A reader (!) complained about not being able to get GPRS to work with China Mobile. Although I’m in no way an expert on the subject, I think I know enough to make a useful remark, or two..

The problem with China Mobile is that they have two kinds of SIM cards: 神州行 ShenZhouXing, also known as EasyOwn, versus 动感地带 DongGanDiDai also known as M-Zone.

  • ShenZhouXing/EasyOwn are most popular and you can buy them in every kiosk. However, they don’t support GPRS, only WAP. There’s an android app called CMWRAP that tries to mimic GPRS by tunneling all traffic over WAP. I’ve used this for a while and it works, but it’s not very stable, so be careful.

  • M-Zone supports GPRS and EDGE. Even 3G, but China Mobile’s 3G standard is not UMTS or HSDPA, but some other TD-SCDMA standard, which is not supported by most phones that originate from abroad. For what it’s worth, I thought EDGE worked quite well, to be honest. When using 3G, China’s internet connection is probably the limiting factor.There are two ways to tell which card you have. First of all, the actual SIM cards are of a different color. ShenZhouXing SIMs are green, whereas M-Zone are orange. Also, when you turn on your phone (at least with Android) it should popup a message saying what SIM you have. For example, my phone shows something like 没错!我是动感地带!”Not Bad! I’m M-Zone!”

Apart from being able to use GPRS, receiving calls with M-Zone is FREE, contrary to ShenZhouXing where you pay when you pick up the phone. Note that M-Zone does require you to subscribe to some kind of package deal, which means some money will be subtracted at the beginning of each month. The cheapest package is about 11 RMB, if I remember correctly, and includes local (Beijing only) minutes, short messages and 20MB of traffic.

If you currently have a ShenZhouXing SIM, you can change it into an M-Zone SIM by going to your local China Mobile office (real CM office, not just any reseller.) Bring your passport and the PUK code of the ShenZhouXing SIM. The PUK code is written on the bank-card-shaped piece of plastic that used to contain the SIM card. The change will active from the beginning of the next month.

Hope this helps.