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Colombia/Telecommunications in Colombia

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Question
What can you tell me about the cellular services in Colombia including SMS messaging? What providers they have? How expensive are they?

Answer
Dear Juan:

The telecommuncation services in Colombia are excellent in regards to availability and pretty good in regards to speed for wired and wireless service. Most people would do well with 1 MB of broadband landline speed, but probably many people get 4 MB or more. Broadband landline service can normally reach speeds of 10 MB or maybe more. Wireless Internet is said to reach up to 12 MB for the 4G LTE from UNE). I give you some examples of how you can communicate with others while in Colombia:

1) If the person is on the street without a cellular: the person can find tons of people selling minutes. There are also many stores that sell minutes to people who want to buy those minutes. If a person has a cellular, but does not have minutes left then he can go to one of the shops that sell recharges. There are also public phones where the person can insert coins to call landlines, cellular phones and in some phones can even do international calls. Not many places or people sell international minutes. In those cases the person could go to a cafe internet and use Skype or his Vonage to make the calls or if the place sells international calls then the person could call that way.

If you need to make international calls from your cellular then you can purchase a sim from Uff from as little as 5 thousand pesos. If your cellular has not been configured to work in Colombia then you will need to have the bands released (abrir las bandas) so that it would work in Colombia. That service probably costs about 20 thousand pesos. Your other choice is buy a cellular for as little as 20 thousand pesos or less for a used one or a new one for as little as 50 thousand pesos. Colombia now requires that celluars be registered to the owner. Otherwise they will be blocked. I think that the person has about 15 days to register it at a shop or place that does that.

If you decide to call from a cellular from a minute seller then the price per minute is on average 200 pesos and can be as little as 100 or 150 in some places. You can recharge your own cellular with minutes for at least 1000 pesos.  If you bring your cellular from another country then if it has a sim then you might be able to buy minutes for it if you have a wireless provider shop change the bands (cambiar las bandas) so that it can communicate with the local wireless phone providers.

2) If you need internet access while on the street: There are many little shops that provide internet service. The prices are low: from about 500 pesos for 15 minutes. There are very few shops that provide service 24 hours. Most shops provide service until some time at night such as 7 or 8 p.m. There is WIFI in some places such as airports and some cafeterias. A good number of hotels and hostels provide internet. Either by having some computers and/or providing WIFI service.

3) If you need landline phone or cellular service on your own device: There are several phone service providers, but the main one I know is UNE. They also provide wireless 4G LTE internet, which I thik it is is the fastest wireless internet in Colombia. Colombia is currently selecting the providers for a newly opened wave range for wireless communications. Colombia plans to select UNE. UNE is joining TIGO, which is like in third place for wireless service. Claro has about 60 percent of the customers for wireless phone service, but is not going to be included as provider for the new wave ranges.

I recommend UNE for wired internet. A lot of people has Claro for cellular service because many people has it, but things will change as the faster cellular speed wave range will be assigned to UNE. That will make UNE able to provide faster service. Its alliance with Tigo will broaden their customer base and area of coverage.

Telmex provides fast speed internet, but I was told that if a customer pays late past the month then their service will be disconnected and the person will have to pay a 60 thousand pesos fine and wait to have it reconnected. It has been said that the landline broadband internet service from UNE is better than the one from Telmex because of frequent disconnections in the one from Telmex, but I think that Telmex improved that situation.

Most Internet in Medellin comes in form of DSL (or ASDL) and from wireless service. Some areas such as Bello have fiber optic connections, but generally what is being used is regular telephone cable wiring (copper cable). Some of the new installations, even in remote areas are  getting fiber optic cable. People are increasingly starting to purchase high speed wireless internet from UNE that also provides TV over the internet for some TV channels. The user can choose the speed and therefore will get more channels if the person orders a higher plan.

Currently UNE charges as little as 20 thousand pesos for wired internet for the lowest income areas (estrato 1) and gives them the first two months free. 2 MB is sold at around 36 thousand pesos. Prices vary depending on the speed purchased and "estrato" (some sort of income level rating for an area) where the service would be installed. The lower the estrato the lower the prices. That also applies for other utilities. UNE's wireless internet for the 4G LTE starts at about 36 thousand pesos and goes up to probably 50 or 70 thousand pesos or more for faster speeds.

Telmex charges similar prices than UNE. They compete with each other for customers. UNE is normally recommended over Telmex because of comments that UNE provides better service. UNE takes sometimes long to fix problems that occur at a customer's home (they tell customers that they will fix the problem within 72 hours). I think they have improved   in that aspect.

Users can purchase cellulars on a prepaid mode or on a montly plan with a minimum of a year commitment (stiff penalties are applied if cancelling the plan early). The prepaid service is the one that occurs when the person just purchases the phone and does not get a monthly plan. Then the person can purchase recharges for his cellular for as little as 1000 pesos. The person can use his minutes to send messages or make calls.

The following information is important: The sender pays for the minutes, not the recepient. Therefore you can receive as many calls and messages as you want and not pay a peso, but if you make a call you pay for that service. Pricing for your own cellular calls and minutes is normally more expensive that purchasing it on the street unless you get an expensive plan that provides  many minutes. Service providers provide a lot of offers such as gifts of free minutes or days when they give extra minutes upon purchase of minutes. They also offer free or some minutes to people you call most. You choose which people you want to add to your list for that type of discount. Minutes to a different provider are normally more expensive than calling people who belong to your own provider. Therefore people get a provider that most people have. Tigo has aggresively fought to gain customers and often gives lower prices. That has produced an increased customer base in a short period of time.

Cellular service calling plans can start for as little as 29 thousand pesos or so and can go up in price up to maybe 600 thousand pesos or more. I suppose that most people buy the 29 to 39 thousand range. Higher level plans include Internet access and/or chat service and more SMS minutes.

People who buy a cellular plan normally get a discount on the purchase of a cellular or get the first or first two months of service free.

There is SMS software that allows the sending of many SMS messages at once thru the computer instead of through the cellular. One of them is the I-SMS Storm software (free trial download at download.com) that is often used for telemarketing purposes, but can be used for personal uses or for keeping in touch with many people and for communications while offsite. The person purchases minutes from a bulk SMS messaging provider such as Mobilex.

For additional information I recommend doing a search in Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_Colombia

Best wishes,

Cesar  

Colombia

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Cesar

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At Allexperts I provide free information about Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela such as travel and investment advice. My websites are www.CesarUSA.com, www.CesarInternational.com, and www.SupermodelUS.com. I provide services such as information about real estate in the U.S., Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. I also sell software and promote artists and models. I have been travelling to and living in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and U.S.A. throughout my life. I am familiar with matters related to safety and employment in the mentioned countries. I can provide information about Medellin, Pereira, Santa Rosa, Bogota, and a little bit about Cartagena, Cucuta and a few other cities. I can provide basic general information on touristic matters related to Colombia, United States, Ecuador, Venezuela. A little bit about Colombian and American immigration. I am bilingual in English and Spanish.

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I have lived in Colombia in several occasions, most recently for about 6 years until 2014. I have lived in the US for many years. I invite you to visit www.CesarUSA.com

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I studied Systems Engineering

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