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Expat Perspectives

New expat grapples with phone and internet issues

By Ray Horsley

Greetings CuencaHighLife readers from two new arrivals.

My name is Ray Horsley and my wife is Celeste. I’ve enjoyed reading CuencaHighLife for much of our last year in St. Petersburg, Florida. Now that we’ve moved to Cuenca it would be a thrill to contribute something to the website which, hopefully, is useful to others, especially to anyone using an internet phone service such as Cisco, Skype, Vonage, Magic Jack, Ooma, etc. Of all our experiences settling in, the most interesting one had to do with that simplest of things: the telephone.

According to Ecuador Customs, this is three pieces of technology; a monitor, an earphone, and a speaker. IT’S JUST A PHONE!

I’m still working part-time online so my internet phone was an important part of our luggage.  The home we landed in had just upgraded to PuntoNet’s speedy FIOS service.  Speedy it was, but it didn’t work with my internet phone. I got a dial tone but after making a call I could neither hear nor be heard. The company that makes the phone responded that certain ‘voice ports’ had to be opened, a task which PuntoNet responded would require getting a fixed IP address for an additional $10.00 per month.

This was odd since I had used the same phone in quite a few countries over ten years without upgrading to this special service. We upgraded, but it didn’t help. To be sure it wasn’t my phone, I tried it with a neighbor’s ETAPA service and it worked fine. We also did the reverse and tried his Vonage internet phone with my service and it, too, did not work. So it’s a fair assumption this story could be about any kind of internet phone.

After a lot of complaining, several tech guys from PuntoNet came up to problem solve. They spent quite a few hours to no avail and finally resorted to experimenting on the phone itself, instead of PuntoNet’s ports, by following some YouTube videos. I should have kept a closer eye on them and never allowed this. It only rendered the phone useless, unable to even get a dial tone. The next day their superior came up, did something, and claimed it was fixed. But I had no way of testing since my phone was now permanently bricked. My office in New York shipped me another one, and here’s where the real problems began.

For some strange reason the intern in our office listed the FedEx package contents simply as “documents”. This raised a red flag upon arrival at customs in Guayaquil. They opened it up, claimed it was three pieces of technology; a monitor, an earphone, and a speaker, and demanded I pay a $187.50 fine at Banco Pacifico.

Get the information you need about imports and shipping containers and avoid having to pay extra fees. Contact Relocation Services of Ecuador.

I paid it, but then I learned the phone still couldn’t be delivered since it was used. No used technology is allowed to be shipped into Ecuador. My wife and I spent a few uneasy nights wondering if our somewhat daunting visa process would be sabotaged by this. Would we be viewed by the Ecuadorian government as criminals, caught trying to import illegal goods into the country?  We actually began scoping out towns in Colombia and Peru where we could retire instead, if this were the case, but a letter of mine to customs in Guayaquil was answered with a resounding “no”, this would not harm our visa applications.

But what about the phone?

I speak Spanish pretty fluently thanks to many lengthy periods of residing abroad over the years, so I wrote a lengthy, formal letter to the customs supervisor, complete with all the “estimados” and formal “usted” language, explaining all of this. In the end I offered to swap my bricked phone for the one shipped to me, but the response was a short and sweet “no”, stating that the importation of cell phones into Ecuador is prohibited. I was understandably upset. My office had spent almost $100.00 shipping it to me, I had paid an additional fine of nearly $200.00, and now I wasn’t even going to get the thing.  I fired off a short, four word response, correcting the customs’ letter.  “No es un celular.”

To my surprise the supervisor wrote back with a simple “OK Ray, send me a picture of it and we’ll send it on to Cuenca”.  So in the end I finally did get the darn thing.

Aside from the voice port problems, PuntoNet’s FIOS service is really great.  It’s super speedy and seems to be reliable for the most part, but they do need to address the voice port issue. With so many of us maintaining ties or still working via internet phones, I hope sharing this story is helpful.

As I understand through Cuenca Highlife, ETAPA is now rolling out their own style of FIOS, GPON technology.  I hope they can do so without any voice port problems.

49 thoughts on “New expat grapples with phone and internet issues

  1. These are the real life issues potential expats need to think about and be aware of. Very useful information.

    1. Yes, potential expats. It’s important too think and be aware of what you really might be getting into. Down here, besides using flyswatters to swat annoying comments, we use them to smash the occasional large spider that somehow gets into the bedroom.

      1. My comments are usually constructive and I never attack remarks that are productive and helpful. The fly swatter is for those on this site that seem to not have the ability to state their position or provide constructive information even if critical without personally attacking many who post here. I hope you keep that large spider swatter close by at all times.

    2. Katheryn – thanks for your comment here. I know this addresses a niche group, those who use VOIP phones, but I imagine it could be useful to those readers, especially if they’re thinking of upgrading the service.

  2. Thanks for the information Ray. I’m sorry you had these troubles.

    We use ETAPA’s ADSL service and it works great with MagicJack. Because it’s a shared connection, the internet service is pretty slow in the evening when many folks are home.

    We are moving soon, and wanted to get fiber optic service to get a decent evening speed. Might have to rethink this. Any experiences with GPON, or CableTV fiber and VOIP service?

    1. Nope. No experience just yet, although I did speak with ETAPA yesterday. The good news is they’re offering their service for the first year at basically the same cost the much slower, ADSL service is now. The speeds they’re quoting should be “up to” 16Mbps down and 3Mbps up, if it’s available in your building. Back in Florida my son and I use to joke we’d like to make our monthly payment “up to” the fee they’re charging us:)

    2. Because of our work, we have both Puntonet and TV Cable. Both work well with VoIP. Punto Net is faster and in general, a better value as well. A 100×100 circuit is $123.40 and a 10×10 with TV Cable is…I think this is right…$105 and change…but that includes TV so it’s not a fair comparison.

      In terms of VoIP, if that’s one of your goals for the service,
      Puntonet offers a 10×10 circuit for $30…all of these are 10 down x Y up and sometimes you never know what the upload speed is going to be. Most of the time, and this is very unusual, our upload speed is as fast…or faster…than our download.

      We just opened a second “home office” that will be smaller than this one and we went with the 10×10 as a starting point. Speed is not as important, in terms of VoIP, as latency and the latency on Puntonet is really very low…most of the time.

      Hope this helps.

      1. Steve – this is super helpful and super kind of you to take the time to spell this out. I’ll definitely check out the Skype option. My goal now is to use headsets and a mike to eliminate ambient sound and, using a computer instead of my Cisco phone, Skype might be the answer. Many thanks!

        1. Ray, as you probably figured out by now, Aaron and I do this for a living…he is an especially talented IT professional. We also have a team of engineers in Dallas and our own proprietary VoIP platform. You can load anyone of a number of Open Source softphones…Bria and Zoiper are two that we use…that will allow you to use your PC and a headset. The headset we like is the wireless, Logitech G930.

          The CISCO VoIP phone can be an issue because they leave the factory with proprietary CISCO firmware. It can be “reflashed”..not the right term but close enough…however, it’s not easy process.

          Don’t misunderstand, I love CISCO products…at banks…hospitals…and other “name brand” clients…that’s sometimes all they will use. But it’s a pain and also an expensive way to go that has, in our experience, been bypassed by some of the other choices on the market.

          By the way, if you need help with contacts at Puntonet or TV Cable, let us know. Oh…last point…I have had ETAPA at three locations so far and it doesn’t do well with VoIP. It’s not the speed as much as it is the Latency.

          If you need help, send me an email and I will ask Aaron or one of the guys in Dallas to lend a hand.

          Our “motto” if we had one…:)…might be if you can work from home…home can be anywhere.

          Again, welcome to Cuenca and good luck.

  3. Often times, when you have an issue with a VoIP phone like you described, its the QoS settings that affect audio and video packets in the router that is being used, and will normally have nothing to do with the internet service itself, your device, or ports. I just recently switched to PuntoNet and had the same problem. The setting on the Linksys routers that they use is called “WMM Support” and should be disabled and then it will work fine.

    1. Very useful Aaron. I wish I could try it but I’m now using ETAPA. I wish the guys from PuntoNet had know to try that.

      1. Aaron is correct. You might also need to disable a setting called SIP ALG in your router. He…Aaron…can tell you about that one as well.

  4. Curious if you have tried Skye and how its working, that is my go to for VOIP calls around the world. Thanks for any feedback.

  5. Hello Ray,
    Thank you for taking the time to write about your life experience.
    This information is extremely valuable, as my husband and I are planning to come there soon.
    1) PUNTO NET – What is FIOS? I did some research on PUNTO NET CELERITY, but I’ve never heard of FIOS?
    2) DL / UL SPEED – Could you tell me what your download and upload speeds are? Both with a LAN connected and WI-FI?
    Please feel free to email me directly:
    Thanks for your help and good luck with everything!
    Also, please feel free to update us with these experiences.

  6. If you want good internet phone service get Ooma The base set cost around $90. After that it only cost around $4 a month. Ooma is now rated the # 1 internet provider for phone service. It works on the Internets in Ecuador

    1. Good suggestion. I looked into that today and the pros are obvious. Unfortunately, I can’t get it now that I’m here. They’ll only ship to a US address. Maybe on a return trip. I might consider Mercado Libre if something comes up but I’d rather buy it new.

  7. Don’t know if this is relevant but it works. I am director of U.S. college branch campus in Guayaquil. We have professors teach f2f classes from U.S. to Guayaquil using Go2Meeting over a Netlife fiber optic connection. It works; classes are 3 hours long and no connection problems. And for phone calls, been using Magic Jack for years, no problems.

    1. Magic Jack sounds like a good solution to me but it, too, must be shipped to a US address. I like it because you can use it with a computer which means I could use my own, comfortable, headphones and not be distracted by extraneous noise.

      1. My staff and I make at least 5 cell phone calls a week to the U.S. on Magic Jack. I do use earphones to block out noise but it’s almost always very clear.

  8. Sorry for your troubles. I brought the exact same phone to EC in November 2015. I have ETAPA and also have a US router and have had no issues.

  9. Somebody is giving you a snow job. I live in La Cuadra 2 just like you and I have a PuntoNet fiber optic connection at 100 mbps up and down. I test it daily and never test at less than 98 in each direction with a ping time around 12 msec. I’ve had this connection since PuntoNet initiated FIOS service.

  10. Much to my dismay, the US has become very similar in many ways. Whether it be medical issues to the monopoly tv and utilities issues, it is the same story. It seems to be life now most places that I have lived in or done a tremendous amount of research about. Some countries seem to be functioning rather well with most of its population satisfied or even happy with their way of life. With that said, that is not the norm from my readings and studies.

    1. jajaja. I have to laugh, Katheryn. Only because although I appreciate your comment, I believe it is way-y-y-y too general. You see, 9 years ago I moved to Atacames, a small beach town near Esmeraldas. After about 3 months, I was attacked on the beach at 2pm by 2 young men. It only cost me a pair of $2 rubber sandals and 12 stiches in my hand. The stiches were as a result of my NOT having any money on me. Go figure! Since that day I now wear a weapon belt (no gun) whenever I go outside of my apartment building. Simply because it is too dangerous not to. I don’t see or hear about too many people having to do that in any U.S. beach. So, I guess my point is that when we talk about comparing environments, it’s probably better to clearly identify the locations. The truth is, there is no comparison when it comes to a gringo coming and living in a third world country, as compared to a third world country person coming and living in the U.S. Cuenca and Esmeraldas may as well be on opposite ends of the earth, regarding environments. I realize you made your comment with the best of intentions, but I guess it just struck a nerve with me. So, we could debate or even agree to disagree. But I want you to know that I appreciate your writing, and look forward to reading your future comments. Thanks for listening.

      1. I’m sorry it struck a nerve with you and you had a bad experience. I’m glad that nothing worse happened. Also, if you feel that threatened to even walk out of your home, I would suggest planning a move to another location. However, let me correct you in that these types of crimes and worse are happening all over the US. Did you not read about the school where a shooter went in and shot down teachers as well as little tiny kindergartners? Innocent little ones who had done nothing to deserve going to school and being executed and this school was in one of the richest counties in that city. I could go on and on and on. Do you think that the parents with children in that school as well as many parents at all schools wished they could send an ‘armed’ guard to escort their kids to school and home safely? I live four miles west of one of the well known beach resorts, and yes, bad stuff has and will continue to happen including murders. How “specific”, would you suggest my post be? That would be impossible. It was a general observation from my perspective as well as I’m sure many others around the world, that the basic value of life and liberty has become more compromised over the years. Their seems to be a lack of respect for life and others, ‘in general’. So yes, I politely agree to disagree with your rebuttal to my post.

        1. jajaja. Come on, Katheryn. You can’t possibly compare crime the U.S. with that of Ecuador. The U.S. has 323 million people vs 16 million for Ecuador, and you support your comparison opinion based on a single crime event in a kindergarten school??? You need to stop making comparisons to the U.S. that defy logic. I suggest you stop looking at the world through your rose colored glasses, from the safe-space of Cuenca.
          I am sorry to have upset you, but you get a more realistic perspective.

          1. That was one single event out of events similar that happen on a daily basis. You couldn’t possibly think that I am going to take the time to debate you incident by incident. I don’t live in Cuenca so I can only learn and find out about all of its intricacies good and bad through various sources of media. You didn’t upset me, I just think that debates without emotional opinions can be had on this site without the personal attacks by the CH “click” that posts here.

    2. Regarding yours: “Some countries seem to be functioning rather well with most of its population satisfied or even happy with their way of life.”
      News Bulletin- Ecuador isn’t one of them (see below):
      ECUADOR Population below poverty line: 25.6% (December 2013 est) versus U.S at 15% (est. 2010) *Most recent numbers available
      So, again, please stop making unqualified comparisons to the U.S. Otherwise, you need to support your opinions with facts, instead of just “winging it” from the palace garden while sipping tea with your bridge partners.

      1. Don’t have a palace or a garden, don’t play bridge but do play a mean game of poker and I do admit to sipping tea more than coffee. Perhaps you should do more research before belittling others while out on your yacht or at your country club golf course hitting little white balls all over the place.

    1. Sure, the Cisco phone I have is an inter-office US phone with inter-office extensions. I’ve been using it all over the world for over ten years to work with co-workers in NY. Purchasing a phone in Cuenca would only give me a landline to make local calls in Cuenca.

  11. Ray, bienvenido a Ecuador. Allow me to teach you a phrase that you will learn to use often now that you are a resident here. I will admit that I stole this phrase from another wise old bird that has been here even longer than I have (and I’ve been around since Christ was a corporal) The term is “Ecuatrocity”. In time you will develop a practical understanding of this term for yourself, but the tale you just told is just one of millions of Ecuatrocities that happens daily here. Soon, you will have your own compendium of Ecuatrocities that you can relate with amazement, amusement and horror to your progeny.

    You write well and with great humor. You have added to my day and I hope you will post here often. You have kicked my day off with a wry chuckle and I thank you for that.

    1. Thanks – that’s a cute term. All in all it wasn’t really that bad. It’s easy to imagine, or read about, much worse experiences that have happened to travelers in foreign countries. And hey, I got the phone in the end, so no huge loss.

      1. “It’s easy to imagine, or read about, much worse experiences…”

        Don’t worry, Ray. They’re coming.

  12. Ahhh… Puntonet. One of the biggest issues is Port forwarding on their router/modems. They like to use Calix fiber optic connections. To port forward you need access to the main menu/Advanced options. they have disabled access to the advanced screens. So zero options for port forwarding.

  13. just buy a telephone number from skype for $30/year and you can call any landline or cell phone in the US. you might also need to buy a year package for unlimited use……anyway — total cost was around $60. if you want to call other countries, you can add those on for an additional fee

  14. Ray,

    You can purchase a “real” phone number from Skype that allows you to place calls to and receive calls from the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). The cost is roughly $65 per year for both inbound and outbound. I could be off on that…I have had mine so long and it auto renews.

    One unique aspect of Skype is that you can call a Skype number and conference a “non-skype) PSTN number.

    We have VoIP as well as Skype and use both everyday. Skype is our “backup” system for calling the US and we also use it for international calling. Of course theirs also the benefit of video calls in Skype to Skype “mode”.

    1. Cost for me is $2.99 per month and I have a dedicated Skype number with all the bells and whistles.

      1. Jerry, there are two “flavors” of “skype numbers”. One is for inbound calls…so that you have a US number…or many other countries for that matter. The other is for outbound calls to the US and Canada. I don’t know exactly what it cost because I pay mine annually…I will look at it and let you know.

        Just as an FYI, we actually use Skype on our commercial system. Since Microsoft bought Skype, they are now selling SIP (Session Initiated Protocol) trunks. We also use their open source CODEC, OPUS, which in the opinion of some, might be the best in the world.

        Every call placed via VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) has “overhead” in terms of the required bandwidth. In my opinion, Skype is the most “efficient” VoIP service on the market today in terms of bandwidth utilization.

        Magic Jack is fine for personal use when QoS, Quality of Service, doesn’t make a lot of difference. I have it…I just don’t use it. Google voice is great…for personal use…I have it…I just don’t use it.

        Anyway, talk to you soon.

        1. Correct. I pay $2.99 a month for the service and I believe approx $30 per year for my dedicated number.

  15. Had to chuckle when reading this. Having traveled overseas extensivly especially the far east and lived their for 5 years can remember the days when you had to call the operator to set up an overseas call and then wait.Before computors,faxes,and internet we had to have patience and actually did not work at warp speed.

    1. And isn’t it odd how those memories are actually quite fond. I remember taking the Renfe train 2 hours up to Barcelona, buses all over town, and then going through several operators and a translator to place a call home to my mother.

      1. When living in HK in the 70’s overseas operator and telex was it. Could look across boundry road into RedChina as they watched us with binoc’s

  16. Hello Ray! If you are still interested in solving this problem we have some options and will be glad to help you.

  17. In between your turn to get out of the cart and hit a little white ball. Laughable. Perhaps my opinions are more correct than your “research”?

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