How Thailand’s mom and pop shops support mobile connectivity in their communities

Every day the 34-year-old Tew-Weerayuth Puthawong rises at dawn to get ready before the first customers arrive. Many stop by on their way to work to top-up their mobile phones at his shop in a small village in Phan, a district of Thailand’s Chiang Rai province. And although Mr. Weerayuth serves his customers on a wheelchair, he never lets physical limitations prevent him from connecting his customers to what matters most.

When the country was hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in a city lockdown, data usage grew five times faster in the provinces and residential areas than in central Bangkok. Many people who moved back to their hometown have chosen to remain there as the economic downturn continues. This has made mobile refills in small villages a critical service.

“Many people came home during COVID and never went back or tried to find a job in town. Some people run their own business or help their parents on farming and raising livestock. And not everyone has internet at home, so they came looking for prepaid data sims at my shop,” Mr. Weerayuth explained.

Several years ago, Mr. Weerayuth, an online gamer, decided to reach out to the dtac sales team in Chiang Rai as he wanted to become one of the retailers. He noticed a growing need for mobile connectivity in his village, which is about 30km from town.

Today, his shop takes up a quarter of his family’s home, sharing the space with his family’s grocery store. Aside from offering basic services like mobile top up and selling add-on packages, his day is spent teaching his customers how to get the most out of their smartphones.

“I’m proud to be able to help people in my community stay in touch with those they love. Several of my customers are older. I teach them how to listen to music online or make video calls to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren who work in another province or country,” he said. “I always ask my customers what they actually need. For example, depending on whether they watch a lot of Youtube or only need it for messaging apps like LINE, I try to recommend a package that fits them. As a result, fewer people complain about slow connections due to data throttling.”

His shop is surrounded by a handful of villages whose residents are also his regulars. He has been selling for more than five years and has many return customers, including a few who moved into town. “They recommend my shop and dtac to their family and friends. In a small community like this, good service keeps good word of mouth spreading, which is more powerful than hard-sell advertising,” he continued.

Today, he earns an average of 20,000 baht per month from selling sim cards, mobile top-ups, and add-on packages. Around the country there are thousands of local non-telecom shops, from coffee shops to mom and pop shops like Mr. Weerayuth’s, who closely work with dtac. Every week sales teams go out in the field to meet and check in on these retailers. They recruit new shops, teach them selling tips, help monitor sales targets, and forge lasting friendships. In the North alone, dtac has about 6,000 non-telecom retailers, and the number keeps growing.


“For those who live in rural villages, they might have to travel at least 5-10 kilometers to the nearest mobile retail spot. Also, they don’t know these phone shops personally, so it’s harder for customers to trust them,” said Viroj Limthongsittikun, the head of Zone Business who looks after the prepaid segment in the North.

“Thanks to dtac’s access to these communities through these shops, when thousands of villages were put under a lockdown due to COVID, many people got to try dtac for the first time and have remained our customers since. Our goal is to have at least one retailer per village.” 

With the impact of COVID-19, many dtac customers are facing economic challenges. Beyond basic mobile connectivity, there’s also a greater need for services and offers that financially benefit customers in their daily lives, like the Jai Dee Pharmacy vouchers which offer discounts from licensed pharmacies, or Jai Dee Borrow which lets customers borrow a top-up when their phone’s credit runs out.

“Many of dtac’s retailers used to sell only groceries and earn low margins, but now they have a second stream of income. They feel thankful for dtac, and many of them have become very close with our salespeople,” he continued. “This is also the case for Khun Tew who despite his physical disabilities now feels more valued in his community.” 

He also cited an example of another retailer, a mother of two and a farmer, who now earns thousands of baht per month from doing refills and selling top-up packages. Similar to Mr. Weerayuth, she is trusted by people in her community, and many customers are fellow farmer friends who are also middle aged. “She really defies the perception that farmers are not good at technology,” said Mr. Viroj.

While it is moving ahead with 5G and has launched 5G on 26 GHz for industrial use cases, dtac is also working very hard to roll out new low-band and massive MIMO sites to ensure a good network experience for all Thais, no matter which device they use or where they live.

“I appreciate that an operator like dtac is coming to serve us right in the heart of our community,” said Mr. Weerayuth. “Above all, we want good coverage so we don’t have to worry when we go work in a field or outside of town. A good and affordable connectivity service can keep people connected during a crisis.”