This is part 1 of FOODragon’s practical guide for people who intend to use a smartphone in China. Whether you bring along your own cellphone, or plan to buy one in China, there are many factors you need to take into consideration, and many questions you need to ask yourself before setting foot in China. This guide will introduce you to the basics and the need-to-knows of the Chinese cellular market and help you make an informed decision. This guide focuses on mainland China.
The first thing you need to know is your options. China has three cellular communication providers: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. They all offer second generation networks (2G) and third generation networks (3G) but they use different standards.
China Mobile Communication Corporation (CMCC)
Chinese name: 中国移动通信
Standards: GSM for 2G, TD-SCDMA for 3G
Founded in April 2000, the company commonly known as China Mobile (中国移动 – zhōng guó yí dòng) is the senior player in the game. Since it has been the only choice in a country of 1.3 billion people for quite some time, this partly state-owned company is now the world’s largest mobile network operator with over 700 million subscribers.
What you need to know is that China Mobile developed its own 3G standard before the Olympic Games of Beijing 2008. This standard is unique and works only with cell phones specifically designed and manufactured for China Mobile. This means the following:
- You won’t be able to use China Mobile 3G services with your own cell phone.
China Mobile 3G services are not available for iPhones because the company doesn’t have an agreement with Apple. This is no longer true. Apple and China Mobile now have an agreement for 3G and 4G Networks.
Generally Speaking, China Mobile is considered to have the best coverage for 2G services in China, though the other two competitors keep closing the gap. When it comes to 3G most people tend to go with one of the competitors, mostly because of the better choice of devices.
Chinese name: 中国联通 (zhōngguó lián tōng)
Standards: GSM for 2G, WCDMA for 3G
China Unicom was the second player to join the game and thus broke China Mobile monopoly over the market. At the beginning it was mostly known for rates as low as the signal but it has gotten much better since. With over 200 million subscribers, China Unicom is the second largest cellular carrier in China, many of them are iPhone users who could not get 3g support from China Mobile. China Unicom is usually a compatible providers for most of the laowai smartphones.
Chinese name: 中国电信
Standard: CDMA (both for 2G and 3G)
China Telecom is a fixed line communication giant which woke up one day and decided it wants also a slice of the mobile pie. With just over 100 million subscribers China Telecom is the smallest carrier of the three, but it’s still not bad for the new kid on the block.
Now you need to find out the standard of your cellphone and you local mobile network operator (this will be a good place to start) to see which Chinese operator it matches. This way when you arrive at China you already know which Operator’s you should approach.
See you in part 2 – Only in China.