Getting a local SIM card when traveling in China – China Unicom and China Mobile

When traveling in mainland of China and you probably want to get a SIM card and activate a data plan in order to use the internet and avoid hefty international data fees (despite the fact that there is a lot of free WIFI at the airports, hotels and restaurants). By the way, Internet access is now a basic human right according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (gizmodo.com 2017). It is easy to get a local SIM card in China, the two major telecommunication companies are China mobile (中国移动) and China Unicom (中国联通). 4G covers most of Chinese cities. 3G Coverage is over 99% of China population. Coverage is nearly everywhere except some rural part of Tibet & Xinjiang. A prepaid SIM card can be used immediately after simple activation.

China mobile (中国移动)

As the leading telecommunications services provider in Mainland China, the Group provides full communications services in all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and directly-administered municipalities throughout Mainland China and in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and boasts the world’s largest mobile network and the world’s largest mobile customer base (chinamobileltd.com 2017). China Mobile provides mobile communication services mainly via GSM (2G), TD-SCDMA (3G) and TD-LTE (4G) networks. Be careful that old smart phones like iPhone 4& 5 are not working well with China Mobile’s TD-LTE network (you will get the slow 2G network instead of the faster 3G or 4G network), you may have to use China Unicom instead in order to use 3G or 4G network.

You can use these iPhone models with China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA (3G) and TD-LTE (4G) networks:
* iPhone 7 (Model A1660, A1780)
* iPhone 7 Plus (Model A1661, A1786)
* iPhone 6s (Model A1691, A1700)
* iPhone 6s Plus (Model A1690, A1699)
* iPhone 6 (Model A1586, A1589)
* iPhone 6 Plus (Model A1524, A1593)
* iPhone SE (Model A1723, A1724)
* iPhone 5s (Model A1518, A1530)
* iPhone 5c (Model A1516, A1529)

China Unicom (中国联通)

China Unicom is the second largest telecommunications company in China. It is the only carrier that has 3G that will work with old smart phones from outside China.

China Unicom LTE network
You can use these iPhone models with China Unicom’s LTE network:
* iPhone 7 (Model A1660)
* iPhone 7 Plus (Model A1661)
* iPhone 6s (Model A1700)
* iPhone 6s Plus (Model A1699)
* iPhone 6 (Model A1586)
* iPhone 6 Plus (Model A1524)
* iPhone SE (Model A1723)
* iPhone 5s (Model A1530)
* iPhone 5c (Model A1529)
* iPhone 5

China Unicom 3G network
You can use these iPhone models with China Unicom’s 3G network:
* iPhone 7 (Model A1660)
* iPhone 7 Plus (Model A1661)
* iPhone 6s (Model A1700)
* iPhone 6s Plus (Model A1699)
* iPhone 6 (Model A1586)
* iPhone 6 Plus (Model A1524)
* iPhone SE (Model A1723)
* iPhone 5s (Model A1528, A1530)
* iPhone 5c (Model A1526, A1529)
* iPhone 5

Reference list:

chinamobileltd.com 2017 About China Mobile [online] available: http://www.chinamobileltd.com/en/about/overview.php

gizmodo.com 2017 Internet Access Is Now A Basic Human Right [online] available: http://gizmodo.com/internet-access-is-now-a-basic-human-right-1783081865

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