China's internet speed has gradually been picking up, skyrocketing from "1 Episode Seinfeld/month" to roughly "1 Season Game of Thrones/day." Since the completion of the optical network last year, the Golden Gig has finally become attainable for the average consumer. Shanghai now has more households with speeds over 1000mbps than any other city in China.
Upgrade time! But how?
Step 1: Off to China Telecom
Head down to your local internet dealership. China Telecom is the biggest provider of internet services in Shanghai, and they're the ones that built the infrastructure. China Unicom is also an option, but they seem to top out at 300mbps for private internet connections, and they seemed real suspicious on the phone about why we'd want anything faster than that.
1) Your passport/shenfenzheng (of course)
2) Your existing telecoms contract (if you have one)
The passport has to be of the person who registered the existing telecoms contract, and the passport owner has to be present. They'll take your picture!
Head to the info desk, tell them you want to upgrade your internet (我要升级成最快的网速), grab a number and wait to be seated at the WiFi buffet.
Step 2: Choose Your Plan
Boy are there a lot of plans out there. We were handed a printout with the "upload/download" speeds printed the wrong way around and the unit written simply as "M." Maybe not the best start but okay.
You're looking for the 2,990rmb per year package, which gets you that sweet, sweet gig of speed. If you've got months on your existing, inferior plan, they'll calculate the difference.
Reactions to that price from friends and colleagues was mixed: apparently people have all sorts of weird internet packages, with some pay upwards of 2,000rmb a year for like 150mbps speed and others paying 1,700rmb for 200mbps, despite both being on China Telecom.
Part of the reason for this is that although Shanghai's been upgrading its comms infrastructure, some buildings and neighborhoods don't have the set-up to support higher speeds. The person at the counter will be able to tell you what your address can support. Cross your fingers that you live in Gigaland.
The 2990rmb/month deal gets you a free family package: if someone you know is on at least a 199rmb/month deal, China Telecom will upgrade their speed to 500mbps. For free! It's tied to your contract: if you cancel, there goes their package.
You also get free one-year sim cards with the contract. 50 gigs of data and like 1,500 minutes on them! I got three. Not sure what to do with them. Maybe keep them for short-term visitors? Important note, if you don't cancel them, they'll automatically renew for next year and bill your card.
Step 3: Upgrade Your Hardware (?)
Much like how your max speed depends on your location, your internet box might be the same. So they'll call and arrange a time to upgrade your black magic internet box for free. My phone-call came before I got out the door of the Telecoms shop. The conversation was in Chinese, but it was a cinch. Just choose a three(ish)-hour window that works for you.
The installation guy showed up promptly, installed a big black box, borrowed my laptop to activate the service (I guess you can ask him to use his phone instead if you haven't had time to close your browser windows), and was out. The whole procedure took about 15 minutes and involved minimal Chinese. "Where's the phone cable?" "Here."
Step 4: STREEEEEAM
It works! Woooooo.
Is It Worth It
Considering how much time you spend with your VPN on, this is not going to feel like a miracle cure. But I have definitely seen a marked increase on download and streaming speeds. Until I readjust to this new speed and start complaining that it's taking an entire four minutes to [legally purchase] a 720p movie, my new 1gbps connection is magnificent.