Fast 3G prepaid Internet in Portugal

31 Dec 2009
Posted by Laptop Junction

For those who travel in Portugal and want to stay connected to the Internet as a non-resident there are a few options. Here’s how to do it through a 3G mobile cellphone connection in December 2009.


The 3G internet landscape in Portugal.

Portugal has 3 big mobile cell phone companies. Vodafone, Optimus and TMN. All three are promoting their mobile High Speed Internet called 3G quite aggressively.

Cellphone operator networks in Portugal
Cellphone operator networks in Portugal

Brochures are stuffed with all sorts of offers to connect yourself to the mobile Internet. Most are based on postpaid contracts for a minimum of 12 months.

There are only a few prepaid options with strings attached. Unlike other European countries, it seems Portuguese mobile cellphone network operators are not (yet) interested in the potential of prepaid 3G Internet for the tourist / traveler.

High Speed Internet on the Go – 3G mobile internet

All three mobile cell phone companies have shops throughout Portugal. However TMN has little foot on the ground in the North of Portugal. The seaside town Viana do Castelo just above Porto has enough cell phone shops to choose from.

The results? All of them want to sell you a prepaid Internet SIM card if its bought with a 3G USB stick.

With one exception, Optimus.

Optimus Prepaid 3G high speed internet SIM card package in Portugal
The front side of the Optimus package containing the SIM card.

This company has a a Prepaid 3G Internet simcard on offer with 3 limited internet plans. It’s called Kanguru – “Banda larga en todo o lado” - Internet Recarregável – Carregamentos Flexíveis.

The 3rd plan is called "Recarregável Lite". (not mentioned above) It offers 10 hours unlimited bandwidth at 1 Mbps (half the speed) for € 10,-. Specially the speed reduction gives reason to think.

Then there is The Phone House and Ensitel who sell all Portuguese brands. But…only with a 3G USB stick. It didn’t help saying: I already got one, two, three. Then you buy another one here – simple as that. So that left Optimus as the only option.

NEW 2012 : 3G prepaid internet in Portugal

The Optimus 3G prepaid internet plan

The 3G prepaid Kanguru internet / data simcard comes with a fixed bandwidth budget of 400 Mb (12 days) or 1 Gb (30 days) for € 10 or € 25. It can be recharged with 200Mb for € 5,-  For the heavy internet user with fast equipment, it’s surely not enough. However for moderate use it does work. In fact it helps a bit to not have too fast 3G equipment.

Optimus Prepaid 3G high speed internet plan in december 2009 in Portugal
The 2 Optimus Prepaid Internet plans on the back of the SIM card package.

Topping up the prepaid balance doesn't work with prepaid scratch cards, or anything similar. One has to go to either an Optimus store, an Optimus reseller (Ensitel, The Phone House etc) and pay € 5,- to increase the balance with 200 Mb more for 6 days.

In the Optimus shop they can see the remaining balance, which is shown in Euro's - not Mb's.

A month of Optimus 3G prepaid Internet takes about € 30,- for 1.2 Gb bandwidth. (2,5 eurocent / Mb)
That's a lot cheaper than 3G prepaid internet previously tried in Spain.

Setting up Optimus 3G prepaid internet in Portugal

Getting the 3G prepaid Kanguru internet / data simcard working took a bit of fiddling. From start the SIM card doesn’t require a pincode to start and register itself in the Optimus network using a Nokia N95 8Gb smart phone. So far so good. A quick try to get Internet working through mini Opera failed. The automatic configured Access Points (APN) where there but all failed to connect on the N95. The 3G connections seems to start but then disconnected from the server side. Strange.
So next try is through an old-fashioned Windows XP dialup using a USB cable. This worked, so APN based connections from the smart phone are not accepted by the network. Trying to call with the 3G prepaid Kanguru internet / data simcard results in a Portuguese lady – she says a few words then hangs up the line.

Calling the 3G prepaid Kanguru internet / data simcard works! Same for sending an SMS to the Kanguru simcard.

Optimus 3G prepaid internet performance in Portugal

There is nothing wrong with the speed of Optimus 3G internet. It’s fast and in all cases so far the 3G connection started with 3,5G HSDPA speed. The Ensitel salesperson in Viana do Castelo indicated the Optimus network has the best 3G coverage in Portugal. So it seems so far!

Now there’s one problem with the 3G prepaid Kanguru internet / data simcard. The toll-free helpdesk can’t be called with this number – the Portuguese voice probably tries to explain that. Trying to call the number with a foreign cell phone number (of course) results in a charge / minute. However the Optimus 3G connection is fast enough to be used with Skype through a VPN connection to hide the traffic. It’s a bit cheaper to call this way.

The following problem is – the Optimus helpdesk operator menu is not in English. So just press 1 and 1 and 1 till you get some-one on the phone. And yes – Optimus has English speaking operators who do seem to know a little about the Kanguru prepaid dataplan.

Then registering the phone number to be able to see the remaining bandwidth is unfortunately not possible as a non-resident. One requires a NIF number to register. This national identification number is only for Portuguese residents.

Although it's a good start for Optimus to cater prepaid 3G high speed internet to foreigners - there's still a few hurdles to take. At least Optimus is brave enough to sell a 3G prepaid Kanguru internet / data simcard without pushing for the turn-over of a 3G USB stick.

The 3G PAYG tariffs in Portugal in 2010

Below the 3G Pay As Your Go tariffs in Portugal in 2010. Most striking - there's not so much difference.

Weak 3G signal? Have a look at professional 3G routers with external antenna + internal simcard.

3G PAYG Prepaid Internet Tariffs 2010 Portugal
3G PAYG Prepaid Internet Tariffs 2010 Portugal

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