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With the advent of mobile phones and over 600 million users, public telephones are nearly extinct in China. In their place, ''phone bars''and public-use phones at convenience stores and kiosks have taken up the services abandoned by the state-run companies. Even if you don't read Chinese, nearly any phone at the convenience store, newspaper stand, and cigarette/liquor store is available for a charge-by-the-minute fee. However, international dialing is usually not a service offered at these ''mom and pop'' operations.

Mobile Phones  返字  sh┓uj┤
Nearly everyone in China seems to own one, they are sold everywhere, and in a spectrum of price ranges. Buying a mobile phone is as easy as: Go to an authorized dealer, pick your phone (Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, and LG are major retailers), cash or credit, and the phone is yours - always keep the receipt. Now you just need to buy a SIM card and purchase charge cards with pre-paid minutes, which will allow you the basic services of dialing and sending SMS. If you need more (eg international roaming), you may want to sign up for a special plan with a service provider. Whatever level of service you want, shop carefully at the provider's office: unless your language is pretty good, it's worth taking a Chinese friend to guide you through some of the more exotic vocab and tricky choices.

Mobile phone payment plans and phone numbers
You know how complicated it is choosing a phone plan back where you come from, right? Well it's no different in China (worse, if anything), and choosing the right plan can save you a bundle. Take a trusted Chinese friend to the service provider's office and think before you buy. Some plans charge you to receive calls as well as make them, which works for some and is a money-pit for others. Some offer huge savings for SMS ''power-users.'' One vital consideration: if you're planning to travel a lot in China, make sure the plan you sign up for allows you to buy recharge cards in any city. Providers have national presence but regional administration, and there's nothing more maddening than running out of money in Guangxi and having to prevail on a friend in your home town to go to the provider's office and re-charge for you.

The two major mobile carriers are China Mobile and China Unicom, both of which have their strengths and weaknesses: China Mobile has wider national coverage but China Unicom is more popular with price-conscious users, and has just strengthened its signal in major cities to penetrate common signal blind spots such as subways, basements, stairwells and elevators.  

China Mobile is the provider of choice for most expats. It offers three broad plans (with lots of tricky variations). Basic details are below - more information is available at www.chinamobile.com/en/

 

Easy-own (Shenzhouxin) C The basic pay-as-you-go via charge card offering by China Mobile. For basic making/receiving calls and sending/receiving SMS, Easy-own is easy to use and reliable with the additional benefit that its charge cards can be purchased throughout China.

M-Zone C The monthly fee of RMB 10 includes the sending of 1,000 SMS C an ideal plan for prolific text messengers. This plan is marketed towards young people who have rapid-fire two-thumb text messaging skills.

GoTone C CMCC's most comprehensive mobile service that is billed monthly. It offers all the additional services you would expect from international service providers including international roaming, voicemail, and direct debit to name a few. A RMB 3,000 deposit is required for non-Chinese subscribers to use its basic services.

China Unicom offers a wide array of network service plans with different price structures for each city. A huge pitfall of China Unicom's localized companies is not being able to purchase charge cards outside of your calling area, which is highly problematic if you are traveling. The upside is that each plan is specifically tailored to its target market and quite flexible. Go to www.chinaunicom.com.cn/english/index.html or call 10010 for more information.

When you've chosen your carrier and your plan, it's time to pick a number, and you'll be given a choice, with prices ranging wildly from RMB 100-800, largely depending on how easy to remember the number is, or how auspicious (or sinister) it sounds. For example, superstitious customers will steer clear of numbers containing 514, as it sounds like ''I want to die.''Conversely, 518 (''I'm going to be rich'') has plenty of takers and a hefty price premium. Once you've chosen your number, you'll be given a SIM card. Keep the SIM card package envelope, SIM punch out card, and the pass code card together - you will need them if you ever want a damaged or stolen card replaced.

Using Your Mobile Phone in China
Almost all GSM mobile phones are usable in China, except for dual-band phones from North America: your phone must be tri-band. Remember also that if you received your phone for free in your home country or with a deep discount as part of your calling plan, chances are there is a proprietary lock on your communication device. This lock renders your phone unusable with a SIM card provided by anyone but your mobile service provider, at least until you have fulfilled your contract. Call your service provider to find out if there is a proprietary lock on your device and how you can get it unlocked. Third party services with varying degrees of expertise and reliability are available on the internet as well as in China - do your homework before attempting to unlock your phone.

Internet   利大  w┌nglu┛
From free WIFI in restaurants & cafes to dank ''internet bars'' (w┌ngb─利杏) for massive multi-person online role playing gaming, internet service is available widely throughout China.

Broadband  錐揮  ku─nd┐i
Registering for an ADSL account requires the person on the deed to the property (ie your landlord) to go to your local area's internet provider to sign up for service. Plans differ depending on the city from 512k, 1, or 2 MB unlimited, limited hours-per-month, or pay-by-the minute plan. Service also differs widely depending on provider but manage your expectations: With some exceptions, speed and connectivity are not great in China.

Wireless Internet (WiFi)  涙   w┣xi┐n
In China's larger cities, free WIFI is offered in cafes, restaurants, and bars - even Starbuck's which often charge in other countries. Many are open networks and some are available to paying customers via a login and password given to patrons after they've ordered. Many of the places that advertise as having free WIFI even offer power strips if there are no outlets near your table.

Another option is to log on via your mobile phone's GPS or CDMA service. Consult your mobile phone service provider for more information.

''Internet Bars''  利杏  w┌ngb─
Internet bars are ubiquitous throughout China, just look for the signs with the Chinese characters above. The hourly charge varies from RMB 3-10 depending on a myriad of reasons including city, location, interior etc. The internet bar is usually a large, smoky, cubicle-filled, dark room with a legion of glowing screens and headphoned operators of joysticks and keyboards.


 

 

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