China's Mobile Phone System is the World's Best
China's mobile phone system is infinitely superior to that of the US, Canada and Europe. North America in particular has a system that is fragmented, dysfunctional, horribly expensive and often very inconvenient.
China's system is arguably the best in the world at this time.
The entire system is transparent, inexpensive and extremely efficient. Mainly, it was designed to provide total effective communication service to everyone in the entire country, rather than "free-market competition" for the benefit of private enterprise.
In part, that means it was not designed to maximise the profits of a few elite contenders, but to serve the nation. And it does this astonishingly well. The West has nothing to compare to it.
Since the system is established under national control, individual companies don't compete with each other by creating different incompatible systems as in North America.
The same system applies throughout the entire country and through much of Asia, so everyone can be in contact seamlessly and without difficulty.
The mobile system is so good that hardly anyone in China uses a landline any more. Usually, only companies have them, and even then most calls are placed to mobile phones.
First, you go to any one of thousands of shops and negotiate the best price you can get for any phone you want. At the same time, you get a SIM card which contains your phone number and network connection authorisation.
The card costs 20 RMB (about $4) but has 50 RMB of air time already on it. Having done this, you insert the battery, turn on your new phone and begin making calls while still in the shop.
When your air time runs low, you stop at any one of thousands of shops or kiosks to replenish your account. I normally deposit 100 RMB (about US$14.00) at one time, and that lasts for about 4 months. Some people have service contracts for 1-3 years; I'm not a heavy user, so pay-as-you-go is fine.
If you're unhappy with your phone company, then you just pay to another company when you replenish your phone account. It takes no additional time or effort to do this, your phone number (and SIM card) are the same, and you needn't change your phone or your number.
If you buy a new phone, you simply insert old old SIM card and everything is as it was.
You can purchase a second (or third) SIM card and have local numbers to use in different cities, if you want to do that. No problem, and no cost.
Costs for local calls are .10 RMB per minute - less than US 1.5 cents. Text messages have a flat rate of .10 RMB for messages sent anywhere in the country, and attachments like photos or spreadsheets can be included at the same price.
Those prices are for sending - receiving is free. It costs 5 RMB (about US$0.75) per month for a full internet connection, sufficient for all emails and browsing.
For my personal use, my total monthly cost for my Nokia smart phone, including internet use and email, is around 30 RMB (US$5.00). By contrast, in the US or Canada it would cost at least US$75 per month, and likely closer to US$200.
When you obtain a landline in China, you automatically also get a cute (and free) mobile phone that is used lieu of voicemail or an answering machine. These phones have the same number as your home phone, and will automatically ring if you don't answer your land line.
In other words, you have an automatic call forwarding system to a free mobile phone. Incoming calls are free; outgoing ones cost the same as any mobile phone, and you can call anywhere anytime.
One of the best features is that every square meter of China is wired, even in remote locations. I was recently on holiday in Inner Mongolia and could happily send text messages while riding my camel in the desert. Try that in NYC.
If I travel to Beijing, I receive a text message as I approach the city, welcoming me and telling me my calls are now local calls. If anyone from anywhere calls me, the system knows where I am and my phone rings.
It isn't only China itself, but the entire Asian region that is seamlessly connected. It is never necessary to think about service provider compatibility, roaming, or all the other restrictions that exist in Canada or the US.
I recently called a friend of mine in Shanghai to invite him for lunch, and he said, "I can't, I'm in Vietnam." Try that in London or Toronto.
Shanghai is wiring the entire city for wi-fi, enabling everyone to connect laptops and mobile phones to the wireless internet system anywhere within the city limits. We will no longer be limited to coffee shops or the lobbies of hotels.
Many people have good friends in (or from) maybe half the provinces in China and most have friends and family back home. Whenever anything of consequence happens anywhere, communication is instant, with 800 million mobile phones sending text messages. We sometimes know of events before the news media.
The UN estimated that China's productivity was perhaps 15% higher than it might otherwise have been, just from the almost universal use of mobile phones and their very low usage costs, especially for text messaging.
In related news, the governments use the mobile phone messaging systems to great advantage for public notifications, something that may not exist anywhere else.
For example, when a recent typhoon approached Shanghai, the government sent out a typhoon warning to all the mobile phones in two provinces. 100 million people were instantly notified that the storm was coming, and were told what to do. That's a very effective and instant public-warning system that reaches almost everyone in only a few minutes.
Also, the banks in China will send you an SMS message each time a charge is made on your credit card. If your card has been lost or stolen and someone tries to use it, you will know within two minutes and can call the company to cancel the card.
But in the end, the best featuress of the SMS system in China are the low cost and universality. Again, the price is a flat 0.10 RMB for a message of any size, inlcuding large attachments, and the one price covers messages sent anywhere in the country.
In China, it is possible to be speaking with on a mobile phone, take a photo with the phone, and attach and send it to your friend while still talking. That feature has multiple uses.
In China, you can send and receive text messages in both English and Chinese simultaneously. My friends often do that for me to help me learn Chinese, sending me an English word, the pinyin pronunciation, and the Chinese characters in the same message.
We also send each other the name of a restaurant or an office in both Chinese and English so we can find the place, and also to show the phone message to a cab driver. You just can't do better than this.
The government in Anhui province (a small poor province near Shanghai) has created free internet cafes for the local farmers, with surprising results. The cafes have a full-time instructor to teach the locals how to use a computer and browser, how to search for information.
The eagerness with which rural folk took to the internet is astonishing, as is the extent and range of the usage.
A farmer has a sick cow and he's on the internet, learning what to do until the vet comes. Farmers check on all the kinds of vegetables that will grow in their area and learn how to plant and care for them, and where to buy seeds.
Every day, they check the prices of rice all over China to see where the prices are changing and learning how much to charge for their produce - in real time. They are in those cafes constantly, using the internet for everything, and to great advantage.
China's Firewall makes at least one great contribution to humanity - it kills spam. The government identifies and blocks all spam servers from all nations - most especially the US and Russia, and does it so effectively.
When I lived in Canada, my email addresses would last for about 6 months before I would have to discard them. By that time, each address would be receiving in excess of 100 spam messages a day, sometimes as much as 200.
In Shanghai, I have used the same email addresses for 7 years without a problem. I receive almost no spam of any kind, with the exception of a few local restaurants or other businesses that somehow discovered my address. What a blessing.
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