Saturday, April 24, 2004

Texting from Vietnam

I just came from an overnight trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on a business trip to pave the way for the entry of major Philippine products in the emerging tiger economy of Vietnam. And boy -- there sure is a lot material to blog about for the next few days: great food, interesting culture, warm people and many more. But let's start with the cellular phone service. Both my Globe prepaid and Smart postpaid accounts were in full working condition in Ho Chi Minh City. Global roaming worked well with Vinaphone for Globe and Mobiphone for Smart. The weird part is midway my Globe phone roaming shifted from Vinaphone to Mobiphone. But I had strong phone signals all over the City, in the major thoroughfares, the outskirts of the city and in Chinatown. I had no problems attending to other businesses unfolding in Manila.

My Globe pre-paid account global roaming was activated upon request. The rates were PHP 80 per minute incoming and outgoing. Incoming texts were free but outgoing texts cost PHP15.00 each. I guess a bit pricey so I skipped the "k" text replies to Manila. When people from Manila called, their numbers did not register on the screen. I had to answer each call that came to make sure that I didn't miss client calls. The hard part is if one gets a call from somebody in Manila dialing a wrong number. he gets hit with an PHP80 charge. It happened to one of my companions. It was just like giving away money for free.

Another concern in global roaming pre-paid was that to make a call to Manila, I had to type in *151* before the country code and phone number. So the phonebook had to be edited before making the call. Also Globe had instructions to ensure that the phone didn't run out of credits. Otherwise, the global roaming would be lost. To prevent it from happening to my phone, before going to Vietnam, I loaded PHP 2,000 worth of phone cards. By the time I got back it was down to PHP 800++. Not bad for a busy day.

As for the Smart postpaid account, I also had to request activation of the global roaming service. They asked me to deposit PHP 2500 because I was just on a Plan 800 which could be easily used up. They didn't tell me the rates, probably because I didn't ask. I dread to see the bill because before going back to Manila I had a 30 minute legal discussion with a counterpart counsel in Manila over a major transaction. It might be the cost of another overnight stay in Vietnam, but it was very important call so I didn't have any choice.

My companion had a better idea. She bought a prepaid sim card from Vietnam and used it to call Manila. The card was compatible with her usual phone. She said it was a lot cheaper to call Manila on Vietnamese prepaid account than to use global roaming. Well, had I known that, I would have done the same. Although, the prepaid sim was worth PHP 1450-- really expensive compared to sim cards here which cost only about PHP 150 in the Philippines with a bonus Happy Meal.

All together, the visit to the original Saigon was just like going to a major city like Cebu or Davao in the Philippines. The City that Hollywood portrays as a war zone turned out to be a business zone raging with activity and a cellular phone service at par with the best of the world. But for the rates, I had no trouble texting and calling from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Next Edition: Impressions on Business in Vietnam

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