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Mobile operators and phone cards

China Mobile (中国移通信;中国移) and China Unicom (合网通信公司,中国)are two mobile operators in China. They provide mobile voice and multimedia services through their nationwide mobile telecommunications network.


China Mobile

China Mobile operates a GSM network, which encompasses all 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and directly administered municipalities in Mainland China and includes Hong Kong,too.GPRS is utilized for data transmission.



The company controls 70% of the Chinese mobile market but a far smaller percentage of the 3G market. Its 3G network, utilizes the TD-SCDMA standard, which China Mobile helped develop. 3G service is available in all of the 4 direct-controlled municipalities and most of the 283 prefecture-level cities in China as of 2010.


As of 2010, China Mobile has debuted small-scale 4G demonstration networks using a variant of 3GPP Long Term Evolution, TD-LTE, and has plans for larger, city-wide demonstration networks in the future. As of May 2012, such networks are in operation.

China Unicom


China Unicom started as a wireless paging and GSM mobile operator and currently provides a wide range of services including nationwide GSM mobile network, long-distance, local calling, data communication, Internet services and IP telephony in mainland China.

China Unicom has also been licensed to offer 3G telecommunication for its users since January 2009.

Mobile Phones and Cards

Many telecom outlets in the city look more like stalls. They sell mobile SIM cards, top-up vouchers and even rechargers for most phone models

The mobile network is rather extensive and impressive in Shanghai. Signals can even be detected in the metro and in many elevators. If you are coming to China on a short term visit, one of the first thing to do when you arrive would probably be to get a prepaid mobile SIM card.

You would save heaps and avoid those expensive international roaming charges when you make calls locally. Also, it makes it easy and a lot cheaper for your friends in China to contact or text you.

The prepaid cards are easily available at the official telcom shop such as China Mobile or at newsstands.

If you will be staying in Shanghai for a quite a while, you can choose to subscribe to China Mobile or China Unicomunder their mobile plans or data plans which may offer you their 6-months plan or 1-year plan.

Extra Pointers

Here, it's better for you to buy a flexible card, which enables you to top up your account at any time. All the telecom outlets sell such prepaid SIM and microSIMcards. Yitong card and Jiajia card offer the international call service. Both of these cards are the prepaid kind.

You can top up your mobile phone either with top-up vouchers which are available in all telecom outlets, or at the city's official utility payment website which is accessible from here. Please ensure that you have an account at a local bank to use the online payment system.

Foreigners who will settle down in the city also have many international calls can apply a Quanqiu Tong card. Before applying, you should have a local guarantor and take your passport and other official documents to the outlets of China Mobile, Shanghai.

If you bring your own cell phone from your home country, you need to check with your operator before coming to Shanghai for the rates, because you may be charged with both international long distance calls as well as international roaming charges.

Public Phones

In China, telephone calls within Shanghai are charged 1 Yuan every 3 minutes while long-distance calls china-wide are around 0.3 Yuan/minute (about US$0.05). Naturally, using your hotel phone will usually be much more expensive (and sometimes you need to inform reception to make an international call).


International calling rates on Chinese public phones (called 'IC phones'; which stand for Integrated Circuit) are about Y3.50/min ($0.50) 's cheaper if you use an IC phone card. Most public phones are operated by China Telecom and have a slot that you can insert your phone card. They're the cheapest way to make a direct domestic long-distance call (DDD): about Y0.15/minute ($0.02). They can also be used for direct international calls (IDD): Y1/min ($0.15) to Hong Kong, Macau, U.S. and Canada; rates are usually higher to call other countries.

An even cheaper option is to buy an IP (internet phone) cards  which are sold at around 25 RMB for a 100 RMB Card for domestic or international long-distance calls. They’re issued by different telecoms and have slightly different rates. Instead of inserting a card, you’ll dial an access number and input a PIN to connect. A hotel with a business center should also have an IP compatible phone.

You can buy both of these cards in convenience stores, newspaper stands, supermarkets, hotel lobbies, and other retail outlets throughout China. The Chinese word for 'card' is 'ka'(卡) so ask for an 'IC or IP ka'. But note that they often only work in the region/province of purchase and also have an expiration date.

To make an international call from China, dial: 00+country code + area/region code + phone number

IP (International Prepaid) Cards


IP cards appear to be colorful with different designs. They are also collectors' items apart from their basic functionality.

Warning! You can't just simply pick up a phone in the city and call home. You need to buy an IP card. They're cheap and widely available at grocery stores and post offices. But IP cards aren't suitable for every phone but usually, you can use IP cards through fix-lined phones and cell-phones.

Domestic long-distanced calls and international calls charge different fees. You can dial China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom customer service numbers to get price details.

China Mobile's IP card
dial 17950
press 2 for English service
enter card number and end with #
enter pin number
(country code) district code and telephone number and end with #

China Telecom's IP card 
dial 17908
press 2 for English service
enter card number and end with #
enter code number and end with #
enter the number you want to dial and end with #

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164