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sleepy (Offline)
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Join Date: 30 Aug 2007

Default China - 02-09-2012, 18:05

This Summer I have been to China and as always I bought a local SIM card.
I had checked beforehand here and I was quite hopeful that all would be quite easy, as luckily is getting everywhere, after the years where you needed a Master in order to get one, especially if you wanted a mobile Internet connection.

Anyway, I left with in mind costs of about 15 Euro for many GBytes of traffic and, as soon I arrived in Beijing, I entered the China Mobile and China Unicom shops to get an update and choose the best option.
I also enquired the many smaller shops scattered all around the streets.

The bottom line, as far as I managed to understand (the language barrier in China is still huge. Too few Europeans do not speak Chinese.) is:

1) You have to pay a fee just to get the number.
2) This is fee depends on the type of number. Some cost more some cost less, depending on how "nice" they are (some superstition also gets in the way here).
3) The initial cost depends also hugely if you want 2G or 3G+ service.
4) The service cost also depends a lot whether you want 2G or 3G+ connection. The costs we can find in the National operators of PrepaidGSM seem to refer to 2G services.

After some searches, I still decided to get 3G, but that ended not being cheap. Only China Unicom has 3G, therefore the choice was even more restricted.
How much does it cost? This is also very difficult to tell and report.
Basically there are many options, where you can buy more or less traffic (rather expensive on present European standards) and pay the overflow by the KB, this rather cheaply.
I ended up asking little included traffic (something around 100 MB!) and pay the rest when I would cross this limit.
All this costed me about 700 Yuan, which is not cheap at all.
With this I should have had this 100 MB each month+some spare credit to pay the overflow and the phone calls.
The same option made the incoming calls free, which otherwise would have not been.

I quite immediately lost my bearings, since I found no way to register to the CU site (I got an error) and of course all voice services where strictly in Chinese.
Every once in a while you get a SMS telling you the level of usage of your traffic allowance, but I never managed to check the balance.

Therefore, I was going a bit in the dark and therefore I was using all the means to save traffic and not find myself with no credit or traffic allowance.
Luckily, I am using mobile internet since the early days, when 100 MB was all you could reasonably get and, though using a Galaxy and all the many new services that are available now, I managed to stay inside the fences.
Even more, in the end I stayed even too much inside the fences, but better safe than sorrow!

Moreover, during my stay I eventually decided to go in another UC shop and get some help. Unfortunately, it seems that if you move outside the city/region where you have bought the SIM everything still works, but there is no way to check the balance in any other way than on the UC Internet site. Not even UC shops can do anything. I could not believe this and enquired more than one UC shop to no avail. It seems this is the rule.
Even worse, you cannot recharge your SIM in case you need outside the region you bought the SIM. Not by yourselves, nor in a shop. Again, you can do it through the UC site, but only using a Chinese issued credit card. Conditions impossible to comply with for 99% of travellers and I would say 100% of the tourists!

And the validity of the options do not last 30 days, but until the end of the month. Therefore if you buy an option on July 31st, you pay full for one day service. Be forewarned!

I apologise for all the mistakes that may be in what I report. Read it as the diary of a not Chinese speaking tourist and what he could understand and do in these conditions.

If anybody more knowledgeable than me can correct what I wrote and give some explanations, I will be the first to be happy to be enlightened!

Anyway, I managed to do all I needed to do without needing additional recharges or ending stuck at some point.
I used quite some e-mail checking, extensive web browsing (no automatic images loading though, as in ye ole days!) and lots... lots... lots of GoogleMaps. That was my killer service, in China as never happened to me. GM gives information also on transit in China (though not in Rome, which is not in China, before you tell me!) and that was invaluable. Taxis are not always a viable option and hopping on a bus (and not only in the underground) gives you an unbelievable agility and helps you to explore the country deeper. Only, the bus-stops are not always marked in the right places and you need some imagination to find them.
And a bunch of VOIP calls.
Connection was usually quite speedy and coverage very good, especially in the cities. Moving by train, there are still spots in the countryside where you downscale to GSM/GPRS, but they are not common, at list in the not too deep Chinese territory (till XIAN).
Once you travel with Internet on board, you get addicted to it!

In the middle, quite a lot of normal phone calls, even long ones (it never happened to me to make so many and so long calls) and even long distance calls. I also was mostly outside Beijing, where I bought the SIM (and this makes a difference also in the costs of calls).


Last edited by sleepy; 02-09-2012 at 18:11..
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DRNewcomb (Offline)
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Posts: 1,465
Join Date: 27 Feb 2004
Location: Mississippi, USA

Default 02-09-2012, 23:19

Wow! That's a lot to digest. Thanks for the report.
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