There’s a lot of confusion going on for most people when it comes to cellphone usage. There are apparently different sim cards, plans and stuff going on and i never quite get the messages i recive from the phone company (I have figured it to be related to running out of cash since that often happends quite shortly after).
Couldn’t Shanghaiist do a big feature on mobile phone using in China? All the different sims, a breakdown on the different rates and plans, good things to know, how to remove that f***ing music people has to listen to whilst calling you etc… — Lars, Shanghai
Don’t think the music has anything to do with China, may want to break out that old instruction manual for your phone and look under “ringtone setup”. Subscribers can have their internal ringtones changed/removed by going to an authorized store or China Mobile users can go online at www.12530.com and fix/change things that way. As for the rest, we are happy to oblige. Of course, what you are about to read is by no means the last word or even 100 percent accurate. When it comes to the Chinese mobile communication space, we are just as confused as you guys. But, there’s strength in numbers, we sincerely hope that our reader community would chime in on this one: To add to or to correct whatever we have to say, and make this project a group effort, or a “wiki”, in 21st century parlance.
Out of a handful of SPs in China, we recommend only China Mobile and China Unicom, the two 800 lb. gorillas in the industry. Because with size comes expansive coverage area, clear voice quality, complete menu of related content/data services and, of course, competitive pricing.
Since handsets and phone numbers are often sold separately (more on that later) in China, how does one tell if a particular phone number belongs to China Mobile or China Unicom? Well, there is a method to all the whacky Chinese cell phone numbers’ madness. All numbers begin with 130, 131, 132, and 133 fall under China Unicom, with 130-132 being Unicom’s GSM offering and 133 CDMA (more on that later). Phone numbers starting with 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, and 139 use China Mobile’s GSM service. SIM cards can be purchased anywhere prepaid phone cards are sold or in shops near most major subway stops.
From major department stores to hole-in-the-wall neighborhood shops, one has a lot of options when buying a cell phone in Shanghai, and price does vary quite a bit, sometimes 30-40 percent cheaper in local stores depending on the make. A case of crazy markup in department stores or street merchants selling fake phones? Neither, actually, more like gray market on steroids. Phones sold in major department stores(行货/Hanghuo) are “sanctioned” by both the manufacturers (i.e. Nokia, Motorola) and the SPs (i.e. China Mobile) for use in the mainland market, and therefore receive full technical/customer support in addition to the warranty period. Phones sold in smaller shops (水货/Shuihuo)however, originate from overseas (where comparable models are often significantly cheaper) and are smuggled into China by enterprising individuals looking to profit from the difference. While one does pay less initially for the phone, there is no warranty, nor any customer support from the manufacturer. Some store owners do offer to fix any minor glitches for a year, whether that’s enough of a reassurance/trade-off for a 20-30 percent discount is, well, up to you. Some unscrupulous vendors — in China? Gasp! — sell refurbished models as brand new sets to further pad their bottom line, so do exercise some caution. Word of mouth is a good way to locate a quality purveyor, or in our case, their TaoBao’s credit rating.
A few side notes. If by chance you have been using a CDMA phone (numbers starting with 133), and are looking to upgrade, be sure your new phone also supports CDMA. Those of you coming to China with a GSM phone from your home country(Cingular and T-Mobile in the U.S., almost all of Western Europe) can still use it, but may require a firmware upgrade. Such services are usually available at stores selling 水货, for a fee of course, usually around 100 kuai.
Here is where things get a bit muddy.
For starters, there’s the pay-as-you-go system. At 0.6 kuai/min for voice and 0.1 kuai per text message, things are never confusing but always expensive. It is however convenient for people just visiting China. Prepaid charge cards are for sale in most convenience stores — just tell the clerk the first three digit of your phone number and the RMB amount you want to purchase, he/she will do the rest.
For the rest of you who plan on staying in Shanghai for a while, better options are available, but you may need to go to a China Mobile/China Unicom authorized store to fill out some paper work. You will also need your SIM’s pin code. The code is printed on a plastic card and should have come with your SIM in a paper envelope during the initial purchase.
We’ll talk China Mobile first.
Pay-as-you-go Plus or better known as 大众卡 (Dazhong). For a monthly fee of 16 kuai, voice call are now only 0.13 kuai/min for in-network calls (within China Mobile), and 0.49 kuai/min for calls to other SP phones or landline numbers. By the way, that’s for out bound minutes only, all in bound voice minutes are completely free. Roaming charge of 0.8 kuai/min applies where applicable and text message cost remains the same. Once your account has been switched to Dazhong, you will still have to buy prepaid charge cards. The ones you have been using work just fine.
Monthly calling plans are also available.
National (no roaming charge, one year contract)
Monthly Charge (RMB)
Overage Charge (kuai/min)
Local (one year contract requirement waived if customer prepays monthly charge)
Monthly Charge (RMB)
Overage Charge (kuai/min)
If you do more text message than voice calls, there are monthly plans for that also. Just visit any one of the China Mobile M-Zone stores. There’s one on Huaihai Lu, a few blocks west of the Chengdu Lu over path. Monthly charge starts from 10 kuai all the way up to 40 kuai (at 10 kuai increments), and for that you get 160, 360, 650, and 950 free text messages respectively. Voice minutes are not included. Plan participants are charged 0.13 kuai/min from 9 am to 9 pm, and 0.10 kuai/min the rest of the time — not a bad deal either.
Lastly, people looking for data services, voice mail and other mobile services, they are all available as a la carte items, for a fee. Just visit a China Mobile store and fill out some paper work. For more detailed information, check here or call 10086.
Similar services are available with China Unicom. Since there aren’t many Unicom customers here in Shanghai, we won’t go into greater details. Those that are interested, look here or call 10010.