Going Online in Spain
The Internet options available to you in your home and on the move in Spain...
Internet connection is usually provided via a physical telephone line, although portable mobile options for smartphones are available. Once a telephone line is installed, there are over 30 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering telephone and Internet package deals, although only six have their own viber and ADSL infrastructure. Prices can vary and installation fees usually apply.
For permanent residents or long-term visitors, the best option is to sign up to one of the unlimited high-speed broadband connection plans from one of the major telephone companies. ADSL and cable broadband allow the user to stay connected to the Internet 24-hours a day. Internet speed will depend on what the local exchange system is capable of supplying. Phone and broadband Internet connection is commonplace in large cities and highly populated regions. There are some isolated rural areas where broadband or even landline connections are not guaranteed due to a lack of infrastructure, however the coverage areas and level of bandwidth continue to improve.
Movistar is the national supplier of landline telephone, Internet and ADSL services. Telephone and Internet services can be obtained through other providers, but the landline is provided through Movistar. The company is an ex-state service and still retains more than 80 percent of the market share.
The most common and practical way to get online is via a package deal with an Internet Service Provider. They offer deals that include phone and Internet access at a flat fee. Be sure to check on hidden costs such as hardware installation, taxes and other "fees" the provider adds.
Installation of the broadband hardware may be required. Most Internet providers can send technicians to help, but there may be a charge. High-speed access usually involves signing a contract of one year or 18 months. If a contract is terminated before the expiry date, a significant fee may be incurred.
Once broadband is installed, a WiFi router can be connected, allowing for wireless Internet usage within a building and for other computers and mobile devices to be connected.
The main broadband and internet service providers in Spain are:
- - Movistar network for GSM and in areas without other networks
- (in English)
The Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism has a policy of universal service whereby the provision of electronic communications service is guaranteed to all users who request it, regardless of geographical location.
Signing up to a service
In order for non-Spanish citizens to register with an Internet service provider, they must be over 18 years of age and have an NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero). Switching to other providers is usually only allowed if the registered name and the NIE number are the same. A bank card and Spanish bank account details are required to complete an application and so that debit payments can be made.
Some Internet providers can provide service contracts in English, but can only offer technical support and customer service in Spanish.
Dial-up Internet Access
For those who do not want to commit to a long-term contract or do not use the Internet on a regular basis, dial-up Internet may be available. Dial-up access is billed per minute or on the basis of a predefined credit within a monthly bill. As the slowest and oldest form of Internet connection, dial-up is slowly being phased out. Dial-up uses the telephone line in accessing the Internet; this means the telephone cannot be used simultaneously while connected.
Dial-up is generally offered in the following ways by Internet Service Providers:
- Pay as you go (PAYG)
- Flat rate service (tarifa plana), at a fixed rate per month for unlimited access
- A combination of PAYG and flat rate – usually involving a flat fee for access off-peak and a per-minute charge during business hours
Satellite Internet use is increasing. Those living in rural areas may find that satellite broadband is their only option for Internet and telephone service. The equipment required is a satellite dish, modem and broadband router. The satellite dish must have a clear line of sight to the south. If renting a home or other premises, installation of a dish is subject to the landlord’s approval. Like regular broadband, it can be connected to the Internet at all times while allowing phone calls. Plans usually come with monthly data upload and download limits. Set-up and monthly service costs charged by the individual provider are generally much higher than conventional broadband. Download speeds can be quite fast, with speeds of around 10 Mbps, but upload speeds are much slower and there can be a delay in the signal.
WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a high speed, long-range wireless connection that is available for some areas where landlines are not available. In order to receive this service, a small dish must be erected on the outside of the property. The installation is similar to satellite TV, although with much smaller equipment. For a WiMax installation to work, the receiver must be within the direct (line of sight) path of the transmission mast. Speeds and reliability can be affected by network traffic and environmental factors.
Fibwi and Iberbanda offer WiMax, and ConectaBalear provides a WiMax service exclusively to Mallorca which covers most of the island.
- Fibwi (Mallorca and Ibiza)
Hotspots can typically be found in coffee shops and various other public establishments. Some will offer free WiFi (a password may be required), while other wireless hotspots require a credit card payment through a browser before allowing access to the Internet.
3G, 4G and 5G Mobile Broadband
3G is primarily designed for sending and receiving small quantities of data via mobile devices, but some find the portability and pay-as-you-go structure useful as their primary means of connection. It may be offered by a mobile phone provider, or as part of a home Internet bundle. Coverage depends on the area and the network. Some providers and some tariffs do not allow VoIP data or charge extra. VoIP allows both voice and data communications to be run over a single network. Another option is adding a data option to a Smartphone contract and “sharing” its 3G data connection with other Wi-Fi devices.
An NIE is required to buy any kind of mobile phone or mobile Internet.
There is a large 4G network available in Spain and it covers 84 percent of the country (2020) The theoretical maximum download speed for the network is 75Mbps, but the average is between 20Mbps and 40Mbps.
Spain was one of the first countries in Europe to introduce the first commercial 5G mobile service in 2019. The network currently covers 15 major cities including Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Valencia. Once fully established 5G mobile users will experience a network 10 times faster than 4G.