This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General availability: Excellent
Quality of bandwidth: High
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Medium
Frequency of internet in hotels: High
We crossed at the southerly most bridge at Fray Bentos, then visited Colonia and Montevideo before heading inland to Durazno and Tacuarembo and exited on the west near Salto.
Availability was excellent, very similar to Argentina and Chile. Expect internet in every hotel or hostel and there will be a good chance it is also in campgrounds. Many gas stations and restaurants also had wifi available for customers.
Bandwidth was pretty good, at least compared to Argentina. We only tried out about a dozen networks the entire time we were there, so it's hard to know if your experience will be the same. Most places we visited had wifi good enough for voice-only Skype calls and your average browsing.
There is a law in Uruguay that if you want to use an unlocked phone within the country you must register it with customs when you enter. We saw the signs when entering the country but knowing we were only going to be here a few short days, we didn't bother to go through the process. Other posts have said it is a very simple form to fill out and you will be able to buy a SIM card and use your phone or modem the next day.
In quite a few cities we noticed an unsecured network that called Ceibal. The Ceibal project is a huge initiative to bring laptops (and internet) to many people, children especially, throughout Uruguay. I've since learned that some of these internet hotspots are completely open, others have time or data limits, and some are secured and require payment. All of the networks we tried had time limits. We could connect, but only for about 15 minutes before we were kicked off. Usually it reset the next day so we could reconnect, but only for another 15 minutes. We never quite figured out the madness behind these networks, but beware, your blazing fast wifi may be short-lived.
In Colonia we purchased a prepaid Claro modem for UR$1000 (US$50). The lady at the Claro booth said it didn't come with free time. But, we recharged it immediately with UR$200 and when we checked our balance there was UR$450 available. Either the modem does come with free time, or we somehow got an extra UR$250 with our recharge, for reasons unknown.
The modem worked great in cities, 3G all the time. In the outskirts and rural areas, especially near the western borders and Tacuarembo, it was on EDGE networks and the speed was just barely above painful.
Ancel (the government run company) is the main competitor to and generally has better coverage for cheaper prices. A nice Uruguayan at our campground had an Ancel modem he let us try. We couldn't get it to work and the kiosk at the mall didn't have prepaid modems available. Because we were here a short time and just wanted something that worked immediately, we paid the extra money for Claro.
We didn't purchase an additional SIM card for calls, mostly because we didn't want to deal with the customs registering hassle I mentioned above. Internet cafes almost always had telecabinas which were much less than the advertised costs for calling from mobile phones. In Colonia, I paid UR$7 (US$.35) per minute for a call to the US.
If you're going to be in Uruguay a while, invest in a prepaid modem and figure out how the Ciebal networks work. Otherwise, relying on public wifi hotspots and internet in accommodation will be just fine.