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GGGGG: Here's All the Info on 5G Plans, Prices and How to Switch Carriers

It's time to upgrade!
By Oct 29, 2020 Shopping
The future, the myth, the anticipation: 5G! It's here, and now it's really arrived because Apple's iPhone 12, which supports 5G, is out! So we rounded up the options for 5G plans and collected a couple phones from other brands (gasp!) if you don't want to shell out for an iPhone.

What is 5G?



5G stands for "fifth generation" wireless technology. The crazy fast download speeds (up to multiple Gbits per second) that are typically associated with 5G actually use a specific type of 5G, known as mmWave 5G, where the radio waves are mere millimeters in length. The other types of 5G are low frequency band (less than 1GHz) and mid-frequency band (1-6GHz). China's rollout of 5G is in the mid-band but just because it’s in the middle doesn't mean it's not a good option.

The high band mmWave (over 24GHz) is super-fast, but only works as far as a block and can be foiled by pesky trees, walls and rain drops. The short wave just can't make it through. So, the goldilocks mid-band is faster and has broader coverage, and it's what China currently has anyway.

How Fast Are We Talking?



We talked to a tech guy in Shanghai — a programmer — who has been using 5G on his Samsung Galaxy S10 since early 2020. He told us the 5G is worth it and noticeably faster than 4G. His coverage on China Unicom is good downtown and the subway is ok too.

So, we asked him to do a speed test using the Speedtest app by Ookla. In Jing'an, he had a clean 500Mbit per second download speed, and 66.7Mbit per second upload speed.



Compare that with an iPhone X on China Mobile's 4G we tested about three kilometers away: it had a 14Mbit per second download speed, and 2.93Mbit per second upload speed. So yeah, big improvements.

Keep in mind, the 5G speeds won't make any difference if you spend most of your time on wifi instead of cellular data, and if you're accessing foreign sites through channels that cap traffic speed.

Coverage



According to the Apple and Huawei store representatives we talked to, "central Shanghai" — an area defined as a roughly 100km radius from People's Square — is completely covered by mid-band 5G. In fact, the city has set itself a goal to cover the entire city, including all metro stations, by the time the Import Expo happens in early November. That would make Shanghai China's third city after Beijing and Shenzhen to be completely covered by mid-band 5G.

How Do I Get It?



First off, you need a phone that supports 5G, and unless you recently bought a new model, your current phone probably doesn’t have that capability. Good excuse to upgrade to that iPhone 12, right? Right! Scroll down for a few suggestions for phones that support 5G.

Once you’ve got the phone, you just need to visit a carrier and have them switch your service package.

Plans



Before, if you wanted to keep your existing phone number that your whole life (bank account, WeChat) is attached to, you would need to stick with your same carrier. That seems to have changed at some point: according to a sales representative at China Mobile, you can switch to different carriers and keep your same phone number without any requirements or fees. Hooray!

China's big three carriers now all offer reasonably priced 5G plans around 130rmb per month, although the speed of 5G is split into tiers. The fastest 5G will be pricier, naturally.

China Mobile




China Mobile 中国移动 (zhongguo yidong) offers mix and match data and voice. The data portion is split into three speed ranges for 5G plans with increasing data limits.

The basic (基础) 5G is capped at 300Mbits per second and costs 30-70rmb/month for 5-20GB of data.

The middle (优享) speed is capped at 500Mbits per second and costs 100-130rmb/month for 30-40GB.

Top speeds (极速) can go up to 1Gbit per second, cost 150-300rmb and gives you 50-150GB.

Once you pick the data, you'll need to pay for voice minutes. Or you can go for the preset plan:

The plan: 30GB and 500 minutes

The price: 128rmb

China Unicom




Unicom 中国联通 (zhongguo liantong) breaks their 5G data and calling packages into two service speeds.

They have the 500Mbit per second (优享) service from 129-159rmb/month with 30-40GB of data.

The top (极速) speed goes up to 1Gbit per second and starts at 199rmb/month for 60GB.

Or just go for their most popular plan:

The plan: 30GB and 500 minutes

The price: 129rmb

China Telecom




China Telecom 中国电信 (zhongguo dianxin) also does two tiers with the same cut off speeds and data. The 500Mbit per second service costs 129-169rmb for 30-40GB of data, while the 1Gbit per second service starts at 199rmb/month for 60GB.

Or, the plan:

The plan: 30GB and 500 minutes

The price: 129rmb


So yeah. They are basically all the same. For the typical user, 30 gigs a month is more than enough — too much even? — but it’s the minimum you can buy on 5G data and voice package plans.

Phones


Chinese companies dominate the 5G phone market, though the biggest news is Apple’s iPhone 12 release last week. Here are five phones that offer five geeeee.

Note: foreign passport holders are not eligible to sign up for multi-year contracts meaning you can't lock yourself into a specific carrier in exchange for a cheaper phone. Those with Chinese ID cards should ask about available packages that will help save you some money.


iPhone 12



Price at the Apple store and official Tmall store: 6,799rmb for 128GB
Price at Costco: currently sold out! But 6,499rmb for 128GB

The 12 has two lenses (12 Pro has three) and the new magnetic MagSafe back that facilitates wireless charging. Read a review here.

Huawei P40



Price on official TMall store : 4,488rmb for the 8GB+128GB

Released in March 2020, the three-lens phone is known for a good battery life, measured at 13 hours.

Xiaomi Mi10



Price on official Tmall store: 3,999rmb for 8+128GB

Launched in February 2020, the Mi10 has been well-reviewed for a good screen for videos and gaming.

Xiaomi Redmi 10X



Price on official TMall store: 2,099rmb original price for 8+128GB

The 10X, released in June 2020, is an all-around decent phone for a pretty attractive price.

Samsung Galaxy S20



Price on official TMall store: 6,999rmb originally for 12+128GB

Triple camera with good 30X zoom and reverse wireless charging which lets your phone charge other devices. The S20 was highly reviewed when it came out in early 2020.

TELL EVERYONE

2 comments.

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  • 5 months ago mwjin

    Where was your guy? I'm getting 1/1 on 4g Unicom and 68/35 on 5g Telecom at Kerry Center

  • 5 months ago Lynngogo

    Hi, the 5G test was near Changping Lu station.

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