When 3G or 4G or the next big thing finally gets going at top speed in Thailand, expect a few changes, particularly in pricing.
Statistics show the average Thai has more than one mobile phone, so citizens are used to a standard pricing scheme. Today's phone plans are either pre-pay or monthly billing, and with promotions and the like probably work out to something like one baht per minute for most callers, figuring talking and texting together.
3G prices are different right from the start. In a way, they are the reverse of today's price plans, which emphasise voice and add texting as a bit of an afterthought. 3G pricing will put data up front and not worry too much about actual phone calls.
iPhone or Galaxy users will not use them primarily for talking. The phone will be working in the background, churning data. (Don't forget to turn off e-mail checks if you have a limited plan.)
3G devices _ phones for sure, but also tablets and more _ primarily deal with data. The phone networks know this, and this is why you have a 3G phone that gets instant e-mail, lets you watch video, keep up with the news and play interactive games. They provide, you pay.
You usually pay a basic price allowing a certain amount of data downloads. My advice is no matter how little you plan to use your new smartphone with 3G, never sign up for a plan with under one gigabyte of data per month. That is actually a very small amount, whether you use 3G to get the actual news or just the lakorn news.
And roaming. Oh dear, oh my, isn't that a problem?
If you go roaming on your own while travelling to Korea or France or the US and use your phone, the bill could be larger than the cost of your plane ticket.
But current roaming deals in Thailand, which are unlikely to change for a while, can be terrific.
I know of a Thai student who headed for the US from her Bangkok home. Lisa bought a new iPhone in Thailand and signed up with DTAC for 1,000 baht a month, getting 3G service she found to be superior to 3G speeds in the US.
Before she left for the US, Lisa stopped by to speak to the folks at her local DTAC shop.
For 450 baht a month she added a roaming service specifically for the US. So for 1,450 baht per month, she can make 3G calls to both Thai and US phones at a reasonable price.
The cost to operate an iPhone in the US is more than in Thailand. Since Lisa already had a phone, she got a contract from one of the big US carriers for $60 a month, or just under 2,000 baht.
Comparisons are tough, however. Her US service needs a two-year contract to lock in the price, but it also gives her totally unlimited data, voice and text services. There are no extra phone charges.
She makes heavy use of her phone. She has several news apps, always on, and she never turns off her e-mail app. She downloads around 10 new apps a month including, last week, a 1.6-GB game of the new Marvel Avengers movie.
A similar Vodafone plan in Britain allows 5GB of downloads per month, probably enough for most people, at a similar cost of around 1,800 baht.
Prices in India are cheaper, but there are hidden costs as well. A plan allowing 5GB of data can cost as little as 600 baht a month, even cheaper than Thailand.
But it is likely that the current 1,000-baht contracts for very limited 3G use in Thailand will be fondly remembered within a year. Companies may already be losing money on them, and after they pay off the NBTC and their 3G construction companies, they will be losing money.