Techie in Vietnam: Will My Smartphone Stay Smart?
As a techie growing up in the Silicon Valley, I’ve grown accustomed to certain conveniences. One gadget I certainly cannot live without is my smartphone; a Blackberry Tour 9560 to be exact. Almost every aspect of my life surrounds it: work & personal emails, Twitter, Facebook, getting from point A to B, and my daily news. In the past, I’ve always cringed at the fact of living in Vietnam knowing I’ll have to leave such amenities behind.
However, things have changed in the last few years so I decided to investigate the issue further. My goal is to answer one question: will my smartphone stay ‘smart’ in Vietnam?
1) The Network – Does Vietnam have 3G?
Yes. On October 13th, 2009, Vinaphone launched the first 3G network in Vietnam. Although we can assume coverage to be concentrated to major metropolitan areas, it is welcomed news to owners of multimedia phones like the iPhone. Vietnam runs on a GSM network. Until recently, everyone who wanted data was on EDGE, which is significantly slower than 3G.
The important implication of the 3G network (other than letting me stream Youtube in Saigon) is that it opens the door for companies to deliver much richer content to the mobile phone and web. Definitely a big step.
2) Will my phone work?
Yes, mostly. Vietnam cellphones run on a GSM network, like most countries in the world. If you own a GSM phone (AT&T, T-Mobile, any ‘world’ phones), your phone will work in Vietnam given you’ve unlocked it. Unlocking your phone can be confusing. US providers lock your phones on their network. However, after you have been with that provider for long enough (around 3 months), they will allow you to unlock your cellphone upon request. If you can’t wait that long, there are services out there that will take care of you (I found this site uniquephones.com).
What this means is that popular phones like the iPhone and my Blackberry will work overseas!
3) What about Google Maps?
Kind of. If i’m not using my phone to call someone or send an email, I’m using it to figure out how to get to places. I would be a lost man without Google Maps in my pocket, making it one of my must have features.
I tested Google maps in Vietnam and the result is pretty sparse. I’m sure our team member, Paul Pham, who’s in Quang Ngai right now for hurricane relief efforts, can attest that there are more than 3 roads in Quang Ngai. The worst thing is that Google Maps will not be able to give you door to door directions. That means guys like me will have to figure out how to get from one place to another the old fashion way: getting lost.
With the addition of 3G and compatibility to most US phones, I can safely say your phones will stay fairly smart in the metropolitan areas of Vietnam, where 75% of the population have cellphones to start with! However, I cannot say the same for poorer, rural regions, which still live in heavy poverty. I want to close with a reminder: although Vietnam has progressed to offer luxuries like 3G cellphones, many are left behind.
My name is James Bao. I am the tech writer at Vietnam Talking Points (talk.onevietnam.org), a journal by young expatriates.