I still remember my first encounter with Balinese internet connections, back in 2007. Back then, even sending a simple email (of course without any attachments) was already a struggle. The Balinese definition for broadband was slightly different from what I considered to be broadband, already having a 20mbps connection back home (for around USD 30,- a month).
During subsequent visits in the years to follow, things didn’t change that much. A shared 512kbps WIFI connection was still considered broadband and higher speeds only seemed available to the rich and famous (a 2mbps dedicated line would cost around 20 million at that time).
During recent years the availability and speed of true broadband connections have improved dramatically. Especially after the introduction of 4G and fiber optics, things have started to move quickly.
So how to get a good internet connection?
The key here is location. If you are located in the southern part of the island (Denpasar, Sanur, Kuta, etc.) your chances of getting a decent connection are a lot better than if you are located in north or central Bali.
I’ll list all options below, depending on your location, some may or may not be available to you. The options are listed from worst to best.
There are numerous providers on the island offering WiFi-based connections. Prices (and quality) differ a lot between the various providers.
To setup a WiFi connection the company will install an antenna on your location. This antenna needs to be “in line of sight” with the counterpart at the provider's location, so this sometimes means that they’ll put the antenna on a large pole.
These type of connections are usually not very stable. A heavy dose of rain or other external interference will have a negative impact on the signal quality.
Pricing is also a bit high, compared to the other options below.
Typical connection speed: 512kbps - 2mbps (some providers can offer higher speeds)
ADSL on the island is provided through Telkomsel’s Speedy (under it’s users better known as Slowy). To get an ADSL connection, you’ll first need a phone line. If you have one already, you’re lucky. If you don’t, good luck.. Some people have been waiting over 2 years for Telkomsel to connect them to the phone grid.
If you do get a connection, the quality and speed of the connection depend on the quality of the copper lines in- and outside of your house. Old or bad wiring will make it impossible to reach decent speeds.
At this moment, Telkomsel is rolling out their fiber optic product ‘IndiHome’ (see below). Our attempts to get an ADSL connection have failed (even though there’s a phone line available). It’s said that in areas that will have IndiHome coverage soon Telkomsel isn’t connecting any new ADSL clients anymore.
Your best bet is to give them a call and see what policy they have for your area.
Typical connection speed: 1mbps - 5mbps
Free airport WIFI
This one deserves to be in this list.. Believe it or not, the speed of the internet at Ngurah Rai airport is surprisingly fast (it recently ranked 6th fastest in the world). It’s even available outside of the terminal, so you don’t need an airplane ticket to connect. If you badly need to work using fast (and free) internet, get yourself and your laptop to the airport, find a good spot to chill and work, and you're set.
Typical connection speed: 10mbps - 25mbps
Mobile broadband connection
To use this type of connection at home, you’ll either have to put the sim card in your phone and use the ‘Mobile hotspot’ function, or use a USB modem or MIFI (Mobile Wifi) router. You’ll have to top-up the card first with “pulsa” and use that to buy one of the data packages. These packages usually have an expiration date (such as 2GB data for 30 days), so be careful not to buy too much. If you plan on downloading full HD movies or upload a lot of your home videos to YouTube, you’ll find out that the data runs out quickly and the monthly “pulsa blll” will become pretty hefty.
There are various telecom providers offering their services on the island. The speed of their connection is very location-dependent. Especially around the coastal area, you can find that with one provider you’ll get a great signal while with another you appear to be in a black hole with no connection at all.
Three of the providers also offer 4G connections (Telkomsel, XL, and Smartfren). I’ve found the last one to be the most stable and have the best coverage. Please note that not many modems and routers support 4G yet.
Typical connection speed: 1mbps - 15mbps
Cable internet on the island is provided by Biznet. Biznet uses fiber optic cables for their backbone and coax cables to make the connection to your house. They offer various packages (TV & Internet combined, Internet Only) under the label “Biznet Home”. Getting connected is pretty easy. Just check the coverage area on their website. If you are within their service area they’ll come do a survey first. If all is well you’ll be connected within a week. You can even do this process without leaving your home.
The quality of their connection is generally pretty good, although at peak moments (when everybody is watching YouTube) the download speeds can slow down to a crawl. Upload speeds are generally pretty stable.
Typical connection speed: 10mbps - 100mbps
Telkomsel is currently rolling out their IndiHome service on the island, replacing their old Speedy product. With IndiHome you’ll get a “Fibre To The Home” connection, theoretically capable of speeds up to 1gbps (yep, that’s gigabit!).
Availability is still very limited, so before you get all excited check out their website first for the coverage area.
These type of connections are the best thing possible at the moment and will get you the best value for money. I can’t wait until our location is within their coverage area!
Typical connection speed: 10mbps - 100mbps
Internet service providers in Bali
An up to date list of ISPs in Bali can be found here: list of internet service providers in Bali.
Things you should know about internet in Indonesia
- The connection speeds mentioned above are speeds measured within Indonesia. Once you try to access websites hosted outside the country the dreaded bottleneck effect shows it’s ugly head. All internet traffic leaving the county passes through one of the transatlantic cables connecting the archipelago to the internet. The capacity of these cables is limited and during peak times they are over-saturated. It’s like going from the toll road, through the toll gates unto the streets of Jakarta, if you know what I mean.
- Most internet providers in Indonesia over-sell their capacity. A good provider would have a 1:1 bandwidth ratio; if all customers use their connection to the max at the same time, there would still be enough bandwidth available to all of them to reach the promised speeds). With Indonesian ISP’s buying their bandwidth in USD and selling their products in IDR (making them vulnerable to exchange rate differences) they are known to be “pelit” when it comes to having enough spare bandwidth available. Only when a certain amount of new customers has been connected the provider will buy more bandwidth.This translates into your connection being very slow or unstable for a long period of time, before returning back to normal. This cycle will keep repeating itself
- Internet in Indonesia is heavily censored. Read more about that here.
Summary and advice
Location is the most important factor in getting a decent internet connection. Even when you are able to get connected to cable or fiber optics internet, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup connection in the form of a mobile connection. Make sure to have SIM cards for different providers, so you can always switch if one of them is too slow. If all else fails, you can always get free WiFi everywhere around the island, with the airport being your best bet!
Even though quality and speed have improved a lot during recent years, you'll sometimes still have to accept that Indonesia isn't South Korea, Singapore or The Netherlands when it comes to internet connections..