Telmex Infinitum & Wideband Internet Provider - Are You Getting What You Pay For?
The first and only fiber optic line was put into service for the Baja California peninsula in 2002. Since then demand for bandwidth has increased 100 times, with the advent of Youtube, Netflix and cell phones.
In August of 2014 the Mexican congress abolished in-country long distance and 24hrs later Telmex reacted by abolishing plans for the new Baja fiber optic line. Since internet connectivity is the key to development of so many 'clean' income sources like tourism, real estate and high tech jobs, a solution remains 2-5 years away even if they were to start today. Will Baja return to the 'dark ages' before the end of the decade?
When I first moved to La Paz more than a decade ago, there was a waiting list just to receive a land line, as Telmex just didn't have enough available switches to supply the rapidly growing city and the demand. Cell phones were still a rare commodity.
Where I had left from, San Diego, at the same time was well into the ADSL generation and wireless service was even available in certain locations in the city. Cell service came on the scene in 2004 in La Paz with explosive growth, as it provided phone service to families beyond the reach of the slow growing hard wire network.
Here in La Paz at the time, the common means of connecting to the internet was via a dial-up modem and on a 'where is as is' basis, very often at an Internet Cafe. Wireless connection was not even a thought and hard line connection speeds were around 32kbps on a good day, at a good time. It was during that time that Telmex laid a series of fiber-optic cables the length of the peninsula. Prior to that the connection was copper wire and microwave relay to the mainland phone system.
Test Your Connection
Within months of the fiber-optic trunk lines coming online there was a rapid growth in land-line phones which were required to get a ADSL connection. Internet Cafes began to disappear, as home ownership of DSL connections and personal computers soared in La Paz and Los Cabos. Those were the early days of the BajaInsider. You can still find a few of our early pages designed to be less than 100K in total size, just so we could upload them. This page, for example, is more than half a megabyte, including images and ads. Cell phone ownership also blossomed over the same period.
Several wireless access point providers showed up on the scene, particularly to service the seasonal cruising crowd, a densely populated group of gringos anchored in the Ensenada de La Paz for example. Unfortunately, the technology was budding and too many users thought it was "OK" to share their access codes with friends, who in turn shared it with friends. The systems were unstable, overcrowded and slow, but did provide rudimentary access to the many of the seasonal visitors.
Wide Band 3G Service in Baja Sur
Several years ago Telcel introduced Band Ancha or wideband 3G service to Baja Sur. I was one of the earlier subscribers, using the broadband card to access and work from my boat. I was one of the fortunate users, as my card would usually lock onto an actual 3G equipped tower. There were a couple of things that you had to ask your sales person directly to get a square answer to. 1) How much of Baja Sur is actually 3G equipped 2) What is the bandwidth limit to the 'unlimited' plan.
At the time of launch very few cell site antennas were equipped to handle 3G. Several of my friends, just blocks away from my usage point, were very disappointed in getting slightly faster than old FAX speeds from their 3G card, as they logged on to an older antenna system. In Los Cabos the coverage is slightly better, principally from a geographic benefit. Since 2010 only a handful of additional towers have been equipped with a fiber optic connection to increase 3G coverage. Some of the outlying cell towers connect back to the system with outdated microwave. If you are connected to a non-3G tower internet speeds are similar to FAX speeds of the 1980's. (7-14Kbps)
For cruisers in the Sea of Cortez 3G service is limited to the La Paz anchorage and areas off-shore within 5-10 miles of Loreto. There are a couple of other places in the Sea that accommodate connection, but with EDGE technology from the 1990's, with limited number of connections available and speeds that really only allow text email connection, if you have patience.
Telcel no longer calls their plan 'unlimited' because it just wasn't true. Under the current plans you can purchase blocks of download capacity. On a month by month basis the maximum you can buy is 3Gigabytes, which basically prohibits you from using any video and you need to be careful when visiting sites like CNN and Facebookm which start video downloads automatically and chew up your centavos before you realize it. You also have to be careful to activate your purchase by texting a code back to the server or you quickly use up your purchase as "air time" rather than "bandwidth". 3GB costs $399 pesos, the most expensive in Mexico. On a contract you can get up to 10Gb for around $900 pesos. In parts of Baja California Sur Moviestar also offers wide band service, but in a much narrower service area and ultimately, through the same fiber optic line north.
Use it or lose it...
If you don't use up your allotted pay-as-you-go time, it doesn't roll over, it expires at the end of a 30 day period. Don't buy more time during the active time of a previous payment, or it too will expire at the end of the first expiration date or in some cases will require you to visit an office just to get the credit. This dubious practice is illegal in most countries.
4G is only available in select regions of the US, (although some providers are claiming to have it and is just on the drawing board for installation here in Mexico. It is of interest to note here that the maximum (unattainable) speed of a 3G network 3.6Mbps or about 3600Kbps and on EDGE connection the system can achieve a maximum of around 7-14kbps. So right off the bat it is obvious that Baja California Sur customers of Telcel and Banda Ancha are not getting the alleged world class service from the richest man on the planet, Carlos Slim, owner of Telcel and Telmex.
Broadband ADSL Infintium
On land line connections the quality of service appears to be almost as bad. We tested at several locations in Los Cabos, San Jose del Cabo and La Paz at residential locations. Download speeds were as low as 42kbps, averaged about 500kbps and the highest tested was 1200kbps. All of the tested home locations were paying for the base phone/internet package of $389 pesos per month, which should provide 3Mbps or 3000Kbps. During peak usage times in the evenings rates dropped significantly, some locations in our test reported 'no connection'.
Telmex also offers 5Mbps plans ($599 pesos/mo) and 10Mbps plans ($999 pesos per month. We tested at only one commercial location, paying for the 5Mbps plan in La Paz. The results were the exact same as the 3Mbps plan, around 0.7Mbps. It would appear that if you are buying an expanded velocity plan in Baja California Sur you are wasting money... period.
What is the problem?
In three words... exponentially increased demand. It is truly remarkable that the infrastructure of the internet has been able to even nearly keep pace with the demand when much effort is involved. It is not surprising that the internet bogs down where little effort is being made to keep up with demand. Netflix launched a one month free campaign in both the US and Mexico to promote their new services of downloadable movies. Along with YouTube, Facebook and a myriad of other video providers demand for internet bandwidth has soared, beyond the wildest imagination of Al Gore when he" invented the internet". (LOL)
Having been an executive in the cellular industry, the catch phrase was to: "Provide a quality of service that is one step ahead of a class action lawsuit." It would appear that Telmex/Telcel has slipped well below that margin of service.
Test Your Internet Connection Velocity
Want to find out if you are getting what you pay for? Test to a remote server when your internet connection is idle.
First, you must be on your own modem connection, whether 3G or standard DSL/Broadband. Shared wireless connections, or community cable systems can't be tested, unless you can boot all your neighbors off the system. Although you can test through a wireless system to your laptop or computer, the most accurate results come from hardwiring direct to your modem.
For an accurate test close all programs, Skype, Messengers, and Instant Chat programs, particularly Outlook, an email program as these might use the internet during the test and skew the results. Do not use your internet connection at any machine in the house during the test.
Visit this link for a free internet speed test to a remote server. try the test at a couple of different times of day. We have found 5-9PM to be the slowest, after midnight the net speeds up again sometimes to 1.5Mbps.
What you should get for realistic Infinitum results should provide a number around 2200-2500Kbps download and more than 1400-1800kbps upload. Any less than that is substandard.
What you can do...
Unfortunately, service will get much worse before it gets better. In 2013 Mexico announced a series of new fiber optic lines to keep Mexico's internet service in the top 10 world wide. In 2014 in-country long distance charges were abolished and as a result the modernization of Baja's internet was promptly canceled. Demand has outstripped modernization of the Baja internet backbone. For the continued growth and investment of residential applications and business expansion, a quality internet infrastructure is no longer a luxury, but an essential. Folks who wish to come to Baja California Sur and continue working stateside will soom find it impossible or at very least, frustrating.
It is a common observation that many Baja locals are timid, when it comes to rocking the boat about utility services, the loud voice may need to come from North American users. Encourage your neighbors to check their connection and complain as well. it is likely that we are not getting anywhere near what we pay for.
For land line Infintium service call Telmex and complain (1-800-123-2222 in Mexico) or email via the Telmex website for Banda Ancha.
For Banda Ancha wireless 3G service the system has less guarantees, but if you feel you are not getting the kind of service you anticipated contact Telcel (664 633 3300 or 01 800 02 62 626 if you are on an annual plan.) or via the Telcel website or you can visit in person your local Telcel Customer Service office. Complaining to 'Authorized Dealers' is a waste of your breath.
If there is no positive action of action on the behalf of Telmex or Telcel, contact PROFECA the Mexican Consumer Affairs Department.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. With a strong internet backbone life in Baja California Sur can be even more productive and enjoyable.
Thanks for reading and happy Net Surfing!