or the about 4L a minute to call without the packet. The catch here is I buy 60 minutes of talk time for L30, but when that time runs out, they automatically switch over to the regular rate of L4 a minute.

It also seems that most people get their internet via the cell networks. Here in La Unión, it is the ONLY option for internet. We have a Claro modem, but the Claro network here only runs on GPRS (so slow Gmail doesn’t work) while the Tigo network runs on EDGE (what you have in the US if you are not on 3G). The internet plans do have an option for a postpaid, but it has been tricky for PCVs to get, due to a lack of Honduran credit and other things, but it is cheaper that way. Next time I am in Teguz I am going to attempt to get a Tigo modem on a postpaid plan, which oddly enough are priced in US dollars, not lempiras. They want all sorts of information, and I hope my Spanish will be up to the task of arguing business so they give me the modem with the plan I want.

Well, those are the basics (and then some) of the cell phones here. Hopefully that makes sense, it took me about a month of living here to be able to make sense of it all.

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