Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Can you hear me now?

[21 Feb 2017]

One of our biggest concerns about coming back to Bolivia, and being assigned way out in the countryside, it Tupiza, was whether we would be able to communicate regularly with family back home. I knew, from our time in Cochabamba, that I could put a chip in my android phone, and get email, etc., but our experience with Skype over the internet at the temple wasn’t always the best. I figured it would only be worse this far out, especially if our only option was going to an internet cafĂ© to acquire a signal.

In an effort to cover all the bases, a couple of months ago I bought a Nexus 5x phone (thanks to information from our son Sam), and signed up on the Google Fi network. Their FAQ pages indicated that they had service in Bolivia, which I translated to mean La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. Sure enough, as soon as we landed in La Paz, I had service, and was able to contact the Mission President.

When we got to Santa Cruz, it was still working. Good so far. When we arrived in Sucre, it seemed to work at the airport, but not in town. When we got to Tupiza, it appeared to receive a signal, but never attached to a network. At least for the first few days. Along about the third day or so, it connected, and has been pretty reliable since. We’ve skyped over it, with a better connection than we  had in Cochabamba, called home, etc. So, that was a relief. It isn’t always connected, but it is pretty infrequent that it doesn’t work.

On our third day here, I bought an Entel chip to put my old Android phone up on the Bolivian network. And it works fine, too for email and calls within Bolivia. I think I can make international calls as well, but I don’t need to with my other options.

Which brings me to actual internet in our apartment. I was thinking I’d have to have a line pulled, and the owner here indicated that he planned to do that someday. But it costs something like $450 US to do that. Not very reasonable.

President Hansen had referred me to the District Secretary, Eduardo, who he thought would know the best way to do it. So I talked to him, and at his direction bought a tigo(different network here in Bolivia) MiFi. It is a little device (about 3.5 inches long) that pulls its internet signal from satellites. It also has a little battery pack that lasts 5 hours or so. Eduardo assures me it will work out in the most remote parts of Bolivia. It cost about $120 US, but came with $105 US credit, so it nets out at $15 US. Not bad. Our first Skype session with one of the family demonstrated its power – a far better connection than we had in Cochabamba – nearly flawless. And I can take to church with me to download church media or manuals that I may have missed getting downloaded in Spanish as I need them.  Or, when we travel to Cochabamba, I can connect when needed (the trip is a bit longer than 5 hours, unfortunately.)

tigo MiFi - connected to USB power with battery behind it.
At our current usage rate, with half-hour Skype sessions with the kids and parents during the week, it looks like it will turn out to be a bit pricier than internet in the states, but it is well worth it. We’re burning through about $4.50US per day. I don’t know what that amounts to in $/GB, but I’ll figure it out eventually. It’s a pretty nifty little device, and pretty progressive for Bolivia.

So, very good news. Not only are communications with home, kids, parents, etc. doable, they are very fast and reliable.

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