Internet in Chile
Broadband is named banda ancha in Chile. To get roughly the same bandwidth you'd pay about $30/mo in Northern America or Europe you'll have to pay $80 here, and fiber or ADSL2 service are still rare (fiber might become a more widely viable option around 2012/2013, based on announced rollouts). That said, it's about as good as it gets in Latin America, and things have vastly improved in just a few years. As of 2011, Chile has one cable ISP, a few DSL providers, and three 3G operators. Land-based ISPs typically package internet service with digital television and phone ("triple packs").
Some level of service is available in most places but given the country's geography, coverage may vary, especially in remote and rural areas. Providers offer a choice of USB or Ethernet modems (including with Wifi). If you have a modicum of technical knowledge it is best to have your own wired or wireless Ethernet modem/router, especially if you're using another OS than Windows. Most ISPs don't support Macs or Linux, if you own your modem it will make your life easier. By default you will get a dynamic IP address (via DHCP) though some sell fixed IP service too.
Even though mobile broadband (BAM for banda ancha mobil) has been increasingly advertised since 2009, as of 2011 customers still find the performance pretty uneven for applications such as VOIP (e.g. Skype over 3G) because of high latency. Unless you happen to be right under a powerful cell, this is in most cases not a full substitute for a fixed line.
Fixed internet service:
VTR is preferred in most cases.
Movistar is second unless you have a better local alternative (e.g. in some places in Santiago or southern Chile where you might get fiber).
In the end, it all depends on your local conditions.
Entel has the best network but they are expensive.
Movistar comes second and maybe you could get a better deal on their service through Virgin.
Claro, VTR and Nextel are smaller players so their coverage is likely to be (much) less thorough.
Claro has a crappy mobile network and no landlines.
Entel is mostly a player in the mobile space, not fixed lines.
Virgin Mobile is just a virtual mobile operator reselling Movistar.
GTD Manquehue and all others are niche players that serve local markets and/or are focused on businesses rather than consumers.
To have a first glance at what is available in any given commune, you can check this government webpage but it is not always up-to-date.
Information up to 2011:
- VTR is a cable provider whose rather poor performance and customer service track record has been significantly improving in past years. As of mid-2011 their highest tier offers 120 Mbps downstream / 4 Mbps (up from 2400/512 Kbps in 2007). Monthly bandwidth caps which used to make VTR's faster service somewhat self-defeating were dropped at the end of 2010 (in other words there's no traffic cap anymore).
Overall, VTR is probably the best fixed-line option where it's available.
- Telefonica Chile changed its name to Movistar in October 2009. They provide DSL and 3G service. In September 2010 they announced a plan to roll out fiber to hundreds of thousands of homes but released few details. At the time this apparently really amounted to a trial in the San Carlos de Apoquindo sector. In the meantime their commercial household is a 40Mbps VDSL (fiber+copper hybrid) available in certain parts of the country.
Many ISPs such as Intercity just resell Telefonica DSL packaged with slightly different services. Telefonica owns most of the copper lines in Chile and has proved to be as nastily as any monopolist in the way it sells its Megavia wholesale DSL service to other ISPs. This will increasingly become a moot point as fiber infrastructures get deployed. To have a sense of how Chilean ISPs connect with each other and abroad, you can check PITs such as this one.
- Entel used to sell DSL but has refocused on their 3.5G offering, going up to 12Mbps (with a monthly consumption cap). Probably the most reliable mobile operator but less present on fixed broadband.
- Claro is the third 3G operator. Reputed to have the weakest coverage. In October 2010 Telmex announced it would fuse its Chilean operations with Claro. Fixed line plans went up to 10Mbps in mid 2011.
- GTD Manquehue goes up to 12 Mbps with DSL and 100 Mbps with FTTH (Fiber To The Home), though the availability of their fiber offering is limited to a few districts in Santiago. Since early 2010, GTD owns Telefonica del Sur (which is NOT Telefonica/Movistar).
- Tutopia goes up to 8192 downstream, 512 upstream. They're said to have a good backbone connection to the international net through their parent company IFX. Tutopia will connect you to their own IFX network in some cities such as Santiago or Valparaiso and resells Megavia dsl elsewhere (including Viña del Mar). As of 2011 this does not seem a very competitive option anymore and their offer has not evolved in years.
- The electricity company Enersis did a Power Line Communications (PLC) trial in 2003 but apparently this never turned into a commercial service.
- If you rent a home and don't have permanent residency, it may be easier to have the landlord contract internet service for you.
- According to some press reports, even if a certain ISP is available in your neighborhood, its service might not make it into each building. It looks like some builders are setting things up in a way that grants an effective monopoly to a single vendor within some apartment buildings and condominiums.
- Bottom line: if you're an expat just arriving in Chile, it is wise to figure out how you will get reliable internet service before signing a rental contract, especially if you're going to be out of the main cities.
Broadband performance and tips
Tests on Speednet.net show that 40+Mbps level of bandwidth is delivered against Chilean test servers but actual speed against US-based servers can fall to mid-single digits. VTR and other ISPs have had occasional routing problems because of their backbone provider Global Crossing (the number of international routes in and out of Chile is very limited). In such cases it has proven useful to connect through a US-based VPN.
Here are some tips if you are accostumed to better broadband outside of Chile and wish to increase performance of your service:
- bypass your ISP's DNS servers by using OpenDNS or Google Public DNS. This is especially useful if you're browsing a ton of different web sites.
- Implement Quality of Service (QoS) rules or outbound traffic shaping (e.g. prioritization of ACK packets) with software such as cFos or a router that supports QoS. This is useful if you want to to make VOIP calls while you're downloading files.
- Get more out of your web browser with performance tweaks (e.g. FasterFox plugin for Firefox).
Speedtest works well to see whether you're getting the download and upload speed you contracted.
Wifi hotspots are commonly found in many parts of Chile, though people have increasingly figured out they should secure them.
- Speedy Wi-Fi is a paid plan managed by Movistar to access hotspots in hotels or cafes.
- Some Mcdonalds fast food joints and gas stations offer free wifi.
- The Santiago aiport has free wifi (signal found in front of the car rental desks).
-  makes a mobile wifi hotspot finder.
Some libraries provide free wifi. Facilities vary considerably
The following webpage has an interactive map with regions as hot spots. Press and get a list for that region.
The Spanish language version appears to be more complete in its preamble by indicating now there are 412 libraries with internet, while the sort-of English version says 394.
There are other methods for search as well.
Internet in remote places
Internet access in remote rural areas can be provided through adhoc wireless projects, see for instance Nortei Ltda. Some ISPs have announced WiMax projects but so far no service appears to be available to consumers or small businesses.
How to get redundancy to stay online
If you're relying on the internet to make phone calls and work remotely, you may want to have two broadband providers which will also provide the benefit of more bandwidth. To make the most out of such a setup, you can use an old computer running Linux or a "dual wan" router that supports load balancing and fail over. Manufacturers of such high-end routers include Zyxel, XinCom, and Draytek. Some of these devices can not only be connected to the internet through cable or dsl, but also via USB GPRS/EDGE/HSDPA modems (explanation from Draytek).
Making phone calls on the internet
- access Hulu from outside the US without a US proxy (for firefox) http://lifehacker.com/5583515/access-hulu-from-outside-the-us-without-a-proxy-server
- Netflix started in Chile in September 2011. An alternative and previous solution was to purchase a VPN from http://www.strongvpn.com/ and access you Netflix subscription from anywhere.
- Download anything you want with Graboid.
- http://kebrum.com VPN service
Initial section from this allchile forum topic.
See the 'online television' section above for suggestions.
- lowendbox.com and find a cheap vps (I pay 5.95 a month for 1000 GB transfer). Install OpenVPN on that VPS. Install the OpenVPN client on your home computer. Watch Netflix or Hulu and you get the speed of your internet connection. I'm watching Netflix from remote China through my personal vpn. (Oct 2011 post)