Internet in Mexico
In recent years the digital wave has crashed into Mexico with force and there are today multiple options for visitors, residents, and expat drifters such as myself to get online and stay online pretty much anyplace, anytime.
It’s perhaps a bit ironic for an American, but the very first time I ever saw the Internet in action was in the computer lab at Tech de Monterrey in Mazatlan in 1998 while I was a student there studying Spanish (and, of course, learning how to party Mexican-style). I bought a computer shortly thereafter on my return to Austin, Texas and I have been a fanatic of the virtual world ever since.
It hasn’t always been that easy. When I moved to Mexico full-time in February of 2003 the options were fewer and less reliable. At one point in 2005, the only option available for our Acapulco apartment was dial-up service through Telmex. It was a true nightmare. It would disconnect constantly and each time the program automatically redialed Telmex would charge us again (that's right, you had to pay for each new call, even to local numbers, and even if it was to their dial-up number over and over again because they kept kicking me off). One month I we received a phone bill of nearly $15,000 Mexican pesos, almost entirely due to the thousands of calls made to their Internet service’s dial-up number. Of course, the company rather mercilessly forced us to pay this absurd bill or else our telephone line would be cut off.
It’s no wonder the owner of Telmex, Carlos Slim, is the richest man in the world. I still hold a grudge against Telmex and would love nothing more than to see this monster broken up or at least be subjected to some real competition. If you’ve ever studied economics, private monopolies are about the worst of all worlds as they can easily gouge their captive markets and usually do.
Since we’re providing information for visitors, residents, and people on the move with diverse needs, just click the link below to jump to the section you're interested in (but do take time out to read about the banda ancha if you’re not familiar with it because that one may be worth your while).
- High-speed DSL - Telmex Infinitum
- Cable Internet – through one of the many regional cable companies.
- Banda Ancha – wireless access with a USB dongle through Telcel or Iusacell
- Free Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Hotspots in Mexico
- Cyber Cafes
- Mobile Access
- Fiber Optic
Today Telmex offers excellent, high-speed DSL Internet service at reasonable rates (well, considering Mexico’s recent past) through their Infinitum program. I won’t bother quoting prices as they’re likely to be out-of-date by the time my fingers get through hitting the keys, but for around $30 USD per month, you can get unlimited access if you have a phone line. They have all sorts of Internet and telephone packages. Right now, Infinitum is the fastest and most reliable service in Mexico and a must for anyone doing business here.
The only hitch is that in places like Acapulco, it can take several months to get a phone line installed. I’ve tried it twice and twice it has taken many months. In other less challenging locations it’s much quicker, they say around a week to get a new phone line.
- If you’re buying a property, make sure you get concrete evidence that Telmex offers service to your area. This isn’t always the case if you’ve bought a piece of land or a property in a new community or in an area off the beaten track.
- If you’re moving, it’s better not to cancel the line, but rather suspend it. If you have a line in your name already it will be much quicker and easier to activate at your new location than go through the process of setting up a whole new line.
- If you get Infinitum, hang onto your modem for dear life. It is a very lengthy and burdensome process trying to cancel your service if you have lost your modem.
- Save all of your Telmex bills. A Telmex bill in your name serves as one of the primary ways to verify your address – something you will find yourself having to do constantly if you live here. It also serves are proof you paid.
If you don't live in Mexico, you probably won’t cross paths with this type of service unless you book a vacation rental that has this option installed. Virtually every sizable city in Mexico offers a local cable package that includes Internet. I won’t mention prices because they’re changing all the time other than to say that one can get this for something in the neighborhood of $30 to $70 USD per month. The bundle typically includes a variety of channels both national and international, Internet of minimally reasonable speed, and telephone service. My personal experience is that these cable options provide neither the best selection of channels nor the best quality Internet service, but provides good enough options on all fronts to make this an attractive, cost-effective option for many residents.
In the past, I typically subscribed to a cable service so that I have a backup Internet connection and to catch some of the international news in the process. In my case, the most useful thing about the cable option is that it can be installed quickly and you can get up and running online in just a couple of days. While not a big deal for most people, this is a huge deal for we Internet professionals. When I moved into my last house in Acapulco, the first thing I did when the ink was dry was to get cable service – the reason is that it takes Telmex months to install a new telephone line in Acapulco for some reason.
For Internet and telephone I generally prefer Telmex because the speed tends to be better and the service, if more expensive, is more reliable. For TV, I find that SKY is a better option than most of the cable services, but I guess that’s a matter of taste.
A few of the major regional providers include:
Telecable - http://www.telecable.net.mx/
Gigacable - http://www.gigacable.com.mx/
Cablecom - http://www.cablecom.com.mx/
Cablevisión - http://www.cablevision.net.mx/
Cablemás - http://www.cablemas.com.mx/
You can get the prices and packages on their websites.
Banda ancha in English means “broadband”. In Mexico it also means a little dongle that you plug into your computer to get Internet over the wireless spectrum.
To use a banda ancha (pronounced bahn-dah ahn-cha) you need a computer. It won’t work (at least I don’t see how) with a mobile device. It’s ideally suited for folks that travel with their laptops, like me.
The way it works is that you by a little dongle (which comes in multiple colors for those with discriminating tastes) that plugs in to your computer via the USB port. The dongly thing costs around $30 USD which included the purchase of the equipment and typically comes with a week or so of credit. When you connect it, a little screen pops up asking you to install a bit of software (it works with both Windows and Mac), then you connect and you’re off and surfing. That's about all there is to it.
This option is priced per gigabyte of transfer. If your Internet use is light, this is a pretty cool option. You can literally sit on the beach and surf the net. If you’re a heavy user that has to upload or download heavy files, this option can get very expensive, very quickly. I was in Ixtapa in 2011 and my use was so heavy that I went through 500 pesos of credit in a day and a half. Ouch. They say that 500 pesos should cover a month of “normal use”... but define “normal use.”
I use this option when I travel around Mexico, but I’ve learned to modify my online behavior to make it a bit more cost effective. For frequent visitors, those going to more remote areas with few other viable options, or those that really like the idea of Skyping with their friends up in Saskatchewan on a January day while longing on a beach in Zihuatanejo, this is the way to go.
I recently bought one through Iusacell. They are also available through Telcel. I have both. Iusacell is somewhat less expensive, but the company is not as ubiquitous as Telcel so expect to find fewer places where you’ll be able to re-up. You can get credit for either at any OXXO.
To do all of this you might need to learn a few Spanish keywords such as recargar or tarjeta.
- Don’t plan on downloading music or video files or watching streaming videos for that matter using a banda ancha. This will cause your credit to run out quickly.
- Disconnect when you’re not using it, even if for a minute or two. Modern operating systems typically send all sorts of info over the Internet behind the scenes and behind our backs and it will wear out your credit.
- Keep unneeded programs closed while you’re surfing. I use the imap protocol for my email accounts and my Mac Mail client would just keep talking back and forth with the remote email server and burning up my credit in the process.
If you find yourself in pretty much any tourist area in Mexico. Cancun, Vallarta, Ixtapa, Acapulco, Los Cabos, Mazatlán, etc. virtually every bar, restaurant, and café will have “free” Wi-Fi. However, it’s rare to find an open network so you’ll need to ask for the pin, which means you need to be consuming something at their establishment to get access to the Internet, so I guess one can debate whether it’s really free. It’s a bit more like the free chips and salsa they bring out before you order.
In various cities around Mexico, they are working on offering free Wi-Fi in various public areas. I heard that they were planning to offer free Wi-Fi in Acapulco’s Zocalo a couple years back, but it seems the plan never materialized – a shame because I love sitting in the Zocalo. On the other hand, I was driving through downtown Guanajuato and was able to pull over and use the internet to book a hotel online and check my email sitting in my car.
I’ve started a forum where you can list Wi-Fi Hotspots in Mexico. Pinpoint them on a Google Map, if possible.
It’s most often the best hotels that charge extra for Internet while mid-range hotels offer it for free… while low end hotels don’t have it at all. As a friend put it, the high-end hotels do this because “they can get away with it.” True that. They often charge around $15 USD per day for rather mediocre service. Don’t play ball if you can help it. See our section on Banda Ancha.
Internet Access at Airports in Mexico
If you have Infinitum, Telmex has service available for free at all major airports (and many major shopping centers) if you can remember your login info. If not, your options are more limited. Airports in Mexico (as around the world) look at providing Internet access to its captive travelers to be a nice little revenue stream and make access available only at steep prices. In Mexico City I recall having bought some sort of scratch card with an access pin a couple years ago to login via the annoying little screen that pops up with its hand out the moment you open your browser. I’m not sure if there’s a name for these screens, but I put them in the same general category as a dental dam. You can surely still buy access pins if you’re in a pinch and can explain what you need in Spanish. A much better idea would be to bring your banda ancha.
Pretty much every nook and cranny of Mexico has some sort of cyber cafe. They typically cater to locals who don’t have internet service of their own so on a given day you’ll likely see half a dozen high-schoolers in there checking their email, Facebook, or chatting on MSN. A typical “ciber” as they’re called in Mexico (pronounced see-brrr), has ancient computers running even older versions Windows, connection speeds are generally slow given that everyone is working off the same modem and the staff is probably downloading music via Pirate Bay, and it might be slightly complicated to connect your laptop (someone will have to crawl under the table to disconnect a computer to retrieve the Ethernet cable) as they typically don’t offer Wi-Fi. The larger, chic cyber cafes catering to tourists that once dotted tourist zones across the nation seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur due to the ubiquity of free Wi-Fi in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops all over tourist areas in Mexico.
While your Andriod or iPhone mobile will almost certainly work in Mexico, this is probably the most expensive and least satisfying way to access the Internet in Mexico or anywhere. If you have a plan in Mexico (Mexico offers a variety of cell-phone plans including ones for the iPhone) you can probably do this from time to time without losing your shirt. If not, expect to get stitched royally for surfing the net internationally when you get your bill. Think of using you cell abroad as the equivalent of leaving hundred dollar bills sitting out on a table of your hotel room while you’re passing the day at the beach – you’re just inviting trouble.
Telmex is looking into launching super high-speed fiber optic cable in the near future. That would be a dream come true. It might not be too long before Mexico’s Internet speeds dwarf those of the United States. That would be quite a welcome turn around for this expat.