I was wondering if anyone could give me some advice about mobile internet coverage off the usual tourist routes? I am planning a trip to Flores, Sumba and the Malukus. What is the most econmical SIM card I can buy for calls and internet?
I'm still a bit bemused by Indonesian sim cards...there are loads of different ones and getting a shop assistant to explain why one is better than another is quite difficult. Often the same cards are wildly different prices just because of the phone number you get... some numbers are luckier than others. And although the shop assistant may tell you that such and such a card covers "everywhere" in Indonesia, that isn't necessarily the case. In the Bandas for example, Telekomsel works in Bandaneira. On nearby Pulau Ai only XL works (a bit... next to the pier.. in the evenings...sometimes). In other places I've been only Indosat works. In other places there is no phone signal at all.
Probably your best bet would be to get a Telkomsel card (Kartu As or Simpati) as that has the widest coverage in Indonesia.
Sim cards are pretty cheap...just a dollar or two. If you find yourself in an area where that doesn't work just buy a different card that does.
You'll need a special card if you want internet access on your phone or laptop (using a USB modem). Speeds are pretty slow I believe and it's more expensive than an ordinary phone card so I didn't bother getting one. Somtam would know stuff like that. He lives there and he's IT literate whereas I'm definitely not!
I recently travelled from West Timor through to Lombok using a Telkomsel Simpati sim and found coverage generally good - including Flores. I had to get that sim activated for internet but once that was done I could buy data bundles for my iPhone. As SBE says, download speeds can be pretty slow in some areas. Be careful of what you are charged for your sim card - I bought mine in Kupang and was only charged the Rp5,000 face value but I noticed that in Bali, in particular the little convenience stores, were charging way over the odds.
I'm on the Gili T at the moment (so snack bang in the middle of a euro-tourist expressway) and finding it very patchy (using a telkomsel simpati sim in an iPhone). Connection swings between no signal at all to edge to 3G over a matter of minutes in the sane spot. Very annoying. But then coverage was good from Lembar up to boats for Gilis.
What trying to say is even in touristed areas coverage can be very variable, though there us plenty of wifi in cafes etc which helps to mitigate the problem.
Will you be visiting the "other" Gilis off Lombok by any chance Somtam? Gili Gede and Nanggu of the south west coast. Looks easy enough to get to them on the map. I meant to go and have a look to see what they were like last time I was on Bali but didn't.
SBE: Not sure. We've got about 3 weeks here and planning to creep along the north coast for a bit and swinging by Kuta, etc on the south coast. One of those two islands has Secret Island on it, which, last I read, is for sale - so not sure what happening there.
Will keep you posted!
Zicodali: we were in N. Maluku a few months back, and have just come back from Flores, Timor, Timor Leste, Sumbawa etc. Some useful info (and a lot of stories) on the Indonesia pages on my site -- http://travelswithanineyearold.com/category/indonesia/ --or search the site for Moluccas, Halmahera, Ternate, etc.
Morotai is an amazing island, with beautiful islands off it -- in Halmahera, you can meet nomadic hunter-gatherers.
I don't do mobile internet, but Simpati SIMs have worked for phone calls where there is mobile coverage -- there's none in Eastern Halmahera, and coverage can be patchy in the mountains of Java, Flores, etc... Internet coverage in Sumbawa is pretty limited, though you can get slow access on the mobile ZIP drive ones if you have a laptop.
As others have said above, I wouldn't expect to have the sort of smartphone internet access you get in the West anywhere off the tourist trail in Indo, or even on the tourist trail for that matter. If there's information that you're going to need that's online, get it downloaded and carry it with you.
#9 TheodoraZ has been a member since 25/7/2011. Posts: 6
Wow! I've just bookmarked your blog as a favourite Theodora. Thanks so much for posting a link to it. That kind of info on off the beaten track Indonesia is pure gold. Keep on rocking girl and welcome to travelfish.
Whereabouts are you going in the Malukus zicodali? I was in the Bandas a few months ago.
Theodora, what an amazing blog! I feel as though I was on the journey with you! So much useful information and insight. As for my trip, it is still very much in the planning stage. I went through Sumbawa, Sumba and Flores 25 years ago but didn''t get any further. I was travelling on a bus with a mix of people and livestock! I think one of the animals donated one of its many legged travelling companions! When I finally arrived in Larantuka I had a foot that looked like a football and had to fly back to Bali! 25 years older, but not necessarily any wiser, I want to retrace my journey and then carry on. I will be browsing your blog for ideas! Thank you once again. By the way, how was it travelling with a nine year old??
Travelling with a nine year old, now ten, is amazing fun, to be honest with you. Mind you, he's relatively robust -- we've always travelled independently, and he'd been to a lot of relatively unusual places before we started travelling.
It's a good age, because he's independent and sensible and LONG past the wailing/wiping stage but the adolescent hormone surge has yet to kick in. Plus, he's always been an easygoing individual.
Jealous you got to Sumba. I'm sad we missed that. We were on a visa rush to get to Timor Leste, so missed it. Be fascinated to see how many changes you find. Bali, I know, will be beyond all recognition -- I've met a bunch of shellshocked folk who were here even 10 or 15 years ago and can't believe how much it's changed.
Flores now also has a tourist infrastructure in places. Be really interested to hear what you make of Sumbawa.
#12 TheodoraZ has been a member since 25/7/2011. Posts: 6
I haven't been to Sumba either and I'd be really interested in what you make of Sumbawa too zicodali. I crossed that island on a local bus on the way back from Flores a few years ago (it took about 3 days) and the local buses were still quite..erm...overcrowded and uncomfortable. At one point I remember wondering if I'd ever walk again after having all blood circulation to my legs totally cut off for about 8 hours....my feet were jammed in between big boxes taking up all the space between the seats and it was impossible to move an inch. There were definitely a few chickens on board that bus and possibly a couple of goats on the roof too, can't remember for sure. We did quite a few lengthy detours to deliver people and goods (and livestock) to various villages that aren't mentioned in LP as well.
One thing I do remember about crossing Sumbawa was that in spite of seeing very few other tourists there (none actually) they systematically added on a whopping great (23%?) tax to all accommodation and restaurant bills. Do they still do that Theodora? Sumbawa is the only island in Indonesia where this has ever happened to me.
I personally went with Telkomsel simpati as I was told it had the widest coverage. Good to patchy coverage on the Gili's,good coverage Central Lombok, almost no coverage in South Lombok Kuta area. So all up pretty frustrating. Basically just put the phone away didn't worry or need,but for people that rely on it for work,sick relatives,families etc would find it very frustrating.
p.s. Somtam, you finally made it to the Gilis must be busy with all the Euro's down there this time of year. Also thanks for buying me a few beers when in Sanur much appreciated!!
Oh, SBE, we did not get on with Sumbawa AT ALL. I didn't register the 23% tax -- I think they include it now, if they still have it (the sales tax system in the different Indonesian provinces still utterly bewilders me: 10%, 15%, 21%, 23%, no tax. I think it changes at district level, even, so one bit of Bali has a different rule).
The road was hideous. And the beginner's surf that we were hoping to find was, erm, not for beginners'... That said, we met a couple on Flores who'd had a great time off-road biking there. We just went through as quick as we could, to be honest.
I think it does have potential. But I think you really need to be prepared to knuckle down and explore A LOT.
#15 TheodoraZ has been a member since 25/7/2011. Posts: 6
Mobile internet works throughout Indonesia, but is obviously more reliable in higher density areas. My experience has been that in Bali I can get 3G coverage almost everywhere. Java is a very similar situation.
Outside of these two islands, internet can sometimes be with edge instead of 3G, but it is still usable. A friend of mine lived 1 hour from Ambon for 6 months and had mobile internet, but it really only worked well early in the morning or late at night. That's pretty normal for Indonesia.
You can use the same sim card for your phone as for mobile internet. If you don't already have a USB modem, you can buy them in Indo for about $25. If internet is really important to you, just buy a bunch of sims (Rp5,000) from different companies and try different ones as you travel around. As a general rule, simpati is the best and most expensive. But it doesn't mean it's good...
Tri (3) are very very cheap and I use it with success in cities. Outside of cities, it reverts to edge and is a bit patchy - plenty of black spots. XL has a poor reputation and IM3 is the choice for people looking for a balance of value and coverage. I've tried them all and simpati is the best.
I think the bottom line is that coverage is very unpredictable, unreliable and quite often but not always slow. Definitely get simpati, a usb modem and hope for the best!
I must have misunderstood what someone told me in Bira last year. There's still no working internet cafe there and the locals all use (slow) USB modems. I asked my GH owner about it and he said most people used the cheapest internet cards and paid 50,000Rp (or maybe 80,000Rp, can't remember exactly) for a month's internet access but that you could get faster speeds if you paid more.
I was under the impression that you needed a special card to download the internet credit but it seems I was mistaken. Sorry but as I said, it's still a bit of a fuzzy mystery to me why the same brand have a variety of different priced simcards and what the advantage of one over another is.