With frequent talk about censorship on China's Internet, many outsiders are perhaps under the impression that getting online in China is fraught with problems. They couldn't be more wrong.
In fact, compared to European and North American countries, getting online in China is extremely easy, whether via wireless modem or landline dial-up. When I travel to the USA or Europe, it's a massive pain to deal with online connectivity. I can either use the hotel's connection or go to an outside WiFi location, like Starbucks. But what if I want to get online outside the hotel, or my hotel doesn't have a connection, or I just want to have more roaming options? In China, we have options.
Let's first look at the old dial-up connection. You remember that? The slow cranking downloads, the sounds of key clicks, modem twangs, and lost connections are long forgotten, but if you do have a landline telephone and a modem jack, you can easily connect and get online anywhere in Beijing. Just use 95963 as the dial-up number and 263 as the username and password. The service costs CNY0.09 per minute and is charged to your phone bill. It's that easy!
If you are outside of Beijing, that number might still work, or you can go to a local convenience store and buy scratch-off cards that reveal a username and password that, when coupled with a dial-up number displayed on the card, get you online. In Beijing also, you can go to convenience stores and buy cards that give alternative phone numbers and prices per minute usage. True, the speeds are slow, but when you are in a bind it's a great way to get your emails out to colleagues.
A few places in the world use CDMA, and if you have a CDMA modem, you can get online with quicker speeds via China Unicom's network. Where can you use a CDMA modem? Anywhere you can use your mobile phone you can use your CDMA modem. If you don't arrive in China with a modem, you can buy one of many brands for CNY650-2000 in Chinese technology stores. The UIM card, which looks like a SIM card used in a mobile phone, will then cost a meager CNY20.
But a CDMA modem and UIM alone won't get you online. You also need to buy minutes. In Beijing, at China Unicom you can buy these minutes. China Unicom has dozens of outlets all around Chinese cities. In Beijing, there are four major monthly plans:
- CNY98 for 240 hours of local use + 5 hours outside Beijing (CNY0.3/minute for time over 240 hours)
- CNY138 for 240 hours of local use + 15 hours outside Beijing (CNY0.3/minute for time over 240 hours)
- CNY198 for no limit in the local area + 60 hours outside Beijing
- CNY298 for no limit anywhere in China
But some people prefer the slower GPRS modems for moving themselves around the Internet. China Mobile runs a decent GPRS network in China and modems typically go for CNY700-2000. In Beijing, you can then get a 6-month plan for CNY650 or spend CNY2400 for an annual plan that includes a high-end GPRS modem. Once you have this in place, you can work anywhere you want in China. Easy!
WLAN is all the rage around the world, and in China more places are making hotspots available. China Netcom has hotspots in random locations with pre-paid cards going for CNY10, CNY30, CNY90. You are then charged CNY0.2 per minute of usage.
You should be aware that not all cities price these services the same, and prices are liable to change at any time.