Saturday, January 17, 2004
VoIP on the road in Guatemala
Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things:
My sister and I run an online office furniture company. She's traveling in Central America for a while, but since there's still a business to run back home -- we've had to explore a number of ways to stay connected.

Guatemala doesn't exactly have the world's most advanced telephone networks... rates to and from the country via POTS are prohibitively high, and our calls are often dropped because of poor connection quality. The solution? Ubiquitous 'Net cafes, which are more common than we'd expected in larger Guatemalan cities like Antigua and Guatemala City. Per-hour broadband access for IM and email is really cheap, and a surprisingly high percentage of those cafes offer voice-over-internet phone calls for very cheap per-minute rates (about ten or twenty US cents a minute for outgoing calls to the US, compared to the 'here's our best offer' business rate we got from Sprint -- $1.50 per-call initiation fee, then nearly a buck a minute for Guatemala-to-US calls).

Toting your own VoIP phone when you travel is a great idea, but isn't practical when you're way out in the boonies and you're not packing your own bandwidth (satellite or whatever). If the only connectivity you can scare up is dial-up access at someone's home or a small B B, that's just not gonna work. This Net cafe thing, however, seems to be working really well instead. I'm amazed at how common and cheap the 'Net cafe access and pay-as-you-go VoIP stations are in Guatemala. The other interesting thing to consider is that VoIP isn't just for tourists like my sister -- it's not uncommon for households in Antigua not to have running water, let alone phone access, let alone affordable international phone service. So, VoIP cafes are definitely for local users.

She VoIPped me a few minutes ago to say that she can see a smoking volcano outside the window of the 'Net cafe where she is right now in Antigua.... beyond the broadband, above the cobblestone streets and the smell of fresh corn tortillas, there is smoke and lava.
posted by Xeni Jardin at 12:33:39 PM

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