It’s all about the data packages.
You can get online the moment you step off the plane at the Penang International Airport, which has free Wi-Fi. Once you leave the airport, the government offers free Wi-Fi at about 1,550 locations around Penang State (check www.penangfreewifi.com), but these spots aren’t always reliable, so it’s best to get your own SIM card, which you can buy at the airport or inside most shopping malls.
The major mobile operators in Penang are Maxis, DIGI, TuneTalk, and U Mobile. They have stores at major shopping malls such as Queensbay Mall and Gurney Plaza. You can shop for a data plan that best suits your needs, and you can also buy cell phones at Bukit Jambul Complex and Prangin Mall.
DIGI has a good range of Wi-Fi data packages. (There is a DIGI kiosk at Penang airport before you even get to customs and baggage claim, and another under the escalator near the rental car counters.) If you are in Penang for a single visit with no plans to return, you might opt for a visitor data plan, valid for a limited time. Otherwise, go for subscription-based plan that you can renew online. The good news is that the cost of data keeps dropping; it used to cost 88 ringgit (US$22) for 9GB; now the same price gets you 20GB.
Many frequent visitors to Penang keep a prepaid SIM. The mobile operator TuneTalk offers one for 28 ringgit (about US$7) per year to keep the SIM active, without you having to top up the SIM every three months. TuneTalk’s data plans are 28 ringgit monthly for 4GB and 48 ringgit (US$12) for 8GB. It might not be the best choice for data heavy users, but it’s good value for travelers.
To buy a prepaid SIM card, you need to provide your passport, and provide other information as required by the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), including a mailing address.