Another dot in the blogosphere?

Getting connected in Malaysia

Posted on: December 1, 2015

This is a contribution to my irregular “getting connected” series on using prepaid SIM cards overseas.

My largest collection of SIMs must be from Malaysia given that it is Singapore’s closest neighbour. I have SIMs from Digi, Xpax, and Tune Talk.

Digi prepaid

I have the most number of SIMs from Digi as my research revealed it to be the most value for money and they are the easiest to find at kiosks, malls, or roadside shops. I stumbled on the other two only when Digi was not conveniently available.

The set ups vary between providers and over time, so I do not think that a description is useful. You need only hand over to a shop staff your phone (for set up and top up) and passport (for registration).

What I thought might be useful was to compare what the process is like in different parts of the world.

  • In countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, the process is manual, but there are always people to help you set things up.
  • In the Scandinavian countries, Australia, and New Zealand, the process of calling, topping up, setting up, and so on, is also manual, but you might have to do it yourself.
  • In the UK, you can buy a SIM from a vending machine, pop it in yourself, restart the phone, and everything just works.

The SIMs and prepaid Internet plans in SE Asia are very cheap and some providers might not have all three SIM sizes. Elsewhere they command a premium and do not require that someone has a SIM cutter.

Me in Georgetown, Penang.

I was in Georgetown, Penang, recently for four days (see my Google Photos). What I paid over the entire time would have only covered just one day of travel router loan from Changi Recommends (CR). Getting my own SIM from Digi also meant I also had a larger daily quota (1GB over CR’s 400MB).

An all-you-can-eat data SIM from Three UK costs a lot more (see entry), but it also comes with perks like free roaming in several countries.

I have also noticed how SIMs in our part of the world do not detect or block tethering. Such SIMs tend to work seamlessly in mifi devices. These travel routers have long-lasting batteries and share one connection with several users. This reduces the drain on phone battery and wallet.

A few more notes on Digi:

  • Doing research before leaving home is crucial. I found out that Digi had a plan for 1GB for RM5 a day (approximately SGD1.65), but the provision shop lady I bought it from was not aware of it.
  • Such plans can disappear as quickly as they appear. Halfway through my stay, the RM5 rate went up to RM7.
  • Such a plan required me to manually renew the data plan every 24 hours. This meant taking the SIM out of the mifi device, putting it into my spare travel phone, activating the new plan, and returning the SIM to the router.
  • The reception in Georgetown was 4G where there were tall or modern buildings, 3G in the heritage areas, and 2G or non-existent deep inside some of the old houses. (Incidentally, while wifi was plentiful, it was not reliable and slower than dial-up at times.)

You get what you pay for and you work for the rest. You define what makes for a quality experience: You can have either convenience or low cost, not both.

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