iPhone Users on China Mobile Aren’t Using 2G Data Speeds, They’re Using Wi-Fi [Report]


China Mobile, the largest carrier in the world, officially partnered with Apple last year.
China Mobile, the largest carrier in the world, officially partnered with Apple last year.

An interesting report from Bloomberg takes a look at 5 million iPhone users on the largest and most valuable carrier in the world, China Mobile. What’s surprising about China Mobile’s iPhone user base is the fact that Apple’s smartphone isn’t officially offered on the carrier.

Millions of Chinese Apple lovers are using their iPhones on a network that can’t even offer 3G data speeds for the device due to frequency incompatibilities. If that’s the case, then why are so many people content to use the iPhone on China Mobile? The answer: Wi-Fi.

When examining an iPhone user base on an unofficial carrier, such as T-Mobile in the US, the aspect of Wi-Fi connectivity is often overlooked. As Wi-Fi connectivity becomes more widespread—even in nations like China—people are becoming increasingly comfortable with using the iPhone on a network that doesn’t even offer high-speed data access for the device.

In the case of China Mobile, the iPhone is touted with ads and promotions on the Beijing subway and shops. Interestingly, China Mobile offers Wi-Fi coverage in Beijing for customers that would like to buy the iPhone 4 from one if its five partner retailers.

Some retailers offer 2,800 yuan ($441) gift cards to customers that prepay for Wi-Fi coverage from China Mobile in Beijing. 5 million customers have payed for the iPhone or used these gift cards without the carrier subsidy from China Mobile. That’s pretty amazing.

It’s important to note that there’s an incredible gap between the amount of 3G and 2G customers on China Mobile. The carrier boasts 952 million mobile-phone users, and only 11% have made the jump to a 3G device. While China Mobile continues to add more 3G customers every month, the carrier only has 43.2 million 3G users right now.

Chinese customers don’t mind buying the iPhone to use on Wi-Fi and China Mobile’s 2G network:

“I don’t think 3G is really necessary to enjoy it,” Lang, 22, said. “If I need to use the Internet, there is Wi-Fi. If I want to download an app, I do it on my MacBook at home and sync it to the phone.”

Analysts reaffirm the growing trend in China, thanks to China Mobile’s efforts:

“They realize this is working,” said Paul Wuh, an analyst at Samsung Securities Co. in Hong Kong. “They have 10 million people who were willing to buy an iPhone without any subsidy and use it on the 2G network, so now they are just encouraging that by offering this Wi-Fi package.”

China Unicom is the only current iPhone partner for the nation. The carrier uses the international WCDMA standard to let iPhone customers use 3G in China on its network.

While T-Mobile doesn’t offer a Wi-Fi coverage plan for the iPhone on its network, it’s safe to say that many use Wi-Fi often when running an unlocked iPhone on T-Mobile. 2G is enough for voice and SMS. The heavy data activity can be done on a home or public Wi-Fi network. It’s very difficult to visit a public place, such as a mall, shopping center, office complex, etc. and not find an open Wi-Fi network in the US.

What do you think about using an iPhone on a carrier like China Mobile or T-Mobile with only 2G speeds and Wi-Fi coverage? If you didn’t have the option of 3G, would it be enough?

  • Anonymous

    I used China Mobile on an iPhone. It sucks. They have pathetic customer service, or rather it’s non existent. What’s a worse joke is they advertise free Wifi at the Beijing airport. You have to put your passport into a scanner and then they give you access to “free” Wifi. 

  • gregorylent

    in india and china, and a few other places, i am limited to “2g” or edge. heck, in japan can’t even get that, prepaid. or in singapore, no voice+data prepaid allowed. so i adapt to china. 

  • Brian Bonneville

    When I travel out of country I turn off data roaming because I’m not will to pay the price, so it’s just like being a China Mobile user. I seek out wifi locations and make do quite nicely thank you. 

  • bored

    I’ve been using a factory unlocked iphone4 for a year now on tnobile, and love it. I pay $50 a month for 750 minutes unlimited texts and 200mb data. Since I’m at work or at home 90% of the time, and I live in NYC, wifi is nearly always available. I have never used more than 200mb in a month. Also very helpful for when I traveled to Europe earlier this year, popped in a O2 sim and the costs were minimal. I am very happy and would highly recommend if you are often around wifi and/or travel.

  • joseBolano

    I used an iPhone 3GS on T-Mobile network Before I buy my 4S on AT&T and 2G really sucks to me. I think buy an iPhone 4S to be used in 2G doesn’t worth, you won’t be able to use the power and the speeds that the phone offers in 3G, and believe me that the 4S 3G its really fast!

  • Fabio

    So what? AT&T doesn’t offer unlimited 3G! What’s so good about 3G when it’s not unlimited? Think! T-Mobile offers unlimited 2G internet so there are no hidden fees, unlike AT&T who will charge your 25 dollars more when you go over your limit.

  • Fabio

    Lucas, you are a smart consumer! :)

  • BB Caspian

    I’m using the ipod touch 5g…so whats the issue here?

  • Daibidh

    This whole “revenue sharing” and subsidized handset crap is ASININE!  It drives up the price of the handset and it drives up the monthly service charge.

    For about the monthly service price of one iPhone on any of the authorized networks, I get two on T-Mobile… with REAL unlimited everything AND tethering.  Funny thing is, I swear half the time I find myself using the EDGE connection and not Wi-Fi, my 3G touting buddies aren’t all that much faster.  

  • Ca130164

    Using unlocked iPhone 4s in Australia on Telstra network   have Cellular Data turned off 99% of the time     use WiFi as 1st preference for data     best of both worlds   and battery life is great

  • Ajsnoopy

    Well I like the idea that people love the new iPhone 4S, but come on its 4S baby. Hmmm that’s just like having a hot rod and there is go kart engine under the hood.

  • Funnyandspicy Web

    Each time a new iPhone comes out, it’s a slight improvement over the last. Let’s go down the memory lane and figure out the people and technology.                               

  • Aaron

    You have to put your passport into a scanner? That sounds like such a horrible thing to have to do. I can’t believe they make you do all that just to get WiFi for free.

  • joseBolano

    I have 2GB with AT&T, When I was with T-Mobile the highest data I used was 200MB (Unlimited for what?) You even can’t see videos on YouTube 2G its too slow.
    I calculated how much I can use per day to reach almost 2GB and would be 61MB, today I have 7 days with my 4S and my data usage is
    Recieved: 46.1MB
    Sent: 13.0
    And I don’t turn off the 3G

  • Naga

    Here in the UK I have mobile data turned off.

    I mainly use my iPhone for international calls, so I use Lebara SIM. That is great for calls and SMS.

    For everything else, I use WiFi. Free at work and Starbucks, and unlimited at home with Virgin Media Broadband. Lebara give me limited download for free, but I have never used it!

  • Affa

    Dudes, simple tip for Bejing airport :) go to boardwalk between terminals 1 & 2, right in the middle you will be able to catch a wifi coverage password-less and absolutely free :)