Beijing Travel Essentials: Mobile Phones
Cell Phones & Landlines in China
There are an estimated 451 million mobile phones in use in China (2008 figure) making the country the world's largest mobile telephone market. Mobile phone users easily outnumber landline subscribers.
The leading mobile telephony service providers in China are China Mobile and China Unicom. China Mobile operates the world's largest GSM network in the world, while China Unicom operates both a GSM and a CDMA network. Landlines are operated by China Telecom with Beijing Telecom the branch of China Telecom in the capital.
Mobile phones can be bought new at mobile phone shops, department and electronics stores. Phones can also be purchased second-hand at a number of electronics malls such as the Grand World Second-hand Electrical Market at the Laitai Flower Market.
Once you have picked up a phone, you will need a SIM card to provide you with a number and to connect you to the service. SIM cards can be purchased at a cell phone store or at a convenience store. Phone numbers with auspicious numbers such as 6, 8 and 9 are likely to be more expensive than those with 'unlucky' numbers such as 4 (which is associated with death).
Equipped with your new phone and SIM card you can now either sign up for an account with China Mobile or China Unicom or get by with pre-paid phone cards available from newspaper kiosks, cell phone and convenience stores.
When buying a SIM card in Beijing ask whether the SIM card allows you to call outside China. Some SIM cards allow this to happen, while others don't. Usually the card you buy that allows you to call outside of China will not allow you to send text messages out of China. Unless you are willing to spend 5000RMB as a deposit on a number to do both operations you will need to buy 2 different SIM cards if you want to send text messages and make phone calls to the outside world.
Be aware that when using China Mobile to download information from the internet the charges are quite high compared to other parts of Asia.
Bringing Your Phone From Home
If you are already using a GSM phone it can be unlocked and a Chinese SIM card inserted. This service is available at Beijing International Airport or you can pick up a global SIM card before you leave home.
If you want to have Chinese language available for SMS you will need to change the software on your mobile. Unlocking and software services are available from trained technicians at the stores and malls listed above.
Apply to Beijing Telecom for a regular landline and for ISDN services if required. Local calls are free in China even from most hotels and long-distance rates are low. Chinese phone numbers have 8 digits.
To dial overseas from China dial 00 then the country code and then the number. International phone cards (Internet Protocol or IP cards) can also be purchased in various denominations for either your mobile or landline. To use an IP card you first dial a local access number and enter your card number and PIN and then phone the required number. Discounts are available and you should not pay the face value on the card.
The country code for China is 86 and the city code for Beijing is 10. Numbers beginning 800 within China are toll-free.