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.