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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Which Mobile / Cellular Network to use in Sri Lanka?

One big question most travellers will have is, how do I keep in touch with the outside world, and what level of service is available in Sri Lanka. So what mobile network to use in Sri Lanka, is my next topic!

Well as a keen blogger and avid user of the internet and proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy S3, this did concern me too. One point was the availability of Micro Sim cards for my phone, and the other a decent data package as I knew I would want to keep connected on the go, specially if I wanted to check in to places, post tweets , use maps and go internet searches.

As a tourist, I would recommend that you use a local provider to keep in touch. This is said because roaming rates can be rather high on most foreign providers, I say this because my UK providers rates in Sri Lanka are rather extreme, with a making and receiving calls, sending messages and internet usage.

Unlocking your phone

In order to make use of the local providers make sure your phone is not locked to a network. You can get your phone unlocked by your provider in most cases, this can be at a nominal sum (when done over the phone, through your network, it can cost £10 - £15, this is possibly the fastest and most reliable way to unlock your phone, this said the rate varies from provider to provider).

Which provider?

So which network do you choose in Sri Lanka? Good question, if you are going to mainly use your phone for, if you are going to mainly use your phone for local calls or for reciving calls and are mainly based in Colombo, then any provider should do the trick however Mobitel and Dialog have the best island wide coverage, and so these would be the better option if you are going to be travelling around the country.

Sri Lanka has many different providers (AirTel, Dialog, Etisalat, Hutch, Mobitel), however in my experience, Dialog and Mobitel stand out in terms of Island wide coverage.

Network Coverage

Over the years I have used four of the above networks with the exception of Air Tel, Dialog being my favourite, followed by Mobitel. This is due to the coverage that these networks offer. Mobitel and Dialog have the widest coverage in the country, and I have not had trouble with either.

You generally get a good 3G of H++ signal for the internet on your mobile phone in most locations island wide (I do not know too much about North and North East though).

Internet Speed and rates

Dialog, Etisalat and Mobitel all offer great island wide coverage of 3G + H++ networks, and as of Jan 2013 Dialog now offer 4G.

On Mobitels Tourist package you get 500MB data allowance included in your initial bundle, and Dialog give you 1GB. Both providers offer daily / weekly

General call rates / SMS rates

Rates can change from time to time, as such I wont publish any networks rates here, however typically, local calls can cost around 2-4Rs per min (1-2p per min (0.01-0.02GBP)). Some international calls such as calls to the UK Landlines can also cost around 2-8Rs per min depending on the provider, and calls to international mobiles can cost aroun 19Rs per min (0.10 GBP per min). All of which is very very cheap.

You can also get 200 Mb of internet usage for Rs 50 a day or 1GB for Rs 200 which is a weekly package on Dialog. Please visit Dialogs website for more information on these.

You can find out more about call rates on the providers websites.

Mobitel -
Dialog -
Air Tel -
Hutch -
Etisalat -

Where to buy?

The first place to buy is at the airport, in the arivals section, as you walk out of customs you will see to your left a waiting area for those who have come to pick up friends and family, just behind this area you will see 3 stands, as seen in the image below. Dialog, Mobitel and Etisalat all have their stands here.

In my experience Mobitel didnt offer the Micro Sim, which I need for my mobile. Which in a way turned out to be a good thing, as the deals on mobitel were somewhat more expensive than those on Dialog.

The process of buying takes about 10-15 mins, you will need to fill out a form and they will take a copy of your passport for ID purposes to complete the registration. This is standard in Sri Lanka.

Mobile provider stalls at Colombo Airport Arrivals 

How do I top up my phone?

Toping up your phone is very simple, you should be able to find a "Communications" shop in almost every town, they will do what is called a "Reload", please note you will need your mobile number and you will need to know which network you are on. Not everyone does reloads for every network.

You may also find that you can get scratch cards to add value to your phone, these too can be purchased widely.

You can easily identify shops that sell these as they will have mobile provider logos and adverts on their doors or as sign boards outside the shop (this is true for both Reloads and Scratch Cards).

I personally prefer the reload option as it is less hassle. You go to the shop, you tell them your network, ask for reload, specify the amount, write the phone number and amount you wish to reload on their log book, and give the person the cash (note you can only reload with cash). once they have reloaded your phone, you will recieve a message from the network provider stating your new account balance.

Here is a link to mobitels website, showing you how to Top Up your balance -

And this link tells you about the ways in which you can Top Up your Dialog phone -

My Recomendation

I would personally recommend using Dialog due to the value for money and coverage. You may want to keep a mobitel sim card to had as well if you really want to keep in touch and cannot afford to be out of reach.

Here are the links for Dialog and Mobitels Tourist packages.
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