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I want a phone service with Internet!
So, you’ve come to China, made it through the first encounter with a taxi driver and even got your working permit and visa straightened out.
Now you want to quit paying those roaming fees with your foreign phone provider, but you have no idea what to get instead. All your persuasions didn’t help: your company is not going to provide you with a SIM card that they paid for. So you’re on your own. Now what?
Well, then you’re about where I used to be for a long time, keeping listening to different people telling different stories. I believe I came to something you may call a solution and so let me try to shed some light onto China Mobile’s(CM) service plans (as I know nothing about China Unicom’s, sorry).
CM has 3 types of products to choose from :
Shenzhouxing (Easy Own)
This pre-paid card is available at most newsstands and supermarkets. It comes pre-charged and works out of the box as soon as you put it into your own phone. Buy top-up cards anywhere to recharge the SIM card when it runs out if money. Very easy.
This card makes most sense if you’re in the country only for a few weeks.
It’s quite pricy as you can imagine, because you’re not bound by a contract. Also, be aware that you are charged a certain amount of money even for receiving calls. You can buy a package for 10 RMB that prevents this and you can also subscribe to other volume services for calling and texting. This is usually done by sending a certain code via SMS to CM. They will then deduct the applicable fee from your pre-paid card at the beginning of every month. Unfortunately, I have not yet found a complete list of the possible services you can subscribe to, so you need to keep digging.
You can subscribe to GPRS packages, but they will not get you www service, only access to WAP, which usually is not what you want, because it’s very limited: view only WAP sites from CM.
This is the most-people-have-it solution. It’s also a pre-paid system and you need to charge it regularly. You can only get this product in an official CM store, not in a market. Also, they need your passport and address to register you as the owner. However, since it’s pre-paid, there’s nothing you need to cancel in case you leave the country or just don’t want to use the SIM card any longer. It’ll stay active for 3 months and will work as usual once you recharge the number again. If you don’t – well, then nothing’s going to happen.
You are required to book at least one package as a monthly subscription. This must be a text or voice plan. Data services are extra. Voice or text plans start very low at something like 11RMB, so it’s nothing to be majorly concerned about.
GPRS works out of the box (see possible necessary settings for your phone below), but you should get a volume package instead of using pay-as-you-go, because the KB prices aren’t exactly cheap. GPRS packages start very low at about 5RMB and go up to 200RMB, depending on your needs. The CM store will have a list with the latest rates to choose from. Bring some time…
Or else check out this link beforehand. I got it from cuimengsuo.com and it lists the available GPRS packages. It’s in Chinese, so you might want to run it through Google Translate or similar.
This is what I’d call a business-oriented plan. They offer post-payments and are directed towards people who use voice more than text messages and who call lots and lots, national and international. If you get this, then you need to cancel your contract once you don’t want any further service. Otherwise the bills keep coming.
The packages available are mainly directed towards lots of calling minutes and make those much cheaper, I’m not too familiar with the rates though.
Same story as M-Zone.
Still doesn’t work?
If you already happen to have an M-Zone or GoTone SIM card, have entered the settings I showed you down below and still get no connection, then you need to go to a CM store or simply let a Chinese-speaking person call 10086 to have them activate GPRS access for you. Your card simply may not yet be authorized.
Already have a Shenzhouxing and want to keep your number?
That’s no problem. Well, maybe that’s a point of view. Firstly, you need to still have that credit card-sized plastic framing from which you originally broke out that small SIM card. This one contains all sorts of authorization numbers on the back that the CM representative needs on order to do the trick.
So take that and your passport when you go to a store. They’ll do the switch from your Shenzhouxing plan to one of the other without problem, BUT: you need to wait until the beginning of the following month for the whole thing to take effect. Until then everything will stay as it is, so no GPRS for the rest of the current month.
Be patient for about 30 days
The one month waiting period is the case with anything official or GPRS-related. CM doesn’t do these kind of things right away, so even if you have an M-Zone or GoTone and want to have a GPRS volume package, you’ll have to wait for the 1st of the following month for it to take effect. Until then you’ll stay on the expensive by-KB rate. Make sure to be clear about whether or not you have an active package to avoid costly surprises.
Lots of phones can actually use the GPRS access without further configuration, but some might need a tweak. Here are the settings for both, Internet and MMS for you. The latter is needed especially if you have an iPhone, which will simply not show MMS ability until you enter this information and completely reboot the device:
Cellular Data network service settings for GPRS access:
MMS proxy: 10.0.0.172
On the Apple iPhone, you’ll get to this by tapping the SETTINGS icon on the home screen, go to GENERAL, then NETWORK and then CELLULAR DATA NETWORK. Don’t forget to also enable MMS in SETTINGS – MESSAGES by putting the slider “MMS Messaging” to ON.
I hope this helps anybody who’s been trying to figure this out without success like I did for a long time.