For the past two months, I was in China twice, to two different parts of China – Shanghai and the Pearl Delta, and twice, I found myself at the receiving end of “right on your face” cheating by the Chinese when I purchase prepaid SIM card for mobile and data services.
The first incident happened right at the arrival hall of Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. Less than 100 steps after clearing the immigration, there is a counter selling China Mobile’s Prepaid SIM card, equipped with English speaking staffs who hand out leaflets printed with the types of SIM cards available: from 500MB of data to 5GB, bundled with values of IDD calls and local calls for different price. Learning from bad experiences of buying from mobile shops on the street, I thought that it will be safer to make my purchase in the airport, which I then proceeded to purchase one that comes with 3GB of data with other call values which I’ve since forgotten for the sum of RMB 250.
For extra safety measure, fearing of getting 2G SIM cards, as with my previous bad experience in Guangxi and Beijing, I inserted the SIM card right there and then to be certain that it is a 3G SIM card and it works! However, 5 days into my stay in Shanghai, I received a SMS from China Mobile reminding me that my mobile data usage is finishing and I should be topping up in order to continue the service. I scratched my head, how could I be using almost up to 3G of data in 5 days when 1GB can last me a whole month in Malaysia. Besides, I was neither doing any downloading nor surfing the net as frequent as I did. A check by my friend revealed that the advertised 3GB of data is actually 0.3GB. It is outright cheating by the staffs selling the SIM cards at Pudong International Airport!
A few days ago, I was back in China again. Before departing from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, I asked a friend who was going to Hong Kong from Guangzhou to assist me to purchase a prepaid SIM card at the border to be passed to me in Hong Kong. There are plenty of kiosks selling various types of prepaid SIM card at the Lowu Terminal, the main crossing point between mainland China and Hong Kong. For RMB 100, he got me a prepaid SIM card that is supposed to come with data and amount for local calls. To my dismay, when I inserted the SIM card into my phone, there aren’t any 3G sign although the packaging clearly printed 3G by China Mobile. Later, we found out that the SIM card isn’t a 3G card but it is a 2G’s and totally useless except for calls.
Besides that, if you purchase your SIM card in Shanghai, you can’t do a top up at other province, you can only do so in Shanghai. If you run out of balance, say when you are in Beijing, then you will have to either ask someone in Shanghai to top up for you or buy a new SIM Card in Beijing. Apart from that, if you need any assistance from their customer service assistance and you are not in the province where you purchase the card, you will have to make a long distance call back to the original province. And this long distance call is even more expensive than IDD calls. China may send astronauts to space, have their own space station and planning to send a human to the moon but its mobile network's services will make one pause, thinking for the moment that one is being transported to some poor African nation.
Not giving up, I head to another proper shop in Shenzhen to purchase another prepaid SIM card. Printed on the cover is a 4G card and to cut short the story, it was another cheat. I gave up and switched on my data roaming. Complaining about this incident to my friends in China, they lament that China Mobile and China Unicom, the two mobile providers in China knew of such cheating by the resellers of their prepaid cards all across China but refused to take action for it benefits both parties. Then I heard another lament that I am only facing the tip of the mass fakes and cheating in China where they have to live with daily fear of everything and anything that can be faked, from eggs to whatever you may name it.