Getting Things Done for Developers Working in Low-band-switch Areas

I have been in Lao PDR for a week and I don’t have my high-speed Internet connection. All I have is a cool smartphone without a SIM card for this country. Though, it doesn’t seem to be a problem to find a SIM card: just before the immigration point in airport, the application form already mentions an ad for one of the main telecoms company saying that to really communicate like a local, I should subscribe to that company.

Get an unlimited data plan

Anyway, I have to work for my french company (that kindly grants me some holidays, just in time to empty my french flat and have some time to find electricity and Internet connection in Lao PDR), just before getting back to work.

Finding a SIM card is not a problem (you can literally find credit sellers for mobile phones at each street corner), and you don’t even need to give an address or have a bank account. The main problem is you don’t speak Lao, and Lao people don’t speak English that much. So maybe they will not understand you need this killer-unlimited-data-plan and give you some cheap re-loadable cards. Anyway, you don’t speak Lao either…

You will understand very soon that unlimited data plan, including phone calls and SMS like the one I previously used with Free in France is not that easy to find. 5 x 50 000 kips (5€) cards later and two days of shurfing has been enough to empty my cards :( , that was supposed to allow 2.5G of data.

First sensations

Once I asked to the couple who sold me the cards where I can get bigger or unlimited ones, they redirected me to the nearest Lao Telecoms office where people were able to advice me a decent unlimited data-plan (still in alpha-test for me). Some impressions about it :

  • SSH is available through the phone hotspot but pretty slow
  • band-switch is pretty good
  • no outgoing SMTP (or don’t find it for my current ISP)
  • some obtained IPs seems to be considered as potentially dangerous (open proxies, low reputation for spam, e.g. blacklisted on Wikipedia)
  • band-switch speed is bipolar
  • Some websites are hardly accessible, I don’t know if they are locked or censored, or only hosted on too far away servers (?)
  • network and / or electricity can be down

Solutions to problems


Never let you abuse by stuff that shouldn't happen

First, I was very worried about SSH availability. A friend tried it for me from Laos before my departure, and the stuff seems to be OK. But I’ve forgot something: SSH is not that lightweight, mainly because of it’s strong encryption.

Another friend adviced me to use Mosh :

Remote terminal application that allows roaming, supports intermittent connectivity, and provides intelligent local echo and line editing of user keystrokes.

Mosh is a replacement for SSH. It’s more robust and responsive, especially over Wi-Fi, cellular, and long-distance links.

And Mosh is absolutely incredible…

SSH was almost unusable, and even dangerous because of the latency time I’ve experimented that could increase typing errors. Mosh seems to be the best solution for mobile workers that need a stable and improved connection to a remote SSH server because of two of it’s main features :

  • roaming connection. You can literally switch from a connection to another and the connection between the local and distant Mosh servers will be maintained.
  • predictive typing. As the connection will be slow, typing through SSH will have a long latency (this makes me very angry). Predictive typing will reduce the latency in an awesome way, you can’t almost feel it. In their own words, the stuff get rid of network lag.

My life has been changed the day I discovered Tmux. I believe the use of Tmux + Mosh will makes your life easier if you telecommute in uncommon places, have to switch between connections easily or simply hibernate your computer without experiment some broken pipe horrors.


I don’t know how the Web’s informations could be controlled in Lao PDR. I’ve encountered some problems to access different technical websites :

  • I have been forced to switch from French Ubuntu repositories to Malaysian one,
  • and weren’t available,
  • lots of website stress me with the accusation I’m a bot, or spammer, and I am sometimes blacklisted (just as on Wikipedia)
  • some more things are weird

I say weird because I can access to these sites through Tor.

Connection to some websites are better through Tor

Tor is free software network for enabling on-line anonymity. Tor directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than four thousand relays to conceal a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity)

Now each time I got troubles for accessing a part of the web I try through Tor: when it was impossible, it solves the problem most of the time, and when it’s too slow, it (strangely) helps. I’ve never felt the need of using an onion relay network (or proxy) in France, but it is necessary here.

More readings for those who wants to know more about what is a proxy.

Electricity and network disruptions

It’s not a daily thing, but for the first time in one week, we got a total district electricity failure that began in the morning and lasted until the afternoon.

Electricity and network disruptions can be very localized : find a nice place to work in another district in case of emergency.