Learning Uruguay

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Mobile Internet in Uruguay

Posted by urufish on February 28, 2008


For the past several months, I’ve noticed an article here and there on the new mobile internet services being offered in Uruguay.  Movistar and CTI both offer this service. 

Mobile internet is a 3rd way of getting internet service in Uruguay.  The first provider in Uruguay was Antel with dialup.  Then it introduced ADSL.  Dedicado opened up shop with point to point microwave internet.  Antel’s ADSL service works through a telephone line.  Dedicado uses point-to-point microwave.  You get a small antenna which is pointed at their antennas.  Mobile internet is also wireless, but you dont need an antenna pointed at theirs.  You just need a small USB device.  It can be a plug in, like a jump drive or it can be a small remote USB modem.   Both are shown below.

globesurfer.jpg   e226.jpg

The differences between CTI and Movistar as of today are several.  Let’s start with the way they promote it.  Movistar advertises it on their website.  CTI doesn’t.  Pricing is considerably different.  CTI launched the service at almost USD50 per month.  It’s now down to USD25.  Movistar is about the same, but not for the same service.  CTI offers unlimited use for that USD25 per month.  Movistar limits you to 10gb for USD25. 

Coverage is also different.  Whereas CTI supposedly claims coverage across the country, Movistar is a little more conservative, showing coverage in most of Montevideo, Colonia and Maldonado (Punta del Este).  If you go to CTI and look at their written promotion, it says the service is available in Montevideo, Zona America (I assume that’s Zonamerica-Canelones), Atlantida, Piriapolis, Jose Ignacio, Punta Del Este, Maldonado, Shangrilah and Solymar.  It says that more site are coming.  

The obvious advantage of mobile internet over fixed internet (as in cable, telephone line, microwave) is that you can take it with you, assuming that there is service where you’re going.  Not everyone needs this but for those that do, this is the answer to your mobile needs.  Not only can you take CTI with you here in Uruguay to Punta or up to Colonia, you can take it with you to Argentina, (eg. Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Cordoba, etc.) and to Brazil (Sao Paolo, Rio, Florianopolis, etc.) and Paraguay, (Ascunsion, etc.).  No roaming charges.  If Movistar lets you do this too, you can add Chile to the list. 

We went out tonight and purchased service from CTI.  Movistar was out because our summer house is atop San Antonio in Piria.  That’s the main reason we bought the service–so we could have internet in Piriapolis.  

I was somewhat prepared for CTI because of Wilbur’s (jajaja) post on totaluruguay.com, but like they say, you’re never fully prepared for anything in Uruguay.  We went to CTI’s Punta Carretas branch around 7:45pm.  There was no line.  We were served within a few minutes.  Before we could ask any questions, the girl went through a list of things we should know.  The service was up to 2mb but there was no guarantee what we’d get.  If you use it inside, the speed is usually slower than outside.  You had to take a contract for 2 years.  Your first month is free.  You had to pay for the modem–$1799 (pesos).  Then we got to ask our first question, ‘Is there service in Piriapolis’.  That caused a delay as our salesgirl asked her boss who went inside and asked someone else.  After 5-6 minutes we were told that ‘it says it works in Piriapolis’  That didn’t warm my heart but considering there was no alternative, I accepted that at face value.

We then asked what the return policy was if it didn’t work in Piriapolis.  We were told we had 5 days to return the product for full refund.  There was one catch though.  If we connected to the internet, that meant that we accepted that it worked and there would be no return possible.  I explained that if we connected to the internet for a few seconds, then it went away and then it came back and this went on, that wouldn’t constitute a reasonable service.  That was answered with a blank stare.  So I said, well what if the service is so poor, that we get a very poor connection speed.  The supervisor said it wont connect under 256kbps.   Impasse. 

After a minute of indecision, we decided I knew enough to stay out of trouble so we said OK, we’ll take it.  That’s when she asked for a cedula and a phone, water, electricity bill.  Uh oh.  It’s been so long since I dealt with a new vendor, I forgot that you need to show that you actually have a contract with any company in Uruguay.  You could show them your Black American Express card and they’d still refuse to service you unless you show them an Antel, OSE, UTE or Montevideo Gas bill.  I went home to get one while my wife looked around. 

When I got back, there was a bit of a line, so we had to wait 10 minutes to see the girl who originally served us.  She smiled and took the Antel bill.  Then she printed out a 5 or 6 page document which my wife dutifully signed.  While she was doing that, I got a chance to read the posters in the store.  I guess I was bored because I read the fine print on the bottom of the mobile internet poster.  And that’s where I saw the published coverage.  There was Piriapolis… I was happy. 

After we signed all the forms, they asked us how we intended to pay.  As soon as my wife said ‘by credit card’ the girl said ‘it cant be an international card’.  This goes back to Wilbur’s post when he got frustrated, tore up his contract and walked out.  We were OK because we use our local credit card for small stuff in Uruguay.  When we told the girl we had a ‘national’ credit card, she was genuinely relieved.  I guess after hearing my wife and myself talking in English, she feared the worse. 

She gave us all the forms and we went upstairs to the cashier who stamped everything.  We went back downstairs and picked up the modem. 

When we came home, I opened up the box, took out the modem and looked at the manual.  One of the very few I’ve seen in Uruguay that come from China that aren’t in English.  Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem but there was a description of how to read the lights and another question in my mind about the cable.  I always resort to English when a misunderstanding could cause damage.  Checked on the internet for the manual in English.  The model we had, the E226 wasn’t there but the E220 was.  I figured that was good enough.  It was. 

The question I had with the cable was that it had 3 ends.  One for the device and what looked like 2 USB connections for the computer.  At first thought I figured it was to share another device if you only have one USB port on your computer.  But, believe it or not, it isn’t.  This device actually needs two USB ports on your computer.  One for data and one for power.  Maybe I’ve been away from the hardware side of the business too long but in all my years in IT,  I never saw a device that needed 2 connections to work. 

A device that requires 2 ports presents a dilemna for my wife.  She uses a Dell miniature laptop which has only one port.  I will have to give her my full size dell notebook to use in Piria.  It has 2 ports.  Or maybe I’ll purchase an external USB hub with a power supply.  Decisions.  Decisions.  Decisions. 

As of now, the chip is in the modem and it’s ready to go to Piria tomorrow evening.  I will have to bring my box of electronics with me in case I need to modify or fix something to overcome a glitch.  I’d do it here, but if I connect to the internet tonight, I cant return it if it doesn’t connect tomorrow.  This is typical of the kind of annoying problems you face in Uruguay that are unheard of (for at least the last 50 years) in North America. 

On Monday, I’ll write about the 2nd half of this project… Getting it to work. 


8 Responses to “Mobile Internet in Uruguay”

  1. toto said

    Just to let you know, I have one of those portable 2.5″ usb hard drive enclosure for my laptop, and you might have to connect it to the laptop using either one or two usb cables that are provided. The problem is that if your HD eats up more than half ampere, then you need the extra juice from the second connection.

  2. Wilbur said

    That bait and switch on the modem model number is significant…. if you read up on the modem specs (and funcationality with open source operation systems).

    When I attempted “purchase” one, they claimed the speed was up to 1 megabit and there was no other option. Then I started seeing advertisements in Punta del Este that the service was 2 mb.

    I think it is the problem that the tech people installed the system and have a clue about it and the CTI management never bothered to prepare the sales staff with any useful information about the service.

    I still can’t imagine why they don’t take international credit cards, ie: “Visa” and “MasterCard”. In almost 3 years they are the only business I’ve encounted that takes credit cards that hasn’t taken one of mine.

    They actually told me there was absolutely no return possibility until I read the 5 day return clause in the contract and asked what that meant.

    I think you will find that it actually uses BOTH connections for power, as the modem requires more power than the USB specs provide for one plug.

    Did it come with two cables? One with 2 USB plus and the other with 1?

    When you first plug the modem in it will appear as a flash memory device which should autoload the drivers and then switch it to a modem device.

  3. Anonymous said

    Thanks for the info Toto. Like I said, I never had to use a 2nd port for any one device but now that you mention it, I did run into power limiting issues when we used Microsoft keyboards with 2 USB ports of their own. If you plugged in a mouse, you were fine. But if you plugged in a USB HD, it wouldn’t function properly. I didn’t put 2 and 2 together. Thanks for pointing out the 0.5a limitation. I may have to buy my wife an external USB hub and have her lug around a transformer.

  4. urufish said

    Nice to have you visit Sr. Corncob 🙂

    In this particular incident, with CTI, there was no bait and switch with the USB modem at the Punta Carretas depot. The model they had on display in the glass showcase is exactly the same model they show in their promotion and it’s the same one I got yesterday. I’ll go through your other questions in today’s followup post.. which is unexpected because it’s Saturday – not Monday. I’m sitting here on my terrace, atop San Antonio, watching the sun shining in small 50-60 square meter sections of the ocean and the town below, struggling with my touchpad (I hate touchpads).

  5. Jens said

    Hello urufish,

    thanks for the info. I got so frustrated going to CTI and every time they tell you something different.
    Maybe you can answer me some questions:

    1. Are there really no roaming fees in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay?
    2. Does it work in areas without 3G? They say it does, but with limited speed. What about areas without 3G in Argentina (roaming fees?)
    3. Is there any possibility you get a bill higher than the 485 Pesos?
    4. Do they charge your monthly bills to your credit card?


  6. urufish said

    1. I specifically asked the girl at CTI-PC (which BTW, had a new name the other day–maybe they rebranded the operation???). She said NO. I hope to be in BA in April. I’ll check my bill in May.

    2. There are 2 modes it operates in. I’ve seen it switch in front of my eyes.. within 50m of a tower… Dont know why it does that. The only thing they told me is that it only operates where they have set up facilities. Even if there’s 3g in an area, that doesn’t mean mobile internet will work. They may update their website as they roll out, but who knows. The only thing I know for certain is it works everywhere I tried it in Montevideo, (many places), Piriapolis, (above and below), PDE (one restaurant) and Maldonado (a few places). If you haven’t checked Argentina’s CTI site, have a look. It could be more developed there – or not. Dont know.

    3. I was told you can use it day and night and the bill will stay the same, even if you use it in another country. But like I said above, I haven’t tried it yet, so I cant swear to it. When I read the contract I signed, the only reference to price states it’s plata libre, internet libre movil. There’s no provision for extra charges anywhere.

    4. Yes they do. But it MUST BE A LOCAL credit card. I dont know if they mean local as in Mercosur. That’s the card I used. Good only in a Mercosur country. Or if they’ll accept international cards issued by a mercosur country. I didn’t choose that option since I have American and Canadian international cards already.
    I know 2 people that tried to use American cards and CTI said no.

    Keep in mind what I’m telling you was accurate a few weeks ago. Dont know if something has changed since then. I figure if anything were to change, maybe it would be them accepting American credit cards.

    I’ve used American credit cards for cellular contracts before (and now) with both Ancel and Movistar. It could be that this is just something specific about the internet service.

    One more note. The contract I signed wasn’t with CTI per se. It was with something called AM Wireless Uruguay. Could be it’s a division or who knows.

    They also tell you that you cant put this chip in a phone. I got the impression from the girl that it would damage the chip or the phone. Sounded like a fantasia, but who knows.

  7. roberto said

    One more note. The contract I signed wasn’t with CTI per se. It was with something called AM Wireless Uruguay. Could be it’s a division or who knows.

    Fantasy Name: CTI Uruguay now Claro
    Legal Name: AM Wireless Uruguay (America Movil Wir…)

  8. urufish said

    Thanks for the clarification Roberto….
    In North America, we use the expression dba (doing business as) instead of Fantasy name.. Nombre Fantasia.
    I first heard that expression when I set up my unipersonal company..
    The HUGE difference between Uruguay and North America with Fantasy names, (dba) is banks will not let you deposit checks made out to the Fantasy name. They must be made out to you personally.

    This is a HUGE impediment to opening up a small business in Uruguay. It was very difficult to convince Canadian/American companies to do business with my company, paying me personally. Image is very important when you’re a foreign company trying to do business with American companies.

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