The unofficial guide to Vinaphone, mobile carrier in Vietnam

If you do a quick search on the Internet, you can probably find some guides on mobile plans in Vietnam – but they’re probably out of date or incredibly confusing to follow. Now that I’ve been stationed in Vietnam for a while, I thought I would contribute a bit to the body of knowledge and share my experiences on Vinaphone, my carrier of choice.

Why Vinaphone

If you plan to travel into the rural parts of Vietnam, Viettel is actually a better choice – it’s the network run by the military and they have good coverage out there. Otherwise, the two better-known carriers in cities are Mobifone and Vinaphone. I find that too many people recommend Mobifone so it has gotten quite congested and slow. Hence, I switched to Vinaphone and have been pretty satisfied with my data speeds ever since.

Getting Started

First, you need to get yourself an unlocked phone and a SIM card. The phone is best brought on your own, but many stores sell cheap unlocked phones all over the place. (Maybe stolen? Who knows!)

You can buy a SIM card from an official store (there’s probably one here) but you’ll need to bring a passport so they can tie your identity with the card. If you don’t want to do that, you can ask around touristy districts (like District 1 in Saigon) and many street vendors will be happy to sell you one without any ID. (Maybe stolen? Who knows!)

Expect to pay around 100,000₫ for a SIM card with no credit.

Checking your balance

Whether you’re travelling for a short time or even staying long-term, it’s easiest to just go with the prepaid plans. This means you keep a balance on your SIM card and use it for purchasing short term plans with set amounts of data and calling. I’m going to assume you don’t really care about calling or texting these days, so I’ll just walk through how to subscribe to data.

You can check the amount of money you have by going to your phone’s dialer and making a “call” to *101# – this triggers a “check balance” action and you should see something like this on your screen:

Vinaphone - checking your funds

Most of those numbers don’t actually matter – for data, you just care about the first value in VND (₫). In the screenshot above, it is 71076 VND.

Review the data plans

You can find details about Vinaphone’s current plans here, but it’s incomprehensible so I’ll describe what the deal is.

Data plans on Vinaphone
Data plans on Vinaphone

There are three kinds of plans here (A, B, and C on Vinaphone’s table). “A” is just pay-as-you-go data, 75₫ per 50 kilobytes. That’s a terrible deal and you will easily burn through your money if you stay on that plan — which is the default and what you will be reset to when any other plans expire.

“B” plans are set amounts of data with hard caps – this means that when you use up all the data, you are charged per 50 kilobytes again. These plans can only end badly, so I don’t recommend them.

“C” plans are set amounts of data with soft caps – this means that after you use up all your data, you just get throttled to 2G speeds until the end of a set term (one month). This is effectively unlimited data – I’m not sure why anyone would choose any other type of plan! If only US carriers were this generous…

The last section “D” refers to how you purchase additional ‘data packs’ once you exhaust your high-speed data supply. Keep those handy for when you run out or get throttled.

Once you identify the plan you want, note the code (for example, “MAX100” is my plan of choice) and the amount of money required to subscribe (100,000₫ for “MAX100”).

Adding credit

You can add credit using scratch cards, which are set amounts of value that you purchase and literally scratch to reveal a 14-digit code to redeem. Most convenience stores sell them.

Example of a scratch card with monetary value
Example of a scratch card with monetary value

To redeem the code, you go to your phone’s dialer and punch in *100*(14 digits)# where “(14 digits)” is the code you revealed by scratching.

After receiving a success message, go back to your dialer and enter *101# again to verify your new balance.

Sometimes, there will be promotional days where you get a bonus for refilling (only on that day). You’ll get notifications about these promotions in the form of texts:

Vinaphone - getting a promo

If you apply a scratch card on the day mentioned, you may see some increases in your other balances — which, by the way, I believe are used for calling and texting.

Subscribing to a plan

You need to know the SMS codes to enable data and subscribe to one of the data plans mentioned above – otherwise, you’ll be stuck with nothing or the default pay-as-you-go plan.

Open up your text messaging app and start a conversation with “888”. Send the following commands:

  1. GPRS ON — this enables data
  2. DK XXXXXX — subscribe to the plan “XXXXXX” or add data to an existing plan
  3. DATA — to check your data balance

    Vinaphone - Subscribing to a plan

After you apply the changes, you might need to restart your phone (or disable/enable Airplane Mode) to have it register correctly with the network.

Stopping spam

After you subscribe to a plan, you might start receiving a lot of random text messages in Vietnamese. If you translate these, you’ll find they are mostly spam – often identified with a “(QC)” at the beginning of the message. To stop these, text “HUY” to the number you received the spam from.

That’s it! Hopefully you should be all set to use maps and social media during your trip. Have fun, but take your eyes off your phone once in a while. 😉

Reflections on the Month of Mobile

It’s been a couple weeks since I returned from my month on the East Coast, and I’ve had a chance to catch up on some sleep and otherwise recover from the grand experiment of working 100% remotely on mobile devices. I have officially gone “back to the office”. (Though, was I ever really gone, technically speaking?)
Continue reading Reflections on the Month of Mobile

Restoring empathy during meetings

Trust is expensive to build and easy to destroy, which is why it’s rare. –Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants

It has now been three weeks into my month of 100% mobile remote work. I think I’ve participated in enough meetings remotely (well over 50 according to my calendar) to sufficiently annoy people back at HQ J, so I wanted to pause and reflect on what makes these meetings difficult in general.

I have found that almost all of the issues I have experienced with remote meetings seem to stem from a lack of empathy between participants. It’s difficult for people in the office to understand all the chaos that might be going on around a colleague on the road, and it’s difficult for the remote worker to capture all the nuances of human behavior back in the meeting room and the supposedly 93% of communication that is non-verbal.

Of course, this is all due to the unfortunately inherent missing elements of face-to-face communication that remote workers endure. But I’ve explored ways to mitigate the negative impact of not physically being present at meetings, and have a few tips that might help those trailblazers who often telecommute.

You dial in

It is magnitudes more effective for everyone in a meeting if the remote worker is the one who dials in or initiates the call. Asking a room full of coworkers to take 5 minutes of the valuable meeting time to enter an arcane series of digits into a phone to connect to a conference line is just overwhelming. By the time a connection is finally established, the amount of patience left in the room is already far too low and any empathy for the remote worker will be hard to come by.

That’s why I preloaded the direct phone numbers of all the conference rooms at HQ into my address book before I left – the goal was to make my arrival at a meeting as instantaneous and seamless for the people in the room as it could possibly be.

Don’t drop off

Ensuring a stable connection is key. Because I have been often moving between customer offices or in places without public WiFi, I found myself depending heavily on a flaky 4G LTE Verizon MiFi card. When it runs out of power, overheats, or has poor reception, my connection becomes toast and VoIP/video calls suffer.

Nothing destroys the illusion of a remote worker being present faster than stuttering voices or glitching video. To ensure you remain as life-like as possible (and thus maintain empathy), a dedicated office-grade WiFi connection is best.

Listen and be heard

A good mic and headphones go a long way to making sure conversations are crystal clear, so invest in some good audio hardware for your setup if you can. This is important on both sides – people back in the office can only be heard on good conference devices (like Polycoms) and only if they are close enough to the microphones.

Box wisely stocked each conference room with professional grade conferencing equipment, including extension mics so even people at the end of long tables can be heard properly. But not everyone is used to using them, so some reminders to “speak closer to the mic” are sometimes necessary. As both parties get more familiar with the equipment, being understood and attaining empathy for your message should get easier.

Use video whenever possible

There’s a reason why futuristic tech visioning projects always feature videoconferencing. It’s because it adds a whole other dimension to remote calls and instantly/drastically increases empathy between people. It’s as close as we can be to true face-to-face communication without holograms, it seems.

Of course there are options like Skype and Google Hangouts, but when you’re ready to take it to the next level you could try something like the Double robot:

Focus on who you’re meeting with

When you’re in a voice (or even video) call, it’s often tempting for remote workers to wander around or do other tasks when the conversation becomes uninteresting or irrelevant. However, that is the exact fear and stereotypical expectation from people back at the office, and contributes to that nagging feeling that, “this person isn’t really here“.

To counter this, I try to make a point to be the most invested and attentive person in the room at all times. I’m not checking my email or going through my browser tabs while I’m in a call – I’m looking straight at coworkers and jumping into conversations as necessary. Knowing that you’re there and engaged keeps your team’s empathy levels with you high.

 

I clearly still have a lot to learn about how to do remote work efficiently based on how the average remote meeting has been going for me. But I still have one week left on the East Coast with about a dozen more meetings planned. So I’ll continue to strive to be the first to dial in, maintain a steady connection, use good audio equipment, leverage video as much as I can, and focus on people even more to exercise my ability to be as present as possible while I remain 3000 miles away. And hopefully, there will still be some empathy for me by the end of it all. J

Have you ever tried to participate in meetings remotely? Feel free to share your own experiences and tips with me anytime!

By the way, I’m going to be speaking at the October NY Enterprise Meetup about considerations taken when building enterprise mobile apps – if you’re in NYC on the evening of Oct 16, you should stop by! Register here:

http://www.meetup.com/ny-enterprise-tech/events/136173842/