Mexico Guide – Telephone & Internet
The Mexican telecommunication market
Mexico’s telephone network is one of the most well-developed in Latin America, offering a whole range of modern telecommunication services. However telecom charges are still very high compared to those in the US or Europe.
Mexican Telmex is the market leader by a long way, so prices and fees are very high. Their main shareholder Carlos Slim has become one of the richest – if not the richest – man in the world. Critics say that his influence in Mexican politics has been a key factor behind his wealth, using his power to obstruct or at least limit any political initiatives to increase competition in the market.
Given the ease with which Mexican policies can be influenced, either informally or through direct corruption, questions are often asked about the origins of Slim’s vast fortune. Then again telephone companies are fighting everywhere to hold onto their position in the market, and many international markets are only gradually being liberalised. In Mexico Slim’s Telmex have already had to swallow a few laws intended to increase competition in the market. Although most of these changes were necessary in order for Mexico to join the WTO (World Trade Organization), and were therefore only carried out half-heartedly, they have also made it possible for alternative providers to enter the market to at least try to compete with Telmex.
Coverage and fees
Landline coverage in Mexico reaches the level of the US and Western Europe. Today more and more people are turning to wireless connections, especially in rural areas. Telmex’s wireless network covers almost all of Mexico, while alternative providers do not yet provide much coverage in remote areas.
Telecom services include all modern technologies like ADSL and the latest GSM and 3G mobile technologies. Telmex is reinvesting large parts of their monopoly profits in new networks and technology. In bigger cities you will find almost every service you are used to from home, while in remote areas products and connections are a lot more limited.
Line rentals, high-speed connections and telephone charges (especially for international calls) are still high compared to Northern America or Europe. They seem even more expensive when compared with an average household income in the local area.
However prices start to decline whenever there is competition for Telmex. In large cities you can often use an alternative provider for landlines and internet access. For international calls you can use a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service or – if there is no high-speed internet access – one of the many prepay cards that offer significant savings on international calls. For mobile phones you might consider using a provider other than Telmex if the coverage suits your needs. In any case it is always worth shopping around and comparing your options if you want to save some money.
Getting a phone line
How to get a phone line in Mexico
Getting a phone line in Mexico is usually a straightforward process. In many cities you can choose between different landline providers, whereas in smaller town and villages your choice will often be limited to Telmex.
The easiest way to get a landline installed is to visit a store from the provider of you choice. In most cases you will have to present:
- Official identification. This can be your passport, license or anything that can be considered as an official document.
- Proof of and description of your address. In many cases the company will send a technician to your house, so make sure you include all the information needed to find where you live (like floor levels).
- A connection fee. Most companies will ask for a one-off connection fee that varies depending on which provider you choose and which city or area you live in. These fees are generally not very expensive.
Many companies offer bundle services which include a phone line, internet access and sometimes cable TV. Buying these services in a bundle can be cheaper than buying them separately, so compare beforehand. Companies offering bundle service include:
- Telum (certain areas)
- Axtel (certain states)
Changing the account holder’s name
If you move into a place that already has a phone line you might want to take over the previous service instead of installing a new one. This can reduce waiting times and will often save you the one-off connection fee. To take over an existing line you will need to know the previous account holder and then do the following:
- Check the line is working.
- Make sure the previous owner does not have any debts pending with the provider.
- Get a signed letter from the previous owner, stating he/she gives you the rights to the phone line and the address where it is located.
- Inform the provider of the account change.
Mobile lines, providers and tariffs
Mexico has a very extensive mobile network but remote areas are often only covered by the market leader ‘Telcel’. Mobile fees are high compared to the US and Europe but you can save money by choosing a package that suits you.
The Mexican mobile market is currently served by 3 major mobile providers: America Movil is a subsidiary of Telmex and covers the mobile market through its ‘Telcel’ service. It has the biggest mobile network and also covers remote areas, however calling fees are often more expensive than those from competitors.
The other main operators are Movistar (owned by Telefonica) and IUSACell. Both providers often offer cheaper alternatives to Telcel and are working hard to extend their network, with Movistar leading the race. When you look for a mobile provider in Mexico you should first check their coverage on their website and then decide whether they could be a suitable option for you (also consider the possibility of travelling around when making that decision).
Using your mobile phone from home in Mexico
Telcel and Movistar operate on a GSM-network, so most Europeans can use their mobile phone with a foreign SIM card in Mexico if their provider has a roaming agreement with one of these operators. However be aware that international roaming fees in Mexico are extremely high! If your mobile phone bills are not paid by your company, and you are not fortunate enough to be in a position to spend a couple of hundred or even a thousand Dollars on a monthly phone bill, use your home mobile phone in Mexico only in case of emergencies.
If your mobile provider from home has not locked your phone you can insert a Mexican SIM card into your phone (i.e. a cheap prepaid SIM card) to start calling at significantly lower rates. If you phone is locked you can unlock it at many phone stores.
Mexican mobile phones – Contract and Prepaid
Calling rates from and to mobile phones in Mexico are relatively high compared to calls from landlines. However mobile rates are constantly falling. With the price gap between mobile and landline calls narrowing, many people nowadays only use their mobile phones for calls.
Mexico is divided up into different ‘roaming regions’. When you get a new mobile number (either prepaid or contract), it will be assigned to your home roaming region. If you travel outside your region, rates for outgoing calls increase significantly and you will also be charged additional fees for incoming calls.
When getting a Mexican mobile number you can choose between a prepaid SIM-card and a mobile contract. While SIM-cards offer more flexibility, contracts tend to offer lower rates.
Contact: Mobile contracts usually come with a minimum contract period (normally 12-24 months) and monthly fee and/or minimum charge per month. They are often accompanied by free or subsidised mobile phones (which will be locked to the respective mobile provider). Calling rates of contracts are usually lower than those of prepaid cards and there are many ‘packages’ available. A typical package will include a free amount of calling minutes. In some cases international calls are treated just as any other call for the free minutes, so look out for such a package if you want to make occasional international calls from your mobile.
Prepaid mobile cards: You can either buy a single SIM card for a prepaid number or a basic ‘phone kit’ which includes a phone and a certain amount of minutes to start with (US$50-100). Cards for topping up your credit can be bought at most stores, gas stations and other outlets. Card denominations go from 100 to 500 Pesos. With higher charges you will often receive a special discount which will give you additional credit free of charge. These discounts change frequently, so look out for current promotions when buying a card.
Traveller’s SIM cards and rental phones
Some companies offer traveller’s SIM cards which can be used in Mexico. These cards can be cheaper on international calls compared to SIM cards purchased locally, so look around and compare.
If your phone does not work in Mexico you might also want to consider renting a mobile phone. With mobile prices decreasing and more and more mobile phones being able to operate in different networks, mobile phone rentals have become less common in recent years.
How to place a call to and from Mexico
If you thought that dialling a phone number was a simple task, you might be in for a surprise in Mexico. Despite a major upgrade in 2001, the Mexican system of dialling codes is still very complicated and even the Mexicans occasionally get confused by it.
Calls to and from fixed lines
Calls to and from a fixed line in Mexico are usually quite straightforward. Dial the following according to your destination:
- Local Calls: Ignore the area code and dial directly. Numbers in major cities have eight digits; numbers in small places have fewer digits.
- National Calls (outside your region): Dial the prefix 01 followed by the area code and the phone number.
- International calls: Dial 00, followed by the country code of your destination. For calls to a toll free 800 number in the US from Mexico you need to dial 001 as a prefix, followed by the 800.
To call a Mexican landline from abroad: dial the international prefix (usually 00), followed by Mexico’s country code (52), the landline’s area code and then the phone number.
Calls to Mexican mobile numbers
Calls to Mexican mobile numbers are more complicated. Note that Mexican mobile numbers consist of 10 digits: 2 digits for the mobile’s area code (which is the “home area” of the mobile) and 8 digits for the number itself. To call a Mexican mobile number from a landline, you need to dial the following:
- Calls to a Mexican mobile with the same area code (a mobile with an area code that is the same as the area code of the landline you are calling from): Dial 044 followed by the 10-digit mobile number. You will be charged for the full cost of the call.
- Calls to a Mexican mobile with another area code (a mobile with an area code that is different to the area code you are calling from): Dial 045 followed by the 10-digit mobile number. The caller will be charged the full cost of the call if the mobile phone is within its home area.
To call a Mexican mobile number from another mobile: dial the area code of the recipient’s mobile followed by the 10-digit mobile number.
To call a Mexican mobile number from abroad: dial the international prefix (usually 00), followed by Mexico’s country code (52), a “1” and the 10-digit mobile number. I.e., if want to call a number which is written “045 55 4098 0989” from abroad, you would skip the “045” and dial +52 1 55 4098 0989 instead.
Calls from Mexican mobiles
Calls from Mexican mobiles work pretty much like calls from landlines, though in some cases (depending on your operator) you might have to dial special prefixes if you are outside of your home area.
How to save money on international calls
International calls are very expensive in Mexico. If you need to make many international calls you should look into some of the following options to save money.
Prepaid international phone cards in Mexico
There is a wide range of alternative prepaid cards for international calls available in Mexico, which often provide significantly cheaper rates than a Telmex phone card. You can buy international calling cards (tarjetas para llamadas a larga distancia) at many shops or online. To use an international calling card you need to dial an access number of the card operator. Operators offer free (01-800) access numbers, normal numbers for which you have to pay a local access fee, or both. Rates can vary depending on which access number you use, so compare the total prices for the access and the international extension.
After dialling the access number you have to dial the PIN-code of your calling card (you should find this code hidden behind a scratch-off panel on the back of the card). Some cards are for single use only, so if you run out of credit you will have to buy a new card (with a new PIN-code). Other cards allow you to top up your credit over the internet which can be handy if you want to keep using the same PIN-code.
VoIP calls from Mexico
Voice over IP calls are a good option for international calls from Mexico if you have high speed internet access. There are many alternative VoIP providers, though the most commonly used is Skype which lets you do both free calls with other Skype users, and low-cost international calls to normal phone numbers. Skype also offers cheap “Skype In” fixed numbers for different countries which are very handy if you want to receive calls from your home country. I.e., if you come from the UK, you can buy a UK fixed line number through Skype, give it to your friends and let them call you in Mexico at the cost of a local call.
Internet access in Mexico
High speed internet access is available in most major towns and cities in Mexico, often with a range of different access options. In rural areas things are still a little more complicated.
If you are staying in Mexico for a while and do not want to spend your time in internet cafés, you should consider getting your own internet access. Depending on your location you will have the choice between various access alternatives and providers, so shop around before making a decision.
ADSL in Mexico
ADSL service is available in most Mexican towns and cities. The biggest provider is Telmex which has invested heavily in ADSL-infrastructure. Their ADSL service ‘Infinitum’ is one of the most expensive ones, but also very reliable. Infinitum-users also get free access to thousands of ‘Prodigy’ Wifi-Hotspots from Telmex.
In larger cities you will have the choice between several alternative providers, whereas in smaller towns ‘Infinitum’ might be the only ADSL-service available.
Internet via Cable in Mexico
In some areas of Mexico cable companies offer fast-speed internet connections in addition to Cable TV. Internet access via cable can be even faster than ADSL in Mexico, and in many cases it is cheaper too (at least cheaper than Telmex).
WiFi Access in Mexico
The ‘Prodigy’ Wifi-hotspots from Telmex are the most widespread in Mexico. If you are a subscriber to Telmex’s ADSL-service you can use them for free, otherwise you will have to buy the access separately. Some locations like Starbucks offer free access to Prodigy-hotspots to their customers, but many others (like most hotels) charge for the Wifi-access. In Mexico City you might also want to check the service of eGo which offers Wifi-access at many hotspots for a subscription fee.
Mobile internet access in Mexico
All 3 major Mexican mobile operators offer high speed internet access over the new 3G networks, though 3G-coverage is not yet as extensive as the coverage for normal calls. For 3G-access in Mexico you will need a subscription to their 3G-service and a special access card which can be plugged into the USB or another card-port in your laptop. If you have a 3G-service with a mobile provider from your home country you might be able to access one of the Mexican 3G-networks if your provider has a roaming agreement with one of the Mexican operators. Just as with phone calls, be aware of high roaming fees!
Internet Cafes in Mexico
If you do not have your own internet connection in Mexico you can use one of the many internet cafes that are available in almost every Mexican town. If you have your own laptop you can also look for a café that offers free Wifi-access, though these are hard to find in smaller towns.